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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 30 New Delhi July 16, 2016

Bloodbath at Dhaka

Sunday 17 July 2016, by Kuldip Nayar

The killing of dozens of people by terrorists at Dhaka is not an aberration, but the product of a committed mind that has been brainwashed by fanaticism. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is quite right when she says that this is not Islam, yet the Muslims all over must introspect why their co-religionists are striking all over and at regular intervals. Dhaka’s Information Minister Hasanul Haq has blamed Pakistan for the attack. This may well be true, but there has to be evidence. Otherwise, the criticism will be considered a part of the inimical attitude by Dhaka towards Islamabad.

First in Paris, then Brussels and now Dhaka, the message is always the same. Non-believers have no space if they do not accept Islam as the one religion nearest to God. True, this mocks at ideologies like secularism and democracy. But if the discipline of Islam is to be accepted, there is no place for dissent. The madrassas all over the world teach the tenets of Islam and make you remember the Koran by heart. But there is little place for science or technology.

India is probably the only country which has compulsorily introduced science in madrassas. But the mullahs and maulvis are not happy with this and wherever they can—in remote parts of the country—they do away with teaching in science. Of course, there are exceptions like former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan. They represent the brilliant mind behind the finished product they brought before the wider world. But the weapon they are able to keep on the anvil can be lethal and destructive.

I recall when I interviewed the Bihar-born Dr A.Q. Khan he warned me that “if you ever drive us to the wall”, as was the case when East Pakistan seceded, “we will use the Bomb straight away”. In fact, I have heard some people saying in Pakistan that they would use the Bomb first and destroy India. But I argued with Khan that “you might destroy Northern India but that would also be the end of Pakistan. India would still be able to rebuild the country with the resources available in the south.”

It is strange that A.Q. Khan remains a hero in Pakistan, although he has sold the nuclear knowhow at an exorbitant price to countries from North Korea to Iran. It is a frightening scenario, but thanks to Khan, a dirty nuclear Bomb is a possibility anywhere in the Islamic world. Imagine also some terrorists getting hold of the Bomb. They can hold the world to ransom.

What happened at Dhaka was indiscriminate killing at the posh Gulshan restaurant in an exclusive part of the city earmarked for diplomats. Suppose those same terrorists had at their disposal a dirty Bomb? What could have been the consequences? Instead of a few dozen casualties the numbers of those killed would have been in hundreds of thousands and stretching across the border.

This should make the governments in South Asia conscious of the fact that terrorism is not now confined to distant places in Syria and Yemen. ISIS is already present and it claims to have local support. To build a dirty Bomb it is not necessary to hijack finished nuclear weapons. All that is required is access to any civil nuclear facilities, either power reactors like Kanupp in Karachi or research centres at Trombay near Mumbai. There cannot be any foolproof ban on the procurement of key strategic materials needed for the Bomb.

Countries in South Asia have to come together on this specific issue and devise suitable steps so that this region doesn’t become a hunting ground for nuclear adventure. This will also involve a concerted drive against the fundamentalists. For example, persons like Hyderabad-based Owaisi who are trying to win headlines by taking a stand which is palpably wrong but probably acceptable in the eyes of fanatics.

I wish the media wouldn’t give him the publicity he is getting because his eyes are fixed on the space he gets in the media. But then it is also understandable that the media cannot ignore the provocative statements he makes. If we look back at the subcontinent’s history the seeds of separation were sown by two Lahore-based newspapers, Zimidar representing the Muslims, and Pratap, the Hindus. They incited both communities and made Hindus and Muslims feel they belonged to two separate nations.

I recall that the feeling of being different came to be cultivated at the Law College, Lahore, where l was studying. The common kitchen eventually was divided into Hindu kitchen and Muslim kitchen, just like they started selling Hindu paani and Muslim paani at the railway station. Fortunately, most students were not affected by this. At the Law College dining room Muslim students would get food from their kitchen, Hindu students would in turn get food from their kitchen. But we all sat and ate together.

I feel that even though we did not bother about the separation of the kitchen, yet it gave birth to the idea of division and this ultimately led to partition of the subcontinent. But we never imagined that there would be forced migration of populations. We, who decided to stay in Sialkot city, now part of Pakistan, thought that we would be in a minority, just as Muslims would be in India. But both will be living peacefully. This did not happen because the bureaucracy on both sides was also divided on the basis of religion.

We in Sialkot experienced how the Muslim police connived at the looting and killing of non-Muslims because similar was the case in East Punjab. In the process we killed one million people of each other’s communities. Till today there is no accountability and I personally think that non-Muslims in India should offer an apology to the Muslims on the other side, just as they should do the same to us.

This may not make amends for the horrors, but at least it might begin a new chapter of healing. The terrorists who are the product of those terrible times may then be condemned by the people themselves and they would not be able to get the backing they need. Then the happening in Dhaka will be recalled with horror and humiliation.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is www.kuldipnayar.com