DAWN - Opinion; March 11, 2002

Published March 11, 2002

Reviving modernity

By Izzud-Din Pal


IN any discussion about Islam and modernity, one should be careful about the use of the term modernity because it is open to interpretation. The definition offered by the late Professor Fazlur Rahman, in line with Iqbal’s contribution on the subject, would be implicit in my comments that follow. According to this definition, the dynamics of Islamic laws can best be understood and appreciated by performing a dual exercise: to examine the laws in the context of the social framework in which they were revealed and developed, and to reconstruct them in light of modern times.

The raison d’etre of establishing Pakistan was to build a society that would be consistent with the values of Islam. There has never been any dispute on this matter. The disagreement arises about how to interpret these values. Many efforts were made by the modernists to explain their views on the subject, but they were largely ignored. The reasons are complex but one of the factors that worked against them and, concomitantly in favour of the traditionalist ulema, was that the latter group was usually able to politicize Islam. They received further recognition from General Zia-ul-Haq.

Zia-ul-Haq started introducing Islamic laws selectively, and using them for establishing his own authenticity as a ruler. This process became self-perpetuating during the last two decades, and it was suddenly interrupted when General Musharraf assumed power as the chief executive of the country.

Pakistan was drifting rapidly towards what may be called Talibanization in its socio-economic fabric as well as its political life. The madaris had multiplied rapidly, partly through state sponsorship but mainly with the help of foreign funds and domestic contributions, and were churning out their graduates at an astronomical rate. The organizations identified with various sects had established themselves, each claiming as the true heir of Islam, declaring the others as infidels, and openly promoting the culture of violence. The Arab-financed International Islamic University was busy producing manifestos demanding an immediate implementation of the Islamic state, in accordance with their interpretation of Islam. And the ideology council and the shariat courts were dismantling family laws, social contracts and the financial structure of the country.

Concerning the spread of militant Islam, General Musharraf has dealt with the challenge in a categorical manner. His agenda about the other aspects of the prevailing Islamicism is not yet clear. Nor is it possible to make any predictions about his own plans whether he would continue to serve the country with God’s grace or seek an electoral mandate. If he chooses the latter course of action, and his clear victory seems certain, he would then command an unquestioned legitimacy at home and abroad. Also, he has to go beyond the question of militant organizations and tackle the larger phenomenon, in quest for a modernist national identity. There are several issues involved in the situation.

There has been a struggle between two views concerning pious behaviour throughout the history of Islam: those who would expect the believer to act according to his conscience in order to fulfil his duties in the framework of Islamic values, and those who would use state machinery to promote virtue and to prevent vice. The latter view has been slowly creeping into the constitutional thinking in Pakistan, though the Objectives Resolution (1949) had declared that “Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives in the individual and collective spheres in accord with the teachings and requirements of Islam...”, thus leaning towards the former position. The 1956 Constitution (the first and only draft approved by the Constituent Assembly in its second incarnation) moved a step away from this view but kept the supremacy of the parliament as the final authority to establish rules concerning its Islamic provisions. By this time, the educated elite had started to emphasize that Pakistan was an ideological state, relying on the vague pronouncements in the Objectives Resolution.

The 1973 Constitution, is usually referred to as a consensus document but this consensus had been reached at the cost of very heavy concessions made to the religious lobby.

This Constitution plus the fact that many of the phrases used in the Objectives Resolution could be interpreted in various ways paved the way for Zia-ul-Haq to introduce his brand of Islamic reform in the country. The Advisory Council of Islamic Ideology had already been given some clout by the removal of the prefix “Advisory”, and the shariat courts were introduced to give decision-making role in the country’s affairs to the traditionalist ulema and their followers. To top it all, the Shariat Appellate Bench of the Supreme Court was added to the judicial system with final powers to make decisions concerning Islamic law — a body with para-parliamentary jurisdiction on questions of public policy — a matter that clearly belongs to the parliament in a democratic system. It is a strange innovation, new to the Muslim world.

