Future in a Box
Title: Author: Publisher: Pages: Price: ISBN-10: ISBN-13: Tinderbox: The Past and future of Pakistan M.J. Akbar Harper Collins, India (January 11, 2011) 341 pages, Hardback PKR.995 9350290391 978-9350290392
M. J. Akbar’s ‘Tinderbox: the Past and Future of Pakistan’ makes fascinating reading clouded over by a substantial amount of the weird or a sort of a conscious effort to leave the reader wondering about the future of the ‘Tinderbox’ of the sub-continent as a whole.
The dictionary defines Tinderbox as ‘dry inflammable material especially used for kindling fire from a spark.’ What an array of tinderboxes would do is too fearsome to imagine.
Mani Shankar Aiyar’s substitute ‘Tenderbox’ in his marathon 8,000 odd word review, is more honeyed than a sober critique would permit.
Exploding in the West ‘Tinderbox’ would engulf the East in its fierce blaze of hellfire.
As for the subtitle ‘The Past and Future of Pakistan’, Pakistan’s past dates back only to 14 August 1947. Prior to that, it had been wholly India’s.
The Khiljis (1288-1320), Tughlaqs (1320-1413), Sayyids (1434-1451), Lodhi’s (1451-1526), Suri’s (1540-1556) and Mughals (1526-40) and (15561857) – Muslim invaders and empire builders came to India to rule.
Amongst their many excesses as conquerors what stands out to their eternal credit is that they never dreamt of changing the name and style of India. Instead, they loved and made Hindustan their cherished homeland.
Above all, rather than imposing their own cavalier way of life and culture they enriched India’s by fusing the two into an organic whole.
M.J.’s somewhat unwarranted postulate that ‘a strange alchemy of past superiority and future insecurity shaped the dream of a separate Muslim (Pakistan) state in India,’ makes little sense.
What was there to stop the absolute rulers - Sultans and Emperors of India - to restrict them to the ‘dream’ of a ‘separate’ and ‘moth-eaten’ Muslim state at all? Even Sir Sayyed, a dedicated Indian-turned-Muslim ‘nationalist’, after the emergence of the Indian National Congress (1885), would have dismissed with contempt any thought of physical partition of his dear homeland.
As the maverick Nirad Babu (Diary of an Unknown Indian, Continent of Circe, etc.) would put in his own inimitable words, partition was made ‘possible by a combination of three factors – Hindu stupidity in the first instance and Hindu cowardice afterward, British opportunism and Muslim fanaticism.
The end result (Partition) therefore followed a long and vicious chain of misplaced priorities and mutually conflicting visions. The post-Plessey (1747) and Baxter (1764) wars found the Muslim rulers – even if in name only – surrendering their ‘authority’ to the British tradesmen as Hindus stood by the British. Unlike the Muslims, the Hindus had accepted the British as their natural allies or partners in their quest for an independent India under an absolute Hindu majority.
The educated Kolkata Bengali would get rid of the Muslim Raj or, whatever was left of it, before throwing the British out.
Bankanchandra Chatterji, creator of ‘ Yande Matram’ India’s prepartition national anthem, in his famous novel Annandmath ( Path of Peace) would want the English to
stay on to help them get rid of the Muslims first.
The Hindu rage against thousand years of Muslim rule and marauding forays, pitted against the Muslim dream to return to the ancient glory, fertilized the poisonous ivy and its communalism.
From the Wahabi Sayyid Ahmed of Rai Bareli (born 1786) to Sir Sayyid, Indian Muslims had been on the forefront of the freedom struggle against the British. Sirajud Daulah of Bengal and Tipu Sultan of Mysore died fighting against the British at Plessey in 1757 and Srirangptnam in 1799.
Sayyid Ahmed and his friend and fellow scholar Shah Ismail traveled all the way from their native Rai Bareli to the North-West Frontier to wage a jihad to liberate the Muslims from the Sikh stranglehold. Both were betrayed by their fellow Muslims and met their martyrdom in action in 1830.
