Monday, June 14, 2010

TNT Redux

What a coincidence:  the Two-Nation Theory shares its acronym with an all-time-favorite explosive compound...Both are the fruits of human ingenuity but the damage caused by the former, political TNT surpasses anything that can be produced in the labs.

Take the tragedy unfolding right now in Kyrgyztan. Over 200,000 Uzbek minorities are being hounded out of the Ferghana valley in southern Kyrgyztan. Seeds of yet another long-drawn conflict are being sown and a relatively peaceful region will soon be exchanging notes with Tito`s Yugoslavia, Paul Kagame`s Rwanda, Saddam`s Iraq, Suharto`s Indonesia and, of course, British India.

How is it that TNT gets so easily replicated? Some folks like to blame the former imperial powers for creating `artificial` boundaries that disregard cultural and ethnic differences. The origins of the ongoing Indo-Pak conflict are traced to the `divide and rule` policy instituted during the British Raj; the problems of Africa are linked to the European imperialism and the problems in central Asia are called Stalin`s Harvest.

Perhaps it is easier to seek the simplistic comfort of blaming others - especially when the bitter truth lies somewhere within.

Take the case of the festering Indo-Pak conflict, where the K-issue is merely an excuse for a battle of ideologies - one that stands on TNT and another that denounces it. 

I have often wondered how the Pakistanis explain to themselves the obvious contradictions of TNT while trying to explain the vicious sectarian and ethnic conflicts within their own country. Ali Sethi has recently come up with an interesting article in the New York Times, titled `One Myth, Many Pakistans`.

Sethi starts off with a school-essay he once wrote on TNT, and of learning a completely different account of TNT in `a secluded college library in Massachusetts` -

Here I learned that it was devised in the 1930s by a group of desperate Muslim politicians who wanted to extract some constitutional concessions from the British before they left India.

The Muslims of India, these politicians were saying in their political way, were a “distinct group” with their own “history and culture.” But really, the book told me, all they wanted was special protection for the poor Muslim minorities in soon-to-be-independent, mostly Hindu India.

But the politicians’ gamble failed; they were taken up on their bluff and were given a separate country, abruptly and violently cut-up, two far-apart chunks of Muslim-majority areas (but what about the poor Muslim minorities that were still stuck in Hindu-majority areas!) that its founders (but it was a mistake!) now had to justify with the subtleties of their theory.

It was like a punishment.

...But the idea was kept alive and made useful: first by a set of unelected bureaucrats, then by generals, then by landowners, and then by generals again.

...The Two-Nation Theory, confined so far to political slogans and clauses in the Constitution, now went everywhere: it was injected into textbook passages (the ones I would reproduce, with new words and emotions, in my exam) and radio shows and programs on the one state-run TV channel. And it branched out, becoming anti-Communist (to attract American money), anti-Shiite (to attract Arab money, given for cutting Iran’s influence in the continent), anti-woman (to please the mullahs) and still more anti-Ahmadi (to enhance the pleasure and power of the mullahs).

The Two-Nation Theory was dynamic, useful, lucrative.

There seems to be a method to this madness -- first the power-brokers nurture `distinct groups with their own history & culture`, and then watch helplessly as the Frankenstein`s shove their creators aside and stomp out of control.

One Myth, Many Pakistans - Ali Sethi, New York Times, June 11, 2010

Stalin's harvest - What lies behind the violence in Kyrgyzstan, The Economist Jun 14th 2010

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