A lesson from the Hamas victory

A Hamas moment in Pakistan can make India’s nightmare worse

Everyone is stunned by the results of the Palestinian elections, writes the ‘BBC’s’ Jeremy Bowen. Hamas won, he writes, because they were seen as ‘honest and efficient and Fatah were not’. Hamas, according to the New York Times is ‘an organization that revels in terrorism and is sworn to destroy Israel’. Yet it is also one which was overwhelmingly voted into power by the Palestinian people. The Israeli government has already ruled out talks with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, but it finds itself on thin ground refusing to negotiate with Hamas now, because in addition to being a terrorist organisation, it is also a popularly elected ‘government’.

Ironically, it was to prevent this very outcome that the United States and Israel decided to engage the late Yasser Arafat. Arafat was one man, it was believed, who was the only chance they had to prevent the Palestinian territories from falling into the hands of the most radical, most hardline and most violent of Palestinian political formations. But Arafat used his position as president of the Palestinian Authority to dispense favours and privilege. While he and his cronies siphoned and squandered away the development funds, the resolute and committed cadres of Hamas occupied the vacuum left by Arafat’s failure to shape any real institutions. While he was still alive, Arafat was unable or unwilling to check Hamas’ rise. With his exit, Hamas’ rise was guaranteed almost by default. Israel’s jailing of Marwan Barghouti, one other figure who could fill Arafat’s shoes, didn’t help.

After declaring the spread of democracy as the cornerstone of its Middle East policy, the United States cannot now reject the results of the Palestinian elections. They may have to do so holding their noses, but both Israel and the United States must deal with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. It is not unusual for radicals to turn moderate when they find themselves holding the reins of power. But Hamas could well buck this trend. (Read the Armed Liberal and Colt at Winds of Change)

There’s a lesson in this for both India and the United States. Both believe that Gen Musharraf, like Yasser Arafat, is a bulwark against something much worse. Yet, it is under his rule that the Islamists find themselves stronger than ever before. The whole of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is under the sway of the Pakistani version of Hamas, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. The non-religious political opposition finds itself in the wilderness, emasculated as it is by Gen Musharraf. When he leaves the scene, the dominant political actors, apart from the army, will be the Islamists. Among those will remain standing, only the army and the Islamists have strong commitments to keeping the Pakistani federation from falling apart, making them natural allies. They may even come to power in free and fair elections, if the people they run against are the likes of Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhury Shujaat Hussain, the Pakistani equivalent of Fatah.

Hamas’ victory is a reminder that the only thing to negotiate with Musharraf about is Pakistan’s progress towards democracy. Contrary to popular characterisation, Musharraf does not stand in the way of Islamists seizing power. He stands in the way of democracy from taking root. It may already be too late to prevent a Hamas moment from happening in Pakistan in the near future. But unless India and the United States change their stance vis-a-vis Musharraf now, that outcome will prove to be just as surprising as the one in Gaza. The difference is that India will have to contend with a nuclear Hamas.

21 thoughts on “A lesson from the Hamas victory”

  1. Decent analogy but it only goes so far. Equating Shaukat Aziz with Fatah is an insult to Fatah, which commands a lot of popular support. And Jamaat-ud-Dawa is a two-bit operation that couldn’t get its people elected dog-catcher unlike Hamas (not that we have dog-catchers, just dogs). But the broader point about General Musharraf empowering Islamists rather than opposing them is well taken. The bit about a nuclear Hamas though is just hyperbole of the chicken little variety.

    (Just my opinion, of course.)

  2. Right about Musharraf being the obstacle for Pak’s democracy. But he is not alone, I would also blame the country’s feudal+business elite. Remove Musharraf, pronto this elite will install someone else from the Mullah/Military category to continue their hold.

    One slight difference vis-a-vis Hamas, is India has never directly attacked the top leadership of JuD in their territory a la Israel. Anyone chanting ‘Death to India’ can meet Hafeez Mohammed Saeed!

