By Rajendra Prabhu
Successful municipal-panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir. Nearly 60 per cent turnout in the elections to a provisional National Assembly in Iraq. And earlier, excellent voter participation in Afghanistan'sfirst free presidential elections. All this against proximate threat to lives and limbs of all participants from terrorists and their backers. Most analysts say this is the people showing thumbs down to the cult of terror of which the fugitive Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden is the global icon.
In all these places car bombs exploded, shots against candidates were fired and many died but still the people went to the polling stations and recorded their vote. Fear did not deter them. There were of course pockets of influence of terror merchants where voting was the lowest-the Sunni areas in Iraq and the state capital in Jammu and Kashmir. But it seems that given a chance to choose between government by terror and government by consent, the bulk of the Muslims have made their choice evident.
The democracy breeze that is blowing across the Middle East, is gathering strength into a wind. In Iran, for instance, where the conservative clerics have filtered out all liberal-minded candidates from contesting elections, significant sections of the people like the students have protested. The developments in post-Arafat Palestine have also sparked hopes that there is now a disconnect between terror and the Arab masses. Palestine'snew President Abbas elected by an overwhelming majority against the hardliners has not only signed a fresh deal with his ?eternal enemy? Israel, he has taken the courageous step to fire his top officials whose negligence enabled the terror merchants of Hamaas to ply their trade in a bid to sabotage peace.
The prospects look somewhat better for democracy if not for liberal Islam in the Muslim world even though the developments are still precarious. One false step could crack the entire edifice whether it is in Afghanistan or in Iraq. Bin Laden continues to issue his threats to Americans to Islamize or face total destruction. He still remains beyond the power of America to catch him ?dead or alive?. So much so the Bush Administration is stated to be considering doubling the reward for information leading to his capture from 25 to 50 million dollars. Political analysts say this level of bribes would make no dent for, among the people who has hidden him, a bribe of that proportion has no meaning. What could the tempted tribal in Baluchistan do with so huge a fortune-more likely, he would be soon found out and clubbed to death.
The idea of this bus service as well as free and fair elections were the gifts of Atal Behari Vajpayee who as the then Prime Minister took a calculated risk that has paid off, despite serious misgivings.
In a recent article Thomas Friedman, New York Times columnist, remarked that instead of doubling the bribe the Bush Administration should declare that the informer would get only a penny for his effort. Nothing would be that galling to the world'snumber one terrorist than the fact that America, which he still threatens with destruction, is valuing him only worth a penny. In other words, the disconnect between the ideology of terror plus religion and the people among whom this virus hopes to breed, is so evident and widening that the threat no longer counts.
However, that cannot be true so early. An opinion poll taken in Iraq in 2004 suggested that at least 40 per cent of the people supported multi-party democracy while only 13 per cent would support a theocratic rule as in neighbouring Iran. The fact that in Iraq it is the Shiite alliance that has become the dominant force due to the shortsighted boycott of the elections by the bulk of Sunni leadership, might generate some other consequences. The fear of power slipping away from them forever might force the Sunni leadership to revisit their policy of boycott. Already Sunni politicians have said they want to participate in the constitution-making process, which is the major task before the elected Assembly. ?In order for freedom to have a chance of development in Iraq, we must be patient as well as strong?, writes an academic analyst Prof. James Q. Wilson, author of several books on political developments, in an article on ?Islam and Freedom? written in the December issue of the magazine Commentary.
One must also read in this context what has been happening in J&K. The elections to the civic bodies have been a tremendous success considering the intensity of the threat from the militants. It is still too early to be entirely hopeful because some of the successful candidates have apologised through newspaper advertisements after a few of them were gunned down by the militants. But the news of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service has enthused the local population to burst into a demonstration of joy. Reports say that it is the militants who are angered over this development. At this time it is worth recalling that the idea of this bus service as well as free and fair elections were the gifts of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who as the then Prime Minister took a calculated risk that has paid off, despite serious misgivings among many-including some of his own colleagues- at that time.
The transformation in Afghanistan, the step-by-step improvement in Indo-Pak relations, the proposed oil/gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan, the public support in J&K for democracy and demonstrable disregard for the barrel of the insurgents? gun, all should be viewed together. For five decades the people of India and Pakistan did not have the benefit of knowing one another more deeply due to travel restrictions, and ban on exchange of other information media. Vajpayee broke the brittle silence when he himself went by bus to Lahore in 1999, only to be rebuffed by a war on Kargil, a period of intensified attempt of ISI to break Indian will through a ?thousand cuts? strategy finally leading to attack on Indian Parliament. None of these succeeded.
When the then Indian Prime Minister seized the initiative for peace once again in 2003, there were sneers in both India and Pakistan. Now the critics are finding themselves left out by the forces of history. The Leftists, who prophesied fire and brimstone in Iraq and defeat for democracy in Afghanistan, are licking their wounds. Our Marxists have been advising the UPA government, which depends on their support, not to promote the American-backed peace initiative in Palestine. They must be looking up their Marxist texts to find what went wrong with their prophecy.