The external affairs ministry’s response to the Organisation of Islamic Conference’s unqualified endorsement of Pakistan’s stand on Jammu and Kashmir is understandable as a public stance. Only one sentence, which suggests that it feels entitled to membership of this forum of Muslim states, is exceptionable.
Apparently, some smart Alec in the ministry thought it was a useful additional argument to discredit the OIC. This does not speak too well of the manner in which the ministry handles even familiar issues. Indira Gandhi, it may be recalled, sent Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to attend a similar gathering at Rabat in 1969. He was rudely rebuffed, and quite rightly. The size of the Muslim minority does not make India a Muslim country and a Muslim state.
Not A Substitute
That apart, however, a public stance is for public consumption. As such, it fulfils a necessary function. But it is not a substitute for a carefully worked out policy formulation, especially when a new approach is called for by changed circumstances.
The OIC’s stand that what is happening in Kashmir is a ‘legitimate struggle for self-determination’ and not Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is doubtless a major gain for Islamabad in its propaganda war with this country. In immediate terms, it can influence the US decision on whether to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.
It is plain naivety for us to seek comfort in the belief that some Muslim governments either do not accept the OIC’s now official view, or accept it with qualification. It is worse to stretch an isolated sentence or two from a private statement by a visiting Muslim minister and cite it as evidence of his government’s reservations. In any case, it will not be easy for New Delhi to take advantage of the supposed “gap” between the public and private positions of Muslim governments.
To appreciate the validity of this assessment, we have only to recognise the obvious. Whether we call it revivalism, or fundamentalism, or activism, Islamic resurgence is a fact of life throughout the Muslim world. No student of developments in Muslim countries denies it, not even those who hold that resurgent Islam constitutes no threat to the West.
While Pakistan’s diplomatic skills, single-mindedness of purpose and perseverance cannot be disputed, Islamabad owes its present success as much to them as to the ascendancy of the Islamic sentiment in Muslim countries which has made it difficult for their governments to be seen to oppose Muslim “causes”. Since the ummah does not recognise the twin concepts of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries, Kashmir is a Muslim “cause” for it.
The ascendancy of Islamic sentiment is not a sudden development. The drift in that direction has been obvious since the defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan at the hands of Israel in 1967 and the consequent eclipse of Arab nationalism, or pan-Arabism, represented by President Nasser. His own successor, President Sadat, made terms with the Muslim Brotherhood he had sought to destroy. President Mubarak has pursued a similar policy of accommodation towards the Brotherhood.
This movement gained momentum as a result of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Progress was stalled first by the eight- year-long Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) and then by the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and its aftermath (1990-91). But the demise of the Soviet Union more than made up for this loss of time.
Three other factors have contributed to the present upsurge of Islamic activism. First, freed from the burden of war with Iraq and the Iraqi military challenge, Iran has felt free to resume its role of exporting its version of Islamic revolution; while the Iraqi military machine stands wrecked and economy crippled on account of continuing sanctions, Iran, with its oil revenues and easy access to western credits, has bought state-of- the-art weapon systems from the Soviet Union.
Secondly, the fundamentalist influence behind the military regime in Sudan has got consolidated with the result that the fundamentalists have acquired in Sudan staging posts from which they can seek to destabilise pro-western regimes such as President Mubarak’s in Egypt, or regimes controlled by westernised intelligentsia as in Algeria and Tunisia.
Thirdly, thousands of non-Afghan Muslims who participated in the US-promoted jihad in Afghanistan were thoroughly indoctrinated in Islamic ideology and trained in guerrilla warfare. They constitute the nucleus for anti-government activities in Egypt, Algeria and Jordan.
Islamic activism is profoundly and irrevocably anti-West. It is especially anti-US not only because Washington has supported Israel since the latter came into existence in 1948 but also because America represents what many Muslims regard as the worst aspects of the “decadent western culture”. But the West is too powerful to be taken on as Libya’s bitter experience shows. Moreover, Iran needs credits and technology from western Europe to become the kind of economic power it wants to be.
So softer targets have to be sought. They are available in plenty in West Asia. Most regimes are corrupt and inefficient. They have not delivered on their promises. Indeed, they could not have, even if they were less corrupt and inefficient. Populations have grown too fast and so have expectations. The spread of both “modem” and traditional education has further complicated the problem, the first because enough white collar jobs cannot possibly be created for them and the second because it produces a mind-set which is anti-regime.
President Sadat sought in vain to isolate the extremists with concessions to older members of the Brotherhood. They finally killed the “pharaoh” and boasted about it. President Mubarak has made the government controlled media available for propagation of Islam in an effort to outbid his detractors. In the process, he creates conditions in which fundamentalism prospers.
The point however, needs to be underscored that while the intra-Muslim struggle is bitter and unending it does not rule out the search for consensus on matters of common interest. Israel has been one area of convergence. But Israel has stood its ground, thanks as much to the steadfastness of its populace as to US support, with the result that most Arab leaders have come to favour peace with it at least as a medium-term arrangement.
Bosnia provides another area of convergence. But the ummah cannot seize the initiative there. It has to content itself with putting as much pressure on the West as it can. It does not quite follow that the OIC has turned to Kashmir and Ayodhya in search of a soft target. But such a possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand. In any case, it cannot be seriously denied that India is a soft and a bungling state. How else can one explain the decision to restore to office men who slept in their warm beds as Pakistan sent men and arms into the Kashmir Valley to promote a full-fledged insurrection in the winter of 1990?
The Times of India, 6 May 1993