Afghanistan Pakistan cauldron


Nuclear explosion"The question arises, 'how does the world deal with this growing global menace emanating from the Cauldron?' Regional initiatives are obviously an important factor. Easier said than done.

Geopolitical imbalances make neighbours in regions where stability has yet to be achieved suspicious of each other's motives. This is true in most parts of Asia and Africa.

Whatever the state or nature of regional dissonance there are troublesome aspects, discussed earlier, which need remedial action at the global level.


The other matter requiring urgent attention is the threat of nuclear proliferation. It is no longer a threat in being.

Under the 'smoke screen' of threats to use nuclear weapons against India - an exercise in absurdity seeing India's size and ability to retaliate decisively - the real work of clandestine nuclear proliferation of suitcase bombs for use by bin Laden clones could be well under way. It is the latter nuclear threat that is crying for attention as it threatens the whole world.

Delay in neutralising this threat at source would be unpardonable. While it could take decades for the major powers of the world to harmonise their working for safeguarding the planet as a whole, actions for limiting nuclear terrorism, that cannot be postponed are listed below:


The most important aspect which must be understood by the people of the subcontinent - and the world - is that the Kashmir question of the new century has little bearing with the problem that surfaced over fifty years ago.

Too many externalities have been superimposed. These include: demographic swamping in areas occupied by Pakistan (modeled on the pattern perfected in Tibet and Xinjiang); the induction of foreign mercenaries and criminals; displacement forced on the population through terrorism; and declaration of jehad by quasi-independent religious groups who are in a position to challenge the authority of the state.

Put more succinctly: "the crisis facing the subcontinent and points north, west and east is no longer limited to the question of territorial adjustments. It has assumed the larger ideological dimension of militant Islam versus liberal Islam". The absence of any real democracy, proliferation of small arms, and easy access to drug money have all played their part in keeping the Cauldron on the boil. Up till now the brunt has been largely borne by India because Pakistan was able to convince the Western world that the problem related to Kashmir and nothing else.

It took full fifty years for the rest of the world to come to the same conclusion as the Government of India, that Kashmir provided a convenient camouflage for the larger game plan. By the time the realisation came the elements pushing the fundamentalist creed had been immeasurably strengthened. When the West saw the light of day it was almost too late. China meanwhile had its own strategy for the Great Game. It stepped in with a type of weapons support that made the earlier support given by the West pale into comparative insignificance. Whatever China's reasoning, by an unintended quirk of fate, a situation has been created that could actually help to ease India's burden in the longer term, provided the country continues to meet the terrorist challenge with unabated vigour and does not create greater strategic vulnerability in its northeast. This requires elaboration.

Regardless of all else Pakistan, while rattling the nuclear sabre, is well on the road to self-destruction. Not because of Indian action but because of the global reaction to a potential threat that could as easily manifest itself in the underbelly of Europe or an American city as it does in Chechnya. Viewed in that light - by providing the wherewithal to forces in the A-P cauldron who are inimical to global harmony - China emerges as a strong sustainer of global instability through the potential of nuclear terrorism. To date, it has been taken for granted that the targets of the jehadis are primarily in India, America, Central Asia and Russia. It is only a matter of time before several East Asian countries with mixed populations start feeling the heat. China's immediate neighbourhood too could become hot at several points. It would be facile, and possibly tragic to call the struggle that will follow as a 'clash of civilisations'. It is certainly not the case.

To give a civilisational veneer to the indoctrinated fanatics spilling out of the madrasas in the Cauldron or those who mastermind the terror would not only be a travesty of fact but a monumental error of judgment. Should the highly imaginative theory going by that name gain currency it could deal a body blow to Islam, not only in the Cauldron, in many other parts of the world as well. India is perhaps the only country that can prevent that tragic outcome.

Regardless of its differences with its hostile neighbour to its west it is home to nearly 130 million Muslims. They are Indian citizens. While some among them may have been subverted - in their hearts or minds - by the blandishments of the militants, the vast majority of them have contributed considerably to the progress that India has made since its independence. Without saying so openly many Pakistanis, not wedded to militancy, do privately admit that India remains the only real bulwark against the terminal madness engulfing their state. Thus while the world puts into effect the tough measures to contain the menace within the Cauldron, India's efforts - besides toughening its stance against terrorism - should be directed towards strengthening liberal Islam in India and the subcontinent. It is not simply a coincidence that for over fifty years the brunt of the menace of terrorism has been borne by the few million people of the beautiful Kashmir Valley.

It continues to remain the focus of the jehadis. The reason has been alluded to earlier in the paper. The Valley, in a manner of speaking, was a shining example of the Sufi spirit in India. The militant beast comes not to ravish the beauty, but to destroy it. The tragic tale unfolds poignantly in the Akshara Theatre, New Delhi documentary, The Kashmir Story and docudrama, The Sufi Way. If the beauty perishes Kashmir perishes. Should the beauty remain the beast is slain. Those at the helm of affairs in India have also to realise that Islam, although a transplant, helped to create one of the most magnificent Islamic heritages of the past thousand years. Beyond the killings and suppression of the adherents of the older Indian faiths lay the synthesis of a unique blend that led to a cultural efflorescence, the parallel to which would be difficult to find except in the European renaissance.

Hence, an essential element of the fight against Islamic militants which India, the Central Asian Republics and other countries facing this threat may have been neglecting - by concentrating solely on the military dimension - is the need to strengthen liberal elements at the grass roots. India has to take the lead in preventing the jehadisation of Islam. The vast majority of ordinary Muslims do not wish to see their religion degraded in this fashion. They have failed to organise themselves against the fanatical fringes in their respective countries, simply because the latter happen to have embraced terror. The excerpt that follows sums up the situation admirably: "Yet, for all the cruelty and obscurantism associated with religion, hidden within the great traditions of faith are precious resources for the future welfare of humanity and these are too important to be abandoned to the extremists" (Emphasis added). -Marcus Braybrooke, IIC Quarterly, Spring, 2000.

Extremism can only be established through extreme violence visited upon innocent, law-abiding people. Once established it can be perpetuated only through mindless savagery. Exactly what is being witnessed in Afghanistan; and that which is sought to be imposed on parts of Kashmir. But the world has just started emerging from one dark tunnel of this nature. Thirty years ago the experiment of extremism was tried out in Iran, although the case of Iran was very different. Nonetheless, after decades of suffering the people have had enough of the draconian enforcement codes. They have started mustering the courage to start protesting.

They have a long road ahead. Nobody, however, doubts that a moderate and tolerant regime, which is the natural state for any civilised society, will eventually be established in Iran. Do the people of Pakistan, who still haven't gone under as a country, wish to again enter the dark tunnel. The difference would be that this particular tunnel might have a blocked exit. The Iranians have started seeing the light. Iranian reformers have started openly accusing their government of past excesses: "Your management of the judiciary in the past several months has not only created hopelessness among the people, but it is also leading to a future full of anxiety and apprehension". (Emphasis added). {The Pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), in an open letter to the Judiciary. (Times of India, July 17, 2000)}

*The people of Pakistan, mainly on account of apathy and inertia, are entering the region of darkness. India might no longer be interested in pulling them out at the other end. The words that follow have been spoken by a Pakistani: ".. perhaps does not realise that a sovereign Pakistan will go more swiftly to its doom than a Pakistan restrained by its external obligations". -Khaled Ahmed, Lahore based journalist, writing in The Pioneer, July 15, 2000.


The moderate leader of Iran, President Khatami, in a moment of eloquence, spoke of a 'Dialogue of the Civilisations'. It was widely reported in the world press after the interview to an American television chain. Wise words from a wise leader, aware of the difficulties that will have to be surmounted in mitigating the hardships to his people, resulting from past excesses. The even greater difficulty of prising loose from the vice-like grip of the self-anointed repositories of the ultimate wisdom, the draconian powers still wielded by them. The question is not only relevant for Islam but for the world that has achieved scientific breakthroughs of a type that could not have been even remotely guessed at by the founders of the great religions of the world.

Therefore, should the moderate and the liberal elements amongst the people of the region practicing Islam succeed in overcoming the obscurantists whose practice of the great religion begins and ends with the whip the prospect for global harmony would be immensely strengthened. Should the powers who are in a position to influence events in the Cauldron temporarily sink their differences to neutralise the menace emanating from it so that not even a residual strain remains the world of the 21st century would start looking a different place. Were a condition of stability to prevail the advantages that would accrue to almost every country are inconceivable at the present juncture.

First and foremost, like the days of yore, Marco Polo type of journeys along the Silk Route would be possible, to and fro, across the vast Central Asian expanse for people from the north, south, east and west. A family from Vietnam could plan to drive to Helsinki, a Chinese family to London, a Swedish family to Goa. The possibilities for easier travel across the Eurasian landmass are endless. The economic benefits unsurpassable.

Fifty years down the road national boundaries would only be delineated on maps. The kabuliwallah of the subcontinental folklore of an earlier era would again roam freely in the bazaars of Bombay, Calcutta and even Shanghai. The Ladakhi would be able to cross Tibet in peace and reach Korea, if he wished to do so. The Central Asian Republics could become a loose confederation along the lines of the European Union, sharing their oil and water for the benefit of the region as a whole. Pipelines could be laid from anywhere to anywhere, following alignments that were economically and ecologically the best options, bringing prosperity in their wake from the Caspian Sea to Colombo. The 'Demilitarisation of the Himalayas as an Ecological Imperative' could commence within the next two to three years.

The proposal put forward by the Ecology Monitors Society in November 1998 at an international conference held at New Delhi could then be progressed with greater confidence. Each one of these aspects which might appear to be unachievable now takes on a different hue once the true measure of a demilitarised, 'de-fundamentalised' Cauldron are viewed from the perspective outlined above. By just excising the cancer from the Cauldron a dozen other trouble spots will subside. The vista which will then open out for Central and South Asia would be truly magnificent.


Religion is being used as a tool for the most irreligious mayhem in the world. The problem will have to be dealt with globally at several levels. People who underestimate the potential of the menace being introduced into the global blood stream should recall how a mere handful of terrorists without the means of mass destruction available to them in the 1970s and 80s were able to create havoc in some of the most advanced societies in the world. In the present case the state itself becomes the master terrorist. Compared to that earlier period the evil being spawned now is several orders of magnitude more horrid than what went before. When the jehadis get hold of low yield suitcase nuclear devices - and it is only a matter of time before they do - the world will realise the folly of its inaction when the evil could have been nipped in the bud. The Great Game is over. It has nearly gotten out of the hands of the powers that be. In the era of weapons of mass destruction almost all the big games are over. Only foolish people, die-hard diplomats from an earlier period, or the uniformed fraternity can really think of playing games on a global scale.

It is time to take stock.