What then should be done to stem this trend and to start the process of modernity in the country? General Musharraf does not have many options available to him, given the new reality at home and abroad. Not the same scope for manoeuvrability to play the Islamic card that Z.A. Bhutto could employ, or Zai-ul-Haq could use. Living with the status quo would mean that he would be presiding over a dysfunctional state. There is no doubt, however, that a structure so entrenched in the body-politic of the country cannot be dismantled in a day. A first step towards change has to be taken, however. Of course, it can be done, as a start, by appointing qualified persons with progressive outlook to the respective bodies. This might be a necessary step but it will not resolve the issue which concerns the supremacy of the parliament.

The traditionalist ulama would not favour this reform. Not only because they have a lot to lose in the perks of the power, but also because they do not trust that an informed consensus of the elected representatives who practise Islam in the ordinary business of their lives (the representatives of the Ummat), and who could weigh the pros and cons of the expert advice offered to them, would necessarily agree with their recommendations. This matter deserves a serious attention, in order to underline and appreciate the dynamic nature of Islamic thought in the context of modern times. This leads me to my second point, concerning the new world order facing the country.

The world order that has been gradually emerging over the last thirty years is usually referred to as globalization. The term carries several meanings, however. Briefly, it is used in a broader sense to indicate how the world has shrunk into a large “village”, with easy access to all places, and openness to diverse ideas as well as goods and services, all owing to the miracle of technology. Travel and trade have been part of Muslim heritage, but the main difference is that national and regional boundaries have become exposed to a constant flow of “foreign” interaction. This is the kind of globalization that the traditionalist ulema would oppose. But the countries that try to shun the outside world have discovered that technology can easily penetrate the walls of censorship. Those who had made claims, however, that national cultures and boundaries would vanish under this remarkable development have been sadly disappointed. Openness offers new challenges but it also has the potential to enrich national life.

In a narrower sense, globalization refers to promotion of economic policies, on a world scale, that are determined in accordance with the criteria of what is called Washington Consensus (or post-Washington Consensus, to accommodate the claims of a “renewed” World Bank). When globalization is used to refer to this phenomenon, it becomes a controversial issue even among the modernists. The subject is complex and needs a separate examination.

The goal for Pakistan is to establish a modern Muslim state on the basis of a healthy economy and a robust political system. A suitable constitutional framework is a necessary condition for achieving this objective and promoting a stable democratic tradition in the country. But the real focus must include viable measures to cope with poverty, inequality and alienation among the people. In this regard, it would be important to carefully examine the areas of conflict, and of confluence, with the process of globalization.

The collapse of governance

By Swami Agnivesh & Rev. Valson Thampu


THE media have done a great service to the country by bringing home to us, in a series of hauntingly poignant images, the holocaust in Gujarat. Among them, the image of a Muslim youth, his clothes blood-stained, his hands folded in a cringing appeal for mercy, his eyes melting in terrified helplessness, will continue to haunt us for the years to come.

Admittedly this can inflame passions. But it also can, and must, awaken our sense of kinship and activate our frozen compassion. This may be bad news for the peddlers of communal politics. But an affirmation of our shared kinship, the celebration of a culture of compassion, is the bottom-line of true patriotism at the present time.

This becomes self-explanatory in the light of the key strategy of communalism, which is to inhibit compassion by eroding kinship. It is this that underlies the stigmatization of religious minorities as extraneous elements who do not belong to India and whose mere presence pollutes its cultural and religious purity.

What is under attack in this campaign of calumny is not only the communities in question but also the sense of kinship which safeguards the cohesion of our society. Kinship is the source of justice and compassion, enabling us to feel for those in distress. Once kinship is substituted with alienation, it is easy to conjure up a state of mind that revels in the suffering of the ‘alienated other’. The mobs that went about killing and burning, relishing the sight of blood, the smell of burning flesh and the cry of people in panic, are a pointer to this sinister reality.

