Shahid M Amin
In 1901, when Queen Victoria died, the British Empire was at its zenith. More than one-fourth of the world’s population was ruled by the British. It was said that the sun never set on the British Empire, which stretched from New Zealand to Canada. At that time, no one could have predicted that, fifty years later, the British Empire would be gone, starting with India, the largest British colony. Colonies ruled by France and other European powers would similarly gain independence.
After Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan in 1980s, the conventional wisdom was that the Soviets would never leave Afghanistan. The historical record had been that any country occupied by the Soviets stayed in Moscow’s stranglehold. Analysts made light of the resistance put up by the ill-equipped Afghan Mujahidin. This was the scenario when I reached Moscow as Pakistan’s Ambassador in 1984. There was a mood of despondency practically everywhere. But five years later, the Soviets had to withdraw from Afghanistan. Both internal and external considerations led to that decision.
For years, the Communist bloc had stretched over a vast area. Russia had been under totalitarian rule since 1917: the Communist straitjacket seemed unshakeable. It possessed nuclear weapons and had intercontinental ballistic missiles. Nothing less than defeat in war could have brought an end to the Soviet bloc, but Third World War was never an option. Thus, the conventional wisdom was that the status quo would continue indefinitely. But come 1991, Communism collapsed in Russia and the Soviet bloc imploded from within.
The Berlin wall was built by the Soviet Union in 1961. It was meant to block anyone in Soviet-controlled Berlin and East Germany from crossing over to freedom in the West. There was no way the wall could be demolished, short of war with Soviet Union. And yet, the Berlin wall was gone in 1989 and East Germany disappeared, without a shot being fired.
Vietnam was a French colony for nearly a century. The Vietnamese waged a war of liberation and, against all odds, defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. USA was alarmed by the Communist success and stepped in Vietnam. It looked like David against Goliath. But the Super Power was unable to prevail and heavy losses made the war unpopular in USA. In 1973, American troops were withdrawn. Two years later, South Vietnam also fell to the North. Vietnam had won against a Great Power and, next, a Super Power.
The French were adamant that they would never give up Algeria. “Algerie francaise” was their slogan, with the claim that Algeria was not a colony, but an integral part of France, like Marseille. There were lakhs of French settlers in Algeria. France was determined to crush the Arab/Muslim resistance. When General de Gaulle came to power in 1958, the rightists saw him as their own man and were confident he would ensure continued French rule over Algeria. But de Gaulle concluded that Algeria could not be kept in bondage and accepted its independence in 1962.
White supremacists in South Africa had imposed the worst kind of apartheid (meaning apartness) in history. They possessed the military muscle and were determined to continue to use force to maintain their control. Few gave a chance to Nelson Mandela, who was in jail for 27 years, till his release in 1990. But, four years later, the apartheid regime was abolished without any bloodshed and Mandela became President.
Our own country Pakistan was achieved miraculously within seven years, despite formidable opposition from the Hindu majority, backed by British imperialism, which too opposed division of India. The conventional wisdom was that Pakistan was an impossible dream. When Pakistan was secured in 1947, the Quaid himself reportedly said: “I did not expect Pakistan to be achieved in my lifetime.”
The foregoing does not mean that opinions of experts and seasoned analysts are inconsequential, or that nothing in politics or international relations can be predicted with accuracy. But it does show that human affairs do not always follow logic. The unpredictable part is the courage of a people who are determined to secure their national objective, irrespective of the odds. This is how we should look at the ongoing resistance of Kashmiri people against Indian rule. They have shown by their actions, during the last seventy years, that they do not want to be ruled by India. They have now demonstrated through their year-long unparalleled public protests, involving men and women, young and old, that they are united in their resolve to secure Azaadi (freedom) from Indian rule.
Only the blind in India can continue with the fiction that it is all the doing of “Pakistani infiltrators”. No doubt, India is a big power. It is hell-bent on hanging on to Kashmir. Indian national pride is at stake. But so was American pride in Vietnam and French pride in Algeria. India does have rational analysts, even though it is currently being ruled by an obscurantist regime. At some point of time, India will have to realise that its senseless repression, contrary to all that Gandhi stood for, is not going to solve the problem and that a Kashmir solution is in its own national interest. Once a policy determination is made, diplomats can find face-saving formulas. It could be a Northern Ireland-like solution, or Kashmir could be given to a UN mandate for some years, prior to exercising the right of self-determination.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin