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Thursday, December 10, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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A Frenzy Of Fundamentalism Feeds On Itself

The Los Angeles Times

LAHORE, Pakistan - The destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu extremists has raised the specter of fundamentalism in a subcontinent armed with nuclear weapons. If India is reeling from the killing fields of communal passion, violent anti-Hindu outrage in neighboring Pakistan threatens to rupture relations between the two countries.

In retaliation for the outrage at Ayodhya, hysterical, rampaging mobs have burned down dozens of Hindu temples and shrines in Pakistan in the last two days. Politicians have called countrywide protests and are demanding a severance of ties with India. Even Liberal opposition leader Benazir Bhutto asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to rally the Organization of Islamic Countries for sanctions against India. "He should quit if he is a coward who will not stand up for the honor and dignity of the Muslim world," Bhutto said.

Relations between India and Pakistan have never been good. Since the communal partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, there have been three wars between them, two over the disputed territory of Kashmir and one in which India abetted the secession of Bangladesh in 1971. For several years, armed conflict in the chilling heights of the disputed Siachin glacier in the north has claimed dozens of lives on both sides. The two countries came precipitously close to another major war in April 1990, when India accused Pakistan of fueling the insurgency in Kashmir.

Since then, there have been periodic expulsions of diplomats and beatings by both sides. Last month, Islamabad accused Indian security forces of killing two Pakistani tourists and demanded that their bodies be returned to Pakistan. The Indians refused. The Pakistani government protested and enforced visa restrictions. New Delhi responded last week by roughing up a Pakistani diplomat and expelling him. Now it seems that religious fury may exact a terrible revenge from the besieged governments in both countries.

Pakistanis believe that the Congress government of Indian Prime Minister Narasimha Rao has succumbed to the politics of expediency before the rising tide of Hindu fundamentalism. Echoing such suspicions and fears, Pakistan's leading moderate newspaper, Dawn, commented editorially: "Even amidst the crocodile tears being shed by Indian leaders now must lurk the grim satisfaction that a contentious issue, defying resolution for over a century and a half, has finally been given a stormy burial. . . . To the besieged Muslim minority in India, the destruction of the Babri Mosque is likely to be as traumatic a watershed as the storming of the Golden Temple was for the country's Sikh population."

The fear on this side of the border is that if Indian secularism has capitulated to Hindu fundamentalism, how will Pakistan stem the retaliatory wave of Islamic extremism? There is anger, too, at the West's discriminatory attitude toward the two types of fundamentalism in the subcontinent. While Pakistan has been censured, in a reference to its nuclear capability, for hiding "seven Islamic bombs," India has escaped criticism for possessing "70 Hindu bombs" because the blinkered West can see only a secular, democratic profile of India.

There are compelling reasons why the horror of Ayodhya should now force the world not to mistake illusion for reality. Fundamentalism, Hindu or Muslim, feeds on itself. There can be no greater boon for a fundamentalist than another, implacably opposed fundamentalist. The upsurge of Hindu extremism in India will not only fuel Muslim extremism in Pakistan, but also provide ammunition to fanatics from Algeria to Indonesia. If the Western powers are once again taken in by more glib talk from India's "secularists," surely much more than the future of the 1 billion people of India and Pakistan is at stake.

Najam Sethi is editor of the Friday Times in Lahore.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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