Rather than erode our sense of kinship, the need of the hour is to enrich and deepen our sense of compassion. It is because of this that we are grateful for the role played by the media in covering the tragedy in Gujarat.

Our journalists know only too well that all through history, the decline of compassion has been one of the major causes for the decay of societies and civilizations. The disintegration of the Roman culture, for instance, coincided with the rise of cruelty inflicted on powerless people who were tortured to death in public entertainment. This process produced, in due course, a Caesar who fiddled while Rome burned. The same was true of the Egyptian culture that inflicted cruelty, extortion and injustice on the Jews who were deemed ‘aliens and strangers in the land’. Try as hard as anyone might to misrepresent the current eruption of cruelty as religious revival or patriotic zeal, there is no getting away from the fact that it signals our collective sickness.

This truth is writ large over the culture of governance that prevails in our country today. Gujarat is only a pointer to this depraved reality that militates against the ethos and ethics of democracy. How a system of governance that pretends to be ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ could abandon so many of its citizens to the communal wolves let loose to range and ravage at will, is a riddle that is hard to unpack.

The terminal illness of a democratic system is the dispensability of the citizens to the game-plans of governance. For those who waited in vain for the custodians of law and order to protect them and have not survived to tell their tales of terror, there was only one reality: Gujarat did not have a government. It had a chief minister, a cabinet, a police force and a bureaucracy. But it did not have a government. This very relapse into wilful non-governance on the part of the state is the ultimate nightmare for imperilled citizens.

Such non-governance amounts to calculated terror, and what happened in Gujarat was nothing less than the death-dance of organized terrorism. It will go down in history as an instance of state-permitted terrorism, a great deal worse than ‘cross-border terrorism’ as it turns innocent citizens into enemies and refugees in their own homeland.

How are we to make sense of the current instance of communal frenzy? Surely, it has much to do with the desperation of the Sangh Parivar at the setback that the BJP has suffered in the recently concluded elections. This growing sense of desperation has already driven a segment of the Parivar back to the only political talisman that they know: the juggernaut of lumpen communalism.

The election results prove that the voters have begun to think for themselves, which is bad news for any communal outfit. The best way to nip in the bud this potentially dangerous trend for the Sangh Parivar is to drug the people with the opium of hate-driven communalism, with its proven capacity to disable rational thinking.

The calculations of the communal outfits apart, it is a medical analogy that explains the present convulsion best: that of de-worming that, in extreme cases, results in the death of the patients. When forced by medicine to detach themselves from the stomach linings, the worms in their final twitch of desperation release their poison. If the poison discharged by them exceeds a certain limit, the patient dies. Elections are the periodic de-worming of a democratic system. Going by the medical analogy, the parting kick of a communal convulsion is not all that tantalizing. The stolid silence that the Vajpayee government maintained even as Gujarat burned underlies the pathology of our culture of governance. The least Vajpayee could have done, to restore people’s confidence in our beleaguered democratic system, was to replace Narendra Modi with someone with credibility as the chief minister of Gujarat. This he did not.

Instead, he added insult to injury by going out of the way to appease the VHP hawks, instead of dealing with them firmly according to the law of the land for provoking and inciting communal hate. SIMI was banned on the mere apprehension of trouble. The Bajrang Dal has been distributing trishuls in tens of thousands and indulging in provocative statements and stances.

The VHP has been explicit in its defiance of the authority of the Supreme Court as well as its keenness to plunge this country into another spell of communal frenzy. All this notwithstanding, the Vajpayee government has been bending backwards to please and placate its Parivar proteges. If this is not discrimination on the basis of religion, what is?

Parallel to this unprincipled politics runs the curse of a depraved religiosity, linking Godhra and Ahmedabad in a trail of blood.

Between the Ram-bhakts who cheat platform vendors, abuse Muslim men and insult their women presumably as part of their karseva, and Muslim fanatics who turn up in thousands to burn a train without a thought as to how it will help or hurt them, God has the unenviable task of surviving the depravity of his devotees.

