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The evolving scenarios

Afzal Guru’s secret hanging on Saturday, conventional laws of dialectics direct us to believe, has spawned multi-layered linkages, ranging from corrosive domestic politics to high military strategy.

Of these perhaps the most serious fallout came on Monday when Pakistan tested its short-range battlefield nuclear missile to arm itself against threats from “evolving scenarios”.

This weapon is specifically meant to stall a major armour thrust from India although well-regarded experts doubt its efficacy. If anything, its use could give India an excuse to invoke its second-strike option leading to an almost certain full-blown nuclear exchange in South Asia.

I do not wish to dishearten Ishrat Husain, the genial former chief of Pakistan’s central bank, who was in Delhi a week ago to root for increased bilateral trade between the two countries. But do remember that official notices and pamphlets were out in the Kashmir Valley just a couple of weeks back detailing (futile) measures, which residents should take against the impact of a nuclear attack.

What then are the evolving scenarios the Pakistani military is worriedly looking at? Let’s begin with an important digression.

At one level every nuclear test or experimental missile launch mocks the Nobel Prize given to Barack Obama at the start of his first innings in office. That the North Koreans on Wednesday tested a far bigger bomb than they were thought to be capable of assembling is one such testimony to his failure as the guru we thought could stop the doomsday clock from ticking closer to midnight.

Returning to South Asia, it is well-known that the epicentre for a future India-Pakistan stand-off would be located in Afghanistan even if its trigger lies in Kashmir. Afzal Guru’s hasty execution links many of these dots.

Why was he killed and so unfairly? Was the Kashmiri fruit vendor and a surrendered militant taken out to assuage popular sentiments of a middle class whose rightwing tendencies are becoming more pronounced than its promise of Nehruvian liberalism? (The plaque at Mughal Emperor Akbar’s tomb in Sikandara, near Agra, says: “He planted his kingship in the Indian soil and … made a nation out of a mob.” How would Akbar regard his beloved Hindustan’s flaunted political system working daily to make a mob out of a nation?)

Those who know the law insist that Afzal Guru was denied his right to a judicial review after the president rejected his mercy petition. Other death row prisoners, including the assassins of Rajiv Gandhi, are alive by taking recourse to the option after their mercy petitions were rejected. Their appeals are under a judicial review.

My guess is that the review option gained validity because the presidential discretion on mercy pleas was deemed essentially subjective, often based on political or even parochial considerations. I remember how Shamim Rehmani, convicted for killing her alleged lover Dr Hari Om Gautam in Lucknow in the 1970s, was granted clemency by then president Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.

Afzal Guru had no lawyer to assist him when he made a televised confession in handcuffs. He later said he was made to speak out the script given to him by the investigating officer Rajbeer Singh. “This was first told to me by Rajbeer Singh … If I will speak according to their wishes they will not harm my family members and also gave me false assurances that they will make my case [the case against him] weak so that after some time I will be released.”

This and many more similar questions in the case remain unanswered, a few of which were compiled by Penguin in a book of essays titled 13 December, A Reader: The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament.

Still, assume for a moment that Afzal Guru was guilty of a terror outrage and that he deserved to die. What did the Indian state or the present government gain from his death? There are many beneficiaries and a few losers. The Indian Army and Indian arms merchant will clearly benefit from a resultant violence in Kashmir and beyond.

It is well-known that the situation in the Valley is poised to worsen when militants engaged in the Afghan war are relieved of their duties. They have threatened to link up with Pakistan-based Kashmiri groups to wreak havoc in the Valley. Guru’s death has handed them a popular base, which they lacked.

Moreover, the grovelling growth rate of the Indian economy which has reportedly dwindled to five per cent of the GDP was going to strip the military of any budget enhancements. This paring down could become untenable if Kashmir burns.

Some arms merchants are thought to masquerade as nationalist hawks and analysts on TV. They will have a field day — regardless of the latest scandal in which the Italians claim to have paid bribes to the air force to sell their helicopters.

Low growth rates should spur a more restive society led by an ever more bloodthirsty middle class, helping rightwing hero Narendra Modi, and not necessarily Rahul Gandhi. If so, draconian measures are nigh, particularly in the tribal belts where the panacea for wealth generation has to be dug out to fill the yawning gaps in everyone’s budget.

Interestingly, one of the men who sent Guru to his death was an active supporter of the Emergency rule of Indira Gandhi. His corporate links are also only too well-known.

The recent sequence of events on the Line of Control was part of an orchestrated spiral that leads to various scenarios both military and civilian. We may be staring into a very dark political alley, or down the barrel of some nuclear rocket launcher.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent.jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Jawed Naqvi, "The evolving scenarios," Dawn. 2013-02-14.