  3. It should be a lesson to the World powers that they should not support dictatorship anywhere, anytime. The dictators learn to prop up the religious parties after they come to power and manage to stay in power by frightening the world about the scenario after they are gone. The longer they stay, the worse it becomes. Egypt and Pakistan are classic examples. Myanmar is catching up.

  4. Pakistan has already has an Islamist government – only it wears the Army’s fatigues too. Musharraf’s comments, and actions against crimes on women, or madrassah-isataion/fundamentalisation have proved the same. The army started spreading fundamentalism way back, and it still is upto the same tricks. After all, Musharraf literally handed over PoK to the LeT/Jamaat-ud-Dawa himself.

    The question is really whether a fundamentalist party, on coming to power – without the army fatigues – will necessarily act any different vis-a-vis India.

  5. Just a clarification that Hamas grew from Israel’s attempt to counterbalance Arafat. That Arafat tried his best to increase Hamas’ participation in the first election [to appear fair, or whatever.] Ironies, as usual, abound.

  6. raven: Jamaat-ud-Dawa may be a 2-bit political operation. But it’s certainly more capable on the terror front. I do suspect that the Indian establishment’s sitting on it’s hands makes them look more menacing that they really are. They’re a bunch of thugs – need some strong-arm treatment.
    Disagree with you (agree with Nitin) on the nuclear Hamas analogy. Just imagine an Amhedinejad (or a Qazi Hussain Ahmed) with live nukes. Not too far-fetched.

  7. I am not sure the parallels exist between Israel-Palestine and India-Pakistan in J&K – other than that Palestinians and Pakistanis are predominately Muslim.

    For starters, Indians didn’t take Pakistani (or Jamaat-ud-Dawa) land and send local people to exile. While I think Israelis are great people, they need to give space to Palestinians to live even while protecting them against mainly Iranian sponsored rebel and terror movement.

    Such comparisons will only play into the silly General’s hands.

  8. Nitin,

    While Hamas like faction capturing power in Pakistan is not a “clear and present danger”, it remains a distinct possibility in near future.

    After all who would have thought in 1947 that Pakistan will turn out the way it turned out.

    At that time it had a better irrigation system (it still has), and one of the more enlightened group of Muslim intellectuals, compared to other Muslim counteries.

    Regards

  9. Nitin, I have to disagree with you a little here. There are some similarities between Arafat and Musharraf, but it’s clear that starting in 2001, both the US and Israeli governments made a conscious decision to stop dealing with Arafat due to his unwillingness to make any real attempt to reign in Palestinian terrorist groups. The Bush Administration did keep Israel from killing or exiling Arafat, as many in the Sharon government wanted to, but that’s as far as its support went. It didn’t make any attempt to get Israel to lift Arafat’s house arrest, nor did it do much to limit Israel’s aggressive military actions against the militias and security groups loosely or fully under Arafat’s control. Only the EU really continued to “engage” Arafat and the PA, viewing them as a lesser evil compared with the Islamist, irredentist Hamas, which steadily gained support during the course of the Intifada as the Israelis tore into Arafat’s forces and made him look like an impotent old man. And the anger spawned by Israel’s military operations within the West Bank and Gaza naturally played into the hands of those holding the most extreme anti-Israel positions.

    This isn’t to say that the US and Israel are fully responsible for Hamas’ election victory. A lot of it clearly had to do with Palestinian anger over Fatah’s corruption and economic mismanagement, much of which predates the Intifada. And considering the nature of the Intifada, and Arafat’s recalcitrant attitude towards dealing with it, it probably would’ve been ridiculous for Israel not to take any retaliatory measures towards the PA. But the bottom line is that it was the US and Israeli attempts to weaken and marginalize Arafat, rather than the attempts to deal with him, that did the most to strengthen the hand of Hamas. And if the US and India were to deal with Musharraf in a similar manner, there’s a good chance that Pakistani Islamists would benefit in much the same way.