In both cases, the religiosity on display has nothing to do with love for God or personal convictions. Both betoken the same indoctrinated fanaticism that is easily manipulated from a distance.

The time has come for every right-minded Indian to insist that any religiosity that degrades us to barbarity and erodes our sense of kinship, is an insult to our intelligence and a disservice to this country.

In the same breath, we must assert that a political culture that sacrifices citizens for the political gains of parties is worse than bubonic plague and that we shall reject its perpetrators, irrespective of their colour or creed.

Easy rider

By Khalid Hasan


“THEY don’t want Islam, they want Islamabad,” said old Haji Shah Zaman, a Pushtoon warrior, old enough to remember the Qissa Khwani massacre by the British.

“Ya Allah,” he added, “My heart died with Mr Jinnah. We’ve had only liars and thieves since his death. Now young men come here from down country with a new lie, saying they want to put Islam in our government. I know they are lying like Nehru. Yes, I used to hate the British. Now, I think they weren’t all so bad. Many were honest men who served their government well. They brought us many blessings though in those days Pathans would have swallowed poison before we admitted it.”

Then he whispered, “Whatever became of that dream called Pakistan, the Land of the Pure? So many died that day in Qissa Khwani so we could live free. We have taken their legacy and thrown it away on the wind. I no longer know what to think. My father taught me to fight the British, not my own people.”

This excerpt is from a reportage written by Muhammad Asadullah Khan, born Chullaine O’ Reilly in the United States some forty plus years ago. During the Afghan war, he travelled to Pakistan because he wanted to write and to do something for the Afghan people. He settled in Peshawar and was in and out of Afghanistan. In between, he wrote articles and taught. He also became a Muslim and has been one since. Only his strong faith could have kept him steadfast, considering what he went through at the hands of his fellow faithful, including time in the Rawalpindi central jail on a false charge, the same accursed place where they executed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Asadullah Khan lives in Kentucky now, which was where I went to meet him over a year ago after we had corresponded by e-mail. I found his story, which may soon be published in New York, fascinating. Before President Pervez Musharraf came to Washington, Asadullah said he wanted the General to read his book and sent me a copy of the manuscript which I handed over to the President the day he was leaving. I hope he read it on his long ride home.

Asadullah is an equestrian explorer and is the only person in the world to have ridden from Islamabad to Gilgit by the long route through Malakand and ridden back along the great Karakurram Highway. Some time ago, he founded the Longriders Club, an international network of men and women who love horses and ride them over long, seemingly impassable terrain and unimaginable distances. That club is not for the fainthearted.

Asadullah loves Pakistan and the only city he wants to live in is Peshawar, whose every nook and cranny he knows better than he does his own home town. What he hates is Zia-ul-Haq. “Perhaps in His wisdom, Allah had taken the Quaid-i-Azam before he lived long enough to see his dream degenerate into a paradise, not for the Muslim people, but the very forces he had spent his life combating ... The current ruler (writing in the mid-1980s), General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s Napoleon Bonaparte, has ruthlessly repudiated everything the Quaid-i-Azam had fought for. Zia has ruled the country since 1977 ... He made no pretense at harbouring the democratic ideals Jinnah had sacrificed his life for. A fascist masquerading as a Muslim, Zia proudly bore the title Chief Martial Law Administrator. The diminutive General banned all political activity, executed the former prime minister, imprisoned thousands of political rivals, censored all newspapers and imposed harsh ‘Islamic’ punishments on his disheartened countrymen.”

Asadullah, though an American, had the intellectual integrity to see that “the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had brought American influence in Pakistan to such a record level that the ambassador of that country was widely viewed as the unacknowledged Viceroy of a new Raj.”