Sir Henry Lawrence, Governor of Punjab described the Wahabi indoctrinated warriors as ‘Ghozat or Mujahideen’ (Ghazi or holy warriors). The Wahabis were inspired by the teachings of Mohammad Bin Abdul Wahab (1703-92) a radical Islamic clerk of Arabia.
His radicalism combined with the sword of Abdul Aziz bin Saud (1764-1803) embarked on their Jihadi mission and never looked back. The emergence of Saudi Arabia was the culmination of Abdul Wahab scholarship and Abdul Aziz’s scimitar.
Historian, Sir Alfred Layall wrote: ‘the Mussalmans of India are, and have been for many years, a source of chronic danger to the British power in India.’ A substantive statement to prove that the Muslim Jihadi struggle had been against the British only and not against the Hindus. The antiHindu aspect of the Jihadi struggle wormed in only after the failed 1857 Uprising, the last fatal blow to the moribund Mughal Empire.
Layall would still argue that the ‘fanatics’ (all Muslims) had engaged in sedition long before 1857… and deliberating on their obligation to rebel.’
But for the deep Hindu distrust of the Muslims as aliens, a united nationalist front against the British, grabbing India in the grab of merchants, could not be formed.
M.J. invokes the Theory of Distance attributing it to Shah Waliullah (1703-62) to illustrate the Muslim ‘distrust of Hindus’ as something ‘fundamental’ to the Muslim mind? He would want the Muslims to keep their distance from the Hindus.
If there was anything at all like the Theory of Distance, it cut both ways, Hindus would treats Muslims as malichas - untouchables - refusing to eat or drink from the same vessel.
A century later, Sir Sayyad would carry Waliullah’s theory defining Muslims as a ‘separate nation’. In 1906, about eight years after the death of Sir Sayyad the Muslim League would seek its own political and eventually geographical space’ at its inaugural session in Dhaka.
M. J. goes on to discuss, at length the role of the leaders in the vanguard of the freedom movement, Gandhi, Jinnah, the father-and-son Nehrus, Moti Lal and Jawaharlal, the Ali Brothers Shaukat and Mohammad Ali, Dr. Ansari and Ajmal Khan on the sidelines each as a true son of the soil. But the man who stands out unwaveringly committed to India – its territorial oneness and sanctity remains Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. A patriot above all politics – personal or partisan. Warning against the ‘ evil consequences of Partition,’ he said, ‘ An entity conceived in hatred shall last only as long as that hatred lasts…’
Nehru replaced Azad as the Congress President in June, 1946 to reverse the acceptance of the British Cabinet Mission Plan for a united India. On 7th July, Nehru, declared: ‘We are not bound by a single thing (emphasis added) except that we have decided to go to the constituent Assembly unfretted by the terms and conditions, of the Plan.’ Nehru’s fatal blunder gave Jinnah reason enough to withdraw the acceptance of the Plan by the Muslim League.
While withdrawing the acceptance he ordered his ‘Direct Action’ to achieve Pakistan by any means necessary.
M.J.’s labeling of the Jamaat-e-Islami founder and supermom Maulana Abul Aala Maududi as ‘god Father’ is bizarre. Maududi with all his politicoideological commitment to establishing an Islamic state in Pakistan was essentially a man of peace.
His role in Pakistan’s politics had been an unbroken tale of woe. His party failed even in the first provincial elections in the Punjab in 1951.
Two years later at a party conclave in Macchi Goth, he failed to make a case for the party’s shift from its doctrinal base to practical politics. In consequence his deputy Maulana Amin Saleh Islahi quit the party.
Thenceforward, Maududi and his Jamaat continued to lose their political clout and erode that vote bank. Today the Jamaat clings to realpolitik only by skin of its teeth.
What M.J. must realize is that India and Pakistan are trapped in the same box. The two must join forces to overcome the evil legacy of Partition without disturbing the constitutional fabric of Pakistan as an independent state. The reviewer is an eminent regional security expert, a defense analyst and former ISPR spokesman. He writes for various publications and often speaks on national security issues on TV channels.