How the US Stoked Ethno-Religious Conflict Bringing India and Pakistan to the Brink of Nuclear War

Pakistan | India

Family members of a boy, who was killed by Indian shelling, mourn next his casket at a village in Hatian Bala, 40 kilometers from Muzafarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, March 2, 2019. M.D. Mughal | AP. Ediditing by MintPress News

The last two decades of going after “Evil Dictators” all over the globe has also led to the decline of American power — the dilution of resources and energies leading to a lack of focus on the key flash points in the world, especially Kashmir and Jerusalem.

by Ali A. Taj

The world must not ignore the potential nuclear flashpoint in South AsiaIf such a war, even a very limited nuclear exchange, transpired between India and Pakistan, it could very easily lead to the deaths of a billion people all over the world from the resulting global fallout.

Since the nuclear armament of South Asia in the 1990s, U.S. presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama ensured, at the very least, a minimum level of restraint through diplomacy between India and Pakistan. Things were never allowed to get to the level that they did last week when an all-out war between the two nuclear-armed South Asian countries seemed imminent.

President Donald Trump has no focus on the most militarized zone in the world — one highly susceptible, moreover, to profound and intense ethno-religious tensions. Historically, prior to the arrival of the British, such tensions were at a manageable level. The arrival of the British brought Wahhabism to the mostly Sufi and Shia culture of South Asia.

The sources of South Asia’s ethno-religious tensions

The British imperialists had mastered the art of divide-and-rule and had been busy creating and facilitating puritanical and exclusivist cults peddled as reform movements.  In the Middle East, this was manifested in Wahhabism, aka Salafis; in South Asia, this led to the formation of the Darul Uloom in Deoband. The Darul Uloom Deoband (which gives its name to the Deobandi school of thought) was the direct result of the destruction of the Mughal Empire at the hands of the British, as well as the destruction of other Muslim and Hindu principalities and states in what is today South Asia.

The most prominent examples of sovereign and independent South Asian states that were destroyed by the British, using revivalist cults that coalesced into the Darul Uloom Deoband, are the Muslim states of Kashmir, the Hindu Maratha Movement, and the Sikh Empire of the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Revivalist and revanchist movements emerged with sectarian puritans like Ahmed Sirhindi in the 17th century. These were furthered in the 18th century when Ahmad Shah Abdali was invited and encouraged by Shah Waliullah to conduct genocidal sectarian campaigns in the then Muslim-ruled Kashmir and Maratha-dominated Central India.  

Shah Waliullah’s grandson, Shah Ismail, was part of a violent insurrection campaign led by Sayed Ahmed of Rai Bareilly. This campaign was led against the pluralist Sikh Empire established by Ranjeet Singh in areas that constitute the Punjab and the KPK province today. All these campaigns were led by those who adhered to a sectarian, puritan, exclusivist doctrine that formally established itself at the Darul Uloom Deoband. The establishment of this madrasa by Nanotvi and Ganguhi was after the British brutally destroyed the last vestiges of the Mughal Empire.

Nanotvi and Ganguhi used the distraction of the Mughal Empire’s hopeless stand against British imperialism to thuggishly set up an “Islamic State” in Shimla. After the British brutally crushed the 1857 Rebellion by massacring or exiling the remaining Mughal dynasty, they never seriously prosecuted either Ganguhi or Nanotvi for their criminal operation in Shimla. A decade later, the two laid the foundations for the Darul Uloom Deoband.

Wahhabism in the Middle East and Deobandism in South Asia are connected since their genesis in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Abdul Wahab’s teacher was one Muhammad Hayat Al Sindhi. Al Sindhi in turn enjoyed a similar relationship with Shah Waliullah of South Asia. The British imperialists were the main beneficiaries of both these movements. The growing British influence in South Asia benefited from the Pro-Deobandi sect in South Asia. The British benefited directly from the violent and sectarian campaigns against the Sikh Empire, the Hindu princely states, and the Mogul Empire.

