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The Wages Of Obedience


<< Pakistan’s officially designated foreign policy experts cavort daily on television screens, fill newspaper columns with vacuous political commentaries, and energetically condemn today what they had passionately defended until yesterday.

As ever, they are tasked with articulating, elaborating, and justifying the ever-changing wishes and desires of their patron-of-the-moment. The aim of this article is to understand the systemic failure of a whole class of people to think honestly and seriously, in short a failure to do their job as political analysts. [Originally published in The News (Pakistan), 11 Feb 2002] >>

Buried under the rubble of the World Trade Centre lies a decade-worth of Pakistani foreign policy. Faced by a furious United States, Pakistan’s establishment abandoned what had earlier been declared as vital national security interests.

First, Pakistan junked the mullahs beyond the western border. A still bigger earthquake followed just weeks later as thousands of jihadists suddenly found themselves being hunted down and carted off to jail rather than ushered across the Line of Control.

General Musharraf did well to surrender to these American demands. In all likelihood the Americans would “have done an Iraq on Pakistan”, as one highly placed member of the foreign ministry conceded to me in the week after September 11. He was probably right. Generations of Pakistanis would have cursed a leadership that gave the US a reason to destroy the country’s agricultural and industrial infrastructure.

But pragmatism should not be mistaken for principle, and temporary reprieve for victory. Pakistan’s present crisis desperately demands reflection upon the ruinous impact of its past plans and policies. Tragically, our officially designated foreign policy experts remain unmoved.

They cavort daily on television screens, fill newspaper columns with vacuous political commentaries, and energetically condemn today what they had passionately defended until yesterday. As ever, they are tasked with articulating, elaborating, and justifying the ever-changing wishes and desires of their patron-of-the-moment.

The aim of this article is to understand the systemic failure of a whole class of people to think honestly and seriously, in short a failure to do their job as political analysts. Personalities are incidental. Nevertheless, it is important to be specific at times.

Consider first the writings of right-wing columnist for The News, Nasim Zehra. Well-known for impassioned defense of the Taliban, she ridiculed those who insisted Pakistan was being isolated internationally for supporting the mullahs of Kabul.

In “The Myth of Isolation”, Zehra glowed about our being in the best of all possible worlds since “Pakistan’s bilateral relations with its regional friends and other global players are on track….There exists no crisis in diplomatic, security and economic relations with any of these countries.” [25.2.2000].

An article entitled “Defending Taliban” was followed with another wherein Mullahs Mutawakil and Omar were represented as tragically misunderstood by the world. Zehra reassured us the kinder, gentler aspects of the Taliban needed only our eyes to see: “since coming to power the Taliban worldview has demonstrably evolved. There is also a demonstrable willingness to gradually adopt a contemporary mode of governance”[3.3.2000].

Alas for the Taliban, Zehra’s staunch support evaporated immediately after Pakistan joined the US led coalition and B-52’s darkened the skies of Afghanistan. The death, the dying, the refugees, our responsibility in helping destroy Afghanistan, induced no remorse or rethinking from Zehra. Instead, we were given proof of the triumph of strategic analysis over commonsense when she insisted that “the fundamentals of Pakistan’s Afghan policy remain unchanged” [13.11.2001].

Example Number Two. Before September 11, The News columnist Dr. Shireen Mazari had a similar world-view but still more critical of the US and UN (for not recognizing Mullah Omar’s regime). As Pakistan ditched its friends, Mazari somersaulted, writing “The rapid fall of the Taliban government from Kabul vindicates Pakistan’s support to the anti-terror coalition” [22.11.2001].

Never short of praise for whatever the state chooses, Mazari was moved to laud “Pakistan’s timely decision to join the war on terrorism” [30.12.01]. A tailor of principles, she explained the now urgent need to deal with the “armed obscurantists” who had “led so many innocent and misguided Pakistani youth to their death in Afghanistan”.

Deceptions, contradictions, lies, abound. Consider Mazari again, who flatly denied that jihadist organizations operated from within Pakistan and warned of those suggesting such a thing, writing “One dangerous theme that is being propagated is that the struggle is being waged by jehadis from Pakistan” [15.06.2000].