  10. Eric, while I still disagree with the parallels between Palastine-Israel and Pakistan-India fight, you argument that not engaging with Arafat strengthened Hamas is interesting. I am not so sure I agree with that. I think your earlier point of economic mismanagement and corruption probably is the reason. EU and US pumped almost $7 billion into Palestine, apparently with no accountability, and most of it disappeared.

    Also, I think if Arafat were alive he would never, by what ever means necessary, have allowed Hamas to win the majority vote. Weak Fatah leadership also helped Hamas.

    Again, Fatah is not Pakistani Army and Hamas is not equivalent to fundamentalist Islamic parties in Pakistan.

  11. I think its a positive development its shows Hamas has popular support. Hamas is a suicide attack cult which is less corrupt than Arafats party . Arafat was extremely corrupt it would not suprise me if Arafat faked his death to cash in on the lif insurance. Palestinians have to elect their leaders, make their decisions, and live by them, and become more wiser. The Bush administration should not be suprised they should not be: things progress at a natural rate things are not usually solved quickly like a holywood action film. The US translanted democracy to Germany and Japan since these societies wanted democratic institution. Muslim nations however are enchanted by Mohammed and 6th century style of justice. Well at least if you are muslim against it you might be killed. Hamas will now introduce Sharia law, Talebanisation of Palestine has started and the people want it.

  12. I agree that there are a lot of differences between the two situations. My main point was that trying to isolate and weaken a relatively secular, accomodationist strongman linked with terrorist organizations can end up strengthening more extreme, rejectionist elements. With regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s worth keeping in mind that Israel actually was pleased with the rise of Hamas in its early days, seeing it as a way to loosen the PLO/Fatah’s grip on Palestinian society. There’s long been an understanding that weakening one faction would likely serve to strengthen the other, and vice versa.

    As for whether Fatah would’ve won if Arafat was still around, I think there’s no way of knowing. It’s possible that the reverence shown for Arafat by many Palestinians would’ve been enough for Fatah to win, though it should be pointed out that his star had fallen considerably by the time that he died, and that he started the second Intifada in large part because so many Palestinians were up in arms over his misrule. To many Palestinians, he was seen as part of the corrupt “old guard” of Fatah as much as Abbas.

    “usa”, I’d suggest that before posting again, you learn how to read a complete sentence instead of picking up a couple of words and then blindly spewing your laughable paranoid fantasies, which ironically bear a strong resemblance to the kind thrown around by many Islamists. Show me exactly where I suggested anything about Hamas being a “lesser evil”, never mind any of the other absurd insinuations you made. And that “Judeo-Christian” line is pretty funny, considering that both of my parents are Gujarati Jains (though I personally don’t follow any organized religion).

  13. Its never a healthy idea to teach people how to dislike their leaders. Lots of efforts where made to dislike President Yassar Arafat. If the effort was spent more on giving respect to their well founded greivances that would be better.

    Similarly lots of effort has been made to hate Indira ji Pandit Nehru, Mahatama Gandhi by writings of Stanley wolpert , often comparing jinnah to an equal of other leaders especially Pandit Nehru. ALL THAT IS FOOLISH.

    Again there is no comparison of usa eu sponsored paki land, the terrible financial disaster of incresing savings in china , and screaming china threat.

    Palestinans have repeatedly pushed to the edge and I am sure they will come out fine. They do have good people. The thing to watch is the saudi terror. paki terror the eu terror the sikh terror the tamil terrror , emergence of eu in the indian ocean, lots of usa debt iran mess, japans poor performance in all Bharat India will play a role.