When the British were forced to leave South Asia, they made sure to create the wedge issue of Kashmir, in the same way they created the wedge issue of Jerusalem, on ethno-religious lines. The West ensured that there would not be any solutions and they would be able to sell weapons and continue to control the warring nation-states.

The U.S. picks up where Britain left off

All of this is not lost on the United States and NATO, who have inherited Britain’s imperialist policies. The U.S. used Deobandi and Salafi proxies to counter secular-left governments in Afghanistan. This eventually resulted in the Genocide of Shia and Sufi Sunni communities and forced conversions and oppression of minorities in Pakistan over the last four decades.

The U.S. policy has been to keep Wahhabi Salafi Deobandi (WSD) militant proxies restricted to regional conflicts in South Asia, West Asia/Middle East and North Africa.  However, this is clearly not a viable strategy. It is obvious that the U.S. has not been able to control the Taliban (entirely Deobandi) in Afghanistan while spending untold blood and treasure. One of the blowbacks is of course 9/11. U.S. policymakers have largely ignored this problem, which led to Deobandi terrorists attacking the Indian army in Kashmir and brutally murdering nearly 50 soldiers. This has led to a warlike situation that, if escalated, could lead to a nuclear conflict.

However, while ignoring the root cause of WSD ideologies, America had thus far prevented this kind of escalation by persuasive diplomacy. While Pakistan is being singled out for blame, the world can no longer ignore the fact that the United States and Saudi Arabia have played a far bigger role in using WSD militants for regime-change wars. Libya, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq are tragic reminders of this destructive policy.

Similarly, terrorist incidents – including the most recent attacks in ParisManchesterLondonBoston and San Bernardino — are the tragic blowback from these policies.

Even India is not safe from these Takfiri WSD networks. The head of Al Qaeda in India, Asim Umar, is a graduate of Darul Uloom Deoband. Similarly. SIMI, a Deobandi student group in India, has been found to be behind multiple terrorist attacks. As Pakistan has gradually moved away from the disastrous Saudi-U.S. policy of using WSD Takfiri proxies and non-state actors for policy goals, it is important to highlight that India has its own domestic Takfiri problem. Rather than goading its right-wing Hindutva government into a nuclear flashpoint, the Indian media needs to closely highlight the growth and danger posed to the state by domestic actors.

American regime-change war policy, led by neocons and followed by neo-liberals, has marked the dwindling influence of the United States. At the same time the rest of the world, especially Asia, has developed more influence and economic power. Currently, Asia both produces and consumes more oil and gas than America or Europe; however the individual countries trade under the systems created and administered by the West.

Making the world a more dangerous place

Trump is making the world more dangerous through his cavalier attitude. He is inviting the danger of nuclear attacks on Americans by unilaterally walking out on long-standing international and regional peace agreements. This, coupled with a lack of robust American diplomacy — which was very much in evidence during the administrations of presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama — is leaving the Russians, Chinese and the rest of the countries in Europe and Asia without the benefits of the NATO or American security umbrella.

Trump’s actions are destroying the global influence of the United States, which is already weakened by the economic and military rise of Asia. Allowing the Pakistan-India conflict to come to the brink of nuclear war is a clear signal to Russia and China to move strongly in the direction of a Eurasian trade and security framework that competes with NATO and the International Monetary Fund.

The last two decades of going after “Evil Dictators” all over the globe has also led to the decline of American power — the dilution of resources and energies leading to a lack of focus on the key flashpoints in the world, especially Kashmir and Jerusalem.

The solution lies in the discourse and narrative. In Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, Sunni-led nationalist armies — which contain Shias, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and Druze — have defeated Takfiri and sectarian WSD militant terrorist groups  It is crucial to identify and isolate the ideology of Takfir (exclusivism) while also highlighting that the mainstream Muslim sects do not wish to be dominated by sectarian cults.

Understanding these nuances will not only discourage counterproductive regime-change wars. It will also undercut the discriminatory, generic and sweeping discourses used by demagogues like Trump. Most importantly, understanding these historical trends will reduce the risk of a nuclear flashpoint in South Asia.

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