Asadullah also hates Winston Churchill, of whom he wrote, “Churchill despised the Pathans, calling them ‘Stone Age savages whose daily deeds are treachery and violence’. He dismissed Islam as a ‘miserable superstition propagated by the sword’, the founding principle of which was an ‘incentive to slaughter’. The village mosque, he deemed a ‘consecrated hovel’. He hated the Pathan lifestyle, saying they lived in ‘fortified slums, amid dirt and ignorance, as degraded a race as any on the fringe of humanity; fierce as the tiger, but less cleanly.’ Even Pathan women came in for a journalistic beating from the future Prime Minister. ‘Their wives,’ he wrote, ‘have no position but that of animals. They are too filthy to handle and too noisome to approach.’ He called the local Pathan patriots who had risen in defence of, what he called, ‘their pestilential land’, ‘ignorant, depraved, squalid, athletic savages’. He wrote that ‘extermination of the inhabitants’ of the Frontier was necessary because of the ‘perpetual inheritance of our race’.”

Asadullah bought his horse in Peshawar and named it Shavon. He rode it from Peshawar through Malakand to Chitral where he was felled by hepatitis. “Grief never takes a vacation in Pakistan,” he wrote and so it was with him. The doctor who saw him said he must fly to Peshawar or he would die. Shavon, he had to sell, something that to this day he considers a “betrayal”. After three weeks in hospital, he was released. Of Peshawar he wrote, “Every city has an ambiance and mystique. In Peshawar one never felt alone. You walked in the present, felt the past pressing through the city, not striding her streets.”

He should have stayed in Peshawar but he came to Rawalpindi with a friend and was nabbed at Flashman’s hotel by two men insisting that a suitcase containing drugs that he had never in his life seen, belonged to him. He was put in a safehouse, then shifted to the Central Jail when his trial began. Of the jail Asadullah later wrote, “It was an institution where devotion to the degradation of man was an art form.” During the time he was there, he picked up enough Urdu and every swear word in Pakistan’s principal languages. He was acquitted by the court, but without an apology. Once out of jail, he decided to set out on his dream ride to Gilgit. He bought a horse he named Pukhtoon from the Pakistan army, but tragically lost him in Kafiristan. He continued his perilous journey on the second horse he had bought from the army, a lovely animal named Pasha. He completed the trip, the first man to have done so. Of Pasha he wrote, “Such a horse was only on loan from God.”

And of Islamabad, to which he returned, he wrote, “It was a city in search of dignity”, combining “worship of federal power and personal isolation”, everything there being “a repudiation of everything Pakistani, a sullen, silent place arrogantly aping the foreign ideals of the West, all traces of Pakistani life having been rooted out like a virus.” A better description I had not read since the 1960s when my friend A.K.H. Morshed called it “the kind of place where by reflex action you begin to salute anything that moves.”

A war without Congress

AS American troops battle al-Qaida forces near the Afghan city of Gardez, the war on terrorism is headed for trouble with Congress.

The Republicans are howling about what they see as unpatriotic behavior, but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., was right to complain this past weekend that the administration failed to honor its constitutional obligation to keep him and other officials in the loop. This war is just, but it is still the responsibility of Congress to fund it _ a fact that the White House can’t ignore forever.

The Bush administration’s snubs of Congress have been frequent and in-your-face. On Monday, the White House said Thomas J. Ridge would not respond to a bipartisan request to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee about a $38-billion boost in spending for his homeland defense agency. On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., learned that the White House had failed to inform him of a contingency plan briefing for congressional leaders.

Daschle, John F. Kerry, D-Mass., and other senators are bridling at President Bush’s vast expansion of foreign commitments, made without consulting Congress and, they argue, without a clear game plan. If Bush’s popularity ratings are an indication, the public will have little patience for any politician who seems ready to tiptoe away from an aggressive offensive against the international terrorists who remain so eager to slaughter Americans. The administration may be right to send advisors everywhere from Georgia to Oman. But it does not have license to intervene anywhere, anytime, without congressional permission.