    Bharat india needs very smart information and intelligence gathering, very sound priciples to make decision, and a strong leadership . She will come through. She doesnt need worthless ngos, etc, mullah directed money to repair controversial architecture, can abstain from iran vote or say no to their programme. Iran doesnt want the Russia China alternative , because it wants to refuse inspections where its very easy to make out whether its making weapons

  14. Er…right. Which explains why I use the same handle when posting on non-Indian blogs and message boards, and why I’ve referenced relatives living in India in other posts. I think this is all besides the point, though. Countering your posts with individual facts is like trying to deal with a forest fire with a squirt gun.

  15. To “usa”,

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, I routinely delete posts that I think are in poor taste, especially if they are anonymous and don’t provide a genuine email address.

    There is no difference in posting a comment on this blog and holding a civilised discussion in a public forum. From your desire to remain anonymous, I can see that you’d have problems making the same statements in public if you knew they’d be attributed to you. So why use this blog to dispense your uncouth rhetoric?

    If you dislike your comments being deleted, you should consider setting up your own blog where you can write whatever you like.

  16. Let’s be clear on one thing, since your reading comprehension skills are even worse than your Netiquette: Eric is my actual first name. It was the idea of an aunt who named her own kids after Japanese camera companies. And it’s pretty ridiculous to field accusations of identity-hiding from an Indian ultra-nationalist who calls himself “usa”.

  17. Dear Nitin,
    I for one am having a hard time understanding all the folks who are surprised by the Hamas victory. This morning, I heard on the Boston area’s NPR station,WBUR, that CONDI WAS MIFFED WITH HER STAFF AT HAVING MISSED OUT ON THE REAL RUMBLINGS IN FALUSTINI SOCIETY.Same Condi who did nt think Terrorism was a priority when she assumed ofc as Dubya’s NS
    advisor in Jan 2001!
    Sharon is resting in peace after clearing the Israeli presence from Gaza.He knew better. Here is an excerpt fm Hananiya’s detailed article on Hamas /Sharon.It has a 2002 dateline/MediaMonitor site.If Condi’s staff had spent time listening to interviews on the Lehrer News Hour in the US, they wd nt hv bn so surprised at the Hamas perfrmnc.
    This is one more wrong bet placed by the YankeeDoodles. Segments of American media incldg Tom F wanted us to believe in 2003/2004 about the younger gener’n of reform minded Iranians who will run Iran. Ahmedinejad and the downtrodden Gareeb Janta proved them wrong.Wrong on Iraq, wrong on Iran and wrong on Palestinian issues.On Pakistan , the WaPo woke up 5 yrs too late in understanding Mush n his Generals !

    Cheers

    Swami
    —-
    http://www.mediamonitors.net/hanania46.html

  18. If Hamas does not follow in the footsteps of Islamic fascism a la Taliban, it may surprise the world by actually bringing order to the Palestinian territory. (Although I wouldn’t hold my breath about any thing in that region). And yes, incredible as it seems now, Hamas was encouraged by Israel in its founding days as an antidote to Arafat.

    Strange things can happen when a rogue group actually assumes the responsibility of governing – balancing the book, maintaining law and order and picking up garbage. Examples : Irgun of Israel & IRA in N. Ireland. Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, after its strong showing in the recent elections has pretty much asked Osama to shut up!

    The difference between Pakistan and the groups above is that it is the LEGITIMATE Pakistani government which has been the lawless mischief maker for decades. The terrorist groups are the foot soldiers of its official armed forces. I see far more danger from Pakistan than I do in the Palestinian Territory – although watching all the hand wringing in the US, one wouldn’t know. Israel, a tiny country surrounded by sworn enemies, has a real reason to be paranoid. And paranoia clouds judgement and exaggerates the sense of danger. Why has the US, the biggest military power in the world bought into this distorted sense of the world?

    Nitin, I found your blog through a link you placed to Manoj Joshi’s article about the recent contact between Saudi Arabia and India. (Manoj is an editor of the Hindustan Times and my sister’s husband). I invite you and your readers to visit my own blog Accidental Blogger. I have two posts on the same subjects – Shock and Awe of Spreading Democracy and War on Terrorism – More Twist Than Tango.

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