Seemingly blind to the obvious implication, she explains that “the mujahideen struggle on the ground is of prime importance and it cannot be allowed to stop prematurely”[12.07.2001, emphasis added]. Nevertheless, once the jihadists were dumped, she joined in the chorus of clapping.

Astonishingly, Mazari, a star of Pakistan’s strategic community offered publicly the well-considered advice that Pakistan-based mujahideen must attack targets not just in Occupied Kashmir but also deep inside India.

This statement was repeated in a BBC Radio program in early February this year, in a debate between Mazari and myself. When the Indian Parliament was attacked on December 13, she took no credit. The heinous attack was, she said, obviously a cunning plan by the Indians to smear Pakistan.

It is for others to consider why these pundits and their many peers did not recognize earlier the ruthless oppression of those who not only stifled and crushed women but also prohibited chess, football, the homing pigeon, kite flying, and singing in Afghanistan. Or why they were so blind to the erosion of Pakistan’s social, economic and political fabric by the Kashmir jihad.

Are they so filled by hate of India that they see nothing else? Are they mere intellectual soldiers of fortune, paid to defend the indefensible? Is it about getting airtime and column inches, a power trip? Being invited to head institutes or sit on policy meetings?

Nations that have confidence in their future approach the past with seriousness and critical reverence. They study it, try to comprehend the values, aesthetics, and style. By contrast, peoples and governments with an uncertain sense of the future manifest deeply skewed relationships to their history. They eschew lived history, shut out its lessons, shun critical inquiries into the past.

It is an important fact that, over the last decade, several Pakistani dissidents – marginalized and made irrelevant by the establishment – had repeatedly warned that Pakistan’s Afghanistan and Kashmir policies, built upon unbridled fantasy and wild assumptions, were doomed to collapse. None said this more eloquently and forcefully than the late Eqbal Ahmad.

Banned from Pakistani television, Eqbal Ahmad wrote about the Taliban as being the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer that could destroy Muslim societies if its growth was not arrested. He warned that the Taliban would be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if they remain organically linked to Pakistan. He foresaw catastrophe – and he was proved right.

It is therefore important to seriously reflect on Eqbal Ahmad’s words on Kashmir. He warns that although New Delhi’s moral isolation from the Kashmiri people is total and irreversible, yet it will be foolish of Pakistani leaders to believe that India’s chronicle of failures can ever translate into Pakistan’s gain. Pakistan once had most of the cards.

Yet, its Kashmir policy has been so fundamentally and severely defective that it has repeatedly “managed to rescue defeat from the jaws of victory”.

Over the years, Pakistan’s policy has been reduced to bleeding India, and India’s to bleeding the Kashmiris, and to hit out at Pakistan whenever a wound can be inflicted. Indian intransigence and bloody-minded determination to crush the Kashmiris has increased, not decreased, as a result of covert Pakistani involvement. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have died yet the liberation of Kashmir from the Indian yoke is further away today than at any time in the past.

While the General Aslam Begs and General Hamid Guls fantasize about bleeding India to death, it is now Pakistan that teeters on the brink of a precipice. Internationally, Pakistan stands isolated – countries that support Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Today India and Pakistan must realize that a military solution of the Kashmir dispute is simply not possible. The solution must be political, may take decades, and must be left for the Kashmiris to handle. The people of Pakistan will support General Musharraf if he takes this wise course.

The proof for this support exists: ordinary Pakistanis condemned the killings of innocent Afghans as they fled the Daisy Cutter bombs and the Cobra gunships flying from Pakistani bases into the slaughterhouses of Qila Jhangi and Kunduz.

But almost everyone breathed a sigh of relief at being rid of the misogynist and mindless Taliban. There was also silent public approval as the Lashkar-i-Tayyaba and the state-sponsored Jaish-i-Mohammad were stripped off their status as liberation movements, declared “terrorist organizations”, and their accounts frozen.

The people of Pakistan have their own battles to fight against the monsters of mass unemployment, ignorance, misogyny, ethnic and religious hatreds. It is time we turned our attention to these battles, started reflecting seriously upon battle strategies, and stopped the puppet shows on PTV.

The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. hoodbhoy@isb.pol.com.pk

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