The administration has asked for $4.7 trillion over the next 10 years for the Pentagon, $600 billion more than was anticipated before Sept. 11. The 2003 budget is supposed to be $379 billion, an increase of $48 billion. Many of the administration’s requests are reasonable. It wants to improve housing for military personnel and their families. —Los Angeles Times

Outgrowing jihadi culture

By Prof Khalid Mahmud


THE compulsion of circumstances impelled Pakistan to join the US-led war against terrorism. It was an imperative of the country’s national security. Islamabad could ill-afford to stand isolated and be singled out as a ‘rogue state’, while the whole world had joined the campaign.

It was all the more necessary for geopolitical factors. Averting losses rather than making gains was the basic motivation. For instance, if the Americans have not been won over as trustworthy friends and allies, they have also not been driven to an unfriendly posture. A consolation for Pakistan is that the US is inclined to play the role of a moderator in its longstanding conflict with India, even though there has been for quite some time a pronounced pro-India tilt in US policy in South Asia.

Pakistan’s close collaboration with the Americans in the Afghan war and the vows of a long-term friendship from both sides have not deterred New Delhi from pursuing a policy of reckless war-mongering vis-a-vis Pakistan. There are two views regarding India’s obstinate refusal to de-escalate its military build-up along Pakistani border.

One, that the Indians hell bent on browbeating Pakistan have stopped short of actually going to war because of the US pressure, and the other that India’s continuing confrontation is with the US connivance, since the US wants unrelenting pressure on Musharraf government to sort out once and for all the religious extremist forces.

Breaking off with the Taliban and their adherents in Pakistan was the first logical step towards Islamabad’s policy reversal. Banning Islamic militant groups such as Lashker-e-Tayyaba, and Jaish-i-Mohammad has been the beginning of a crackdown on the so-called ‘jihadi culture’. President Musharraf has reaffirmed time and gain that his agenda is to transform Pakistan into a modern, liberal and tolerant welfare state. In more precise terms he has stated that he doesn’t want Pakistan to be seen as a promoter of “Khudai faujdars” who arrogate to themselves the divine mission of waging jihad all over the world.

Islamabad has been trying to distinguish between acts of terrorism and the militant struggle for freedom, in order to justify armed resistance against Indian occupation in Kashmir. There is no question of withdrawing support to the cause of Kashmiri self-determination, the government says. Nevertheless, to root out jihadi culture from the country without hurting the cause of armed resistance in Kashmir is indeed a tall order, since most of the jihadi groups have been actively involved in the fighting in Kashmir.

Unless they have the capacity to shift their operational headquarters to occupied Kashmir, the Pakistan-based jihadi groups (now defunct) will soon be marginalized as a factor in Kashmir struggle. And the militant outfits in Kashmir will have to increasingly rely on the local, indigenous components of their cadres.

With the decline of jihadi culture in Pakistan corresponding changes in the complexion and orientation of the Kashmir resistance are unavoidable. ‘Azadi’ was the ethos of the struggle in Kashmir. The slogan was a rallying point for all Kashmiris, irrespective of faith or political orientation. Over the years it has been changed into ‘jihad’ which has a religious connotation. Reverting to the original ‘battle cry’ may be necessary to rectify the aberration in the image of the Kashmir struggle.

‘Kashmiriat’, rather a religious bond should be highlighted to rally round the Kashmiris for a common struggle. It may have been more productive to raise cadres for ‘jihad’, particularly in terms of motivation and commitment, but the concept of jihad widely seen as a war against infidels raises more alarm than sympathy for the cause in outside world.

In the wake of the current global drive against terrorism, some people are sceptical about the chances of a militant struggle in Kashmir to survive as the modus operandi of the resistance against Indian occupation. Another view holds that the militant aspect of the struggle was overemphasized, in particular high-intensity armed action was rather premature. The resistance in Kashmir should have been geared for a long haul and not aimed at performing spectacular feat or producing quick results. It should have followed the classical pattern of guerrilla warfare and gradually moved from lower forms of armed action to the higher and from one stage of struggle to another.

It is in this context that opinion leaders are prone to calling for restating the primacy of the political leadership in the Kashmir resistance. The militant action should be subordinate to the requirements of a given political situation, and the militant groups should never be seen as a parallel force, or an alternative to the political leadership. For instance, the Hizbul Mujahideen should not have directly made the offer of a ceasefire to New Delhi and agreed to hold talks with the Indian government. From hindsight it was a tactical blunder, since the move implied projecting the Hizbul Mujahideen as a counter-weight to the Hurriyat conference and therefore tantamount to undermining the authority of the political leadership. If the APHC is acknowledged as the representative of all Kashmiris committed to securing the right of self-determination, there is no reason why it should not be in command of all the facets of resistance in Kashmir. As a matter of fact, it should be enabled to draw a long-term and comprehensive plan of action, encompassing, mass mobilization, political agitation, civil disobedience, and non-cooperation, and summoning resistant action in aid and assistance of the political agenda.

That the freedom struggle in Kashmir must make haste to outgrow the image of religious extremist, or Islamic fundamentalist movement is absolutely essential. Among other things the process of communalization of the resistance should be reserved. For instance, militant groups should scrupulously refrain from targeting civilians, or killing people on communal grounds.

In order to enlarge the power base of the APHC the definition of self-determination should not be restricted to the UN Security Council resolution regarding plebiscite. Those who favour exercising the ‘third option’, should not be treated as political untouchables. New Delhi’s aversion to an ‘independent Kashmir’ is deep-rooted.

There is no question of the Indians ever agreeing to cede Jammu and Ladakh to an independent state. But from a theoretical standpoint any solution of the Kashmir dispute which results in the vacation of Indian occupation will be more advantageous to Pakistan than the status quo. What it really implies is that Pakistan should not outrightly reject the ‘third option’ as a basis for negotiation if the Indians were ever to agree to entertain this possibility.

The Dogra Hindus of Jammu would rather opt for joining the Indian state of Himachel Pradesh than be part of an independent Jammu and Kashmir state, and perhaps it is a little too late in the day to start wooing the Kashmiri pundits. Much water has flowed down the river Jehlum since they were not allergic to living under Muslim majority rule. But no harm would be done if one were to try to rope in the pundits of the valley on a secular, nationalist plank for the liberation of Kashmir.

The escalating war

THE fighting between Israelis and Palestinians is now the most intense between those peoples inside the borders of the former Palestine since Israel’s independence war a half-century ago. The death toll is in double digits every day; 70 have died just since last weekend.

The attacks by both sides are more and more assuming a conventional military character _ Israel Wednesday responded to rocket attacks by the Palestinians with a massive air, land and sea assault on the Gaza Strip. Both sides are issuing bellicose declarations: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week promised “an aggressive, continuous campaign from which we will not recoil,” while a commander of the Palestinian al-Aqsa brigades told The Washington Post’s Daniel Williams that his organization — which is loyal to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — now sees “a war which must be taken personally to the Israelis.”

Meanwhile, despite repeated appeals from its allies in Europe and the Middle East, the Bush administration continues to watch from the sidelines, abdicating the brokering role the United States has played in the region for decades. Its passivity is facilitating, if not feeding, the fighting.

There seem to be a number of reasons for the administration’s inertia. Some officials feel the United States cannot be distracted from the war on terrorism by a conflict that offers little prospect of a solution. Some say it is no longer possible to work with Mr. Arafat unless he executes an increasingly improbable U-turn and cracks down on his own fighters; others argue that a congressional election year is the wrong time to pick a fight with the stubborn Mr. Sharon, who is most unlikely to agree to a serious peace process.

The pleas of allies, such as visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, are less effective than they once were — the more-unilateralist people in the administration resist the idea that the Arabs or Europeans should sway the United States from its focus on Iraq and the “axis of evil.”

The administration’s most risky calculation may be this: that sooner or later, Israelis and Palestinians will recoil from the mounting bloodshed and seek a way out. —The Washington Post

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