Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping hitting the media headlines notwithstanding, there is surprisingly a lot of warmth in the US about Pakistan. This is a post Sep 11 development. The quite unnecessary pronouncement by Richard Haas about Pakistan being on the way of being “a failed State” pre Sep 11 was shocking, maybe it was meant to satisfy an Indian audience but coming from the Head of Policy Planning of the US State Department it was probably meant to shock. For the record there is as much association of Pakistan with terrorism as most other countries in the world, there being a fine line between freedom fighters and terrorists. Not the fallacy India has been desperately trying to project but one must accept that we have made our share of mistakes over the years, in this day and age it is no surprise they are coming home to roost. Wherever one went, people knew General Pervez Musharraf by name, he was spoken of with admiration. Everyone seemed to know that he was engaging in sweeping reforms at great personal risk. They held him out as an example of commitment to do the right thing. What they were surprised to hear was that the process of change had been initiated earlier, only the speed had increased manifold. More of a pleasant surprise was that Pakistanis of all ilk were united in the premise that Musharraf not only represented Pakistan’s best hope, he in fact was their last hope. Used to the edifying sight of a divided Pakistani community abroad, the contra elements were drowned out of contention and became a fringe element. The President’s visit came at a good time for Pakistan, for a change there was a receptive audience in USA for a Pakistani leader. Since the rest of the world does more or less at this time what the US wants, one expects a very positive fallout from his presence in the world’s capital.
If Pakistanis who matter in the decision-making process at levels below the President stop trying to be individual prima-donnas and play as a team and for a team, we will be unbeatable. In American Football’s Superbowl played this year in New Orleans, the favourites were the St Louis “Rams”, almost no one gave the New England “Patriots” even a semblance of a chance. Expert after expert appeared on TV on all the channels to explain why the “Rams” would win and win big, mainly because their offensive line was unstoppable, the major betting was on the margin of victory. But the moment the Patriots walked into the stadium, one instinctively knew they would win. As opposed to the Ram’s Superstars being presented to the spectators one by one, the Patriots chose to be introduced as a team. And they played like a team, to win in a dream finish in the last 7 seconds of the game, they countered the Ram’s offensive brilliance by pure genius in defence play. India’s diplomatic corps personnel actively seek appointments for Indian media personnel on different TV channels and/or print media, our diplomatic personnel on the other hand are actively engaged in sidelining Pakistanis so as not to lessen the number of chances for their own appearances. And being diplomatic, they can lie through their teeth. Moreover their commitment is suspect, it is usually for private agendas. A month or so ago, in a private party in Islamabad, I personally heard a senior Foreign Service official rail against the ISI for our Afghan problems, with such characters around India does not need to do propaganda. He did not even know that the ISI is not a career service and that none of the DGs ISI had ever served in the ISI before being appointed to this post. We are very lucky that Musharraf has developed into a media star, but can he carry the ball by himself, and all the time? Americans love underdogs, particularly those who stand upto bullies. In the last few months, India has overplayed its hand, we are like David against Goliath. Against India we are the underdogs, even though we are failing to exploit tremendous opportunities by way of the media because of the selfishness and individual agendas of our foreign policy and media prima donnas, no wonder they sometimes find it imprudent to buck social acceptability in reciting facts as they are. This in the face of Indian foreign and media experts who have made it into a living by reciting facts as they are not.
Very coincidentally, a new movie in the States “Black Hawk Down”, is very representative of US-Pakistan relationship over the years. Set in Somalia in 1993, based on an ill-fated mission in Mogadishu, to capture Somalian strongman Mohammad Farah Aided and his top lieutenants, a Black Hawk helicopter is downed. The US Special Forces and Ranger units sent to rescue those pilots are trapped themselves in the maze of streets. As a last resort, the US Commander, Maj Gen Garrison, turns to the Pakistan units of the UN to arrange a rescue mission. Actually it was the Pakistanis (a squadron of 19 Lancers and a platoon each of 1 Baloch and 15FF) who got the American soldiers out, the movie shows it very grudgingly and sparingly. Incidentally Garrison had not thought it fit to even inform US Maj Gen Montgomery, Deputy Force Commander of the UN, about his mission before launching the operation. The way Ridley Scott has portrayed it in the movie, instead of gratitude the sense is of delay on the part of the Pakistanis in getting to the scene and evacuating them to the Football Stadium where another Pakistani unit was located. Sound vaguely familiar in real-life? We are the ones who conducted and fought the proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviets. And it is Ahmed Shah Masood’s Northern Alliance who during this war repeatedly negotiated a local truce with the Soviets, at least for 3 years. Then he took over Kabul from Soviet surrogate Najibullah thanks to turncoat Rashid Dostum and his Jumbish militia who till then was a Soviet-paid force. Masood’s short sightedness and lack of governance resulted in anarchy that brought about the creation of the Talibaan, the Northern Alliance is now allied to the US and desperately trying to change history. And all this while it is the Indians who supported the Soviets in Afghanistan against the US as they did the world over 40 years until the Soviets ceased to exist. Where is the justice that they should command the attention of the US. Or do they? Is it because of geo-political compulsions that they now seem to pander Indian interests at the cost of our own? Well, there is a hometruth that the US now belatedly recognizes, we are a geo-political compulsion also and this man Musharraf has brought Pakistan centerstage to US attention that our geographical location makes us a linchpin that if removed will result in the many dominoes in the region go tumbling down.
For a military leader to receive the attention and respect he got in Washington DC was unprecedented, particularly in this day and age. The world’s democracies give a short shrift to dictatorship, it is the stuff of destiny that less than 30 months from taking over from a “democratic government” Pervez Musharraf walked into Oval office of the White House, “ground zero” for the leadership of the world. By any measure that is a remarkable achievement, both for the President and for Pakistan. The President has now to build up the momentum within Pakistan towards strict adherence to the rule of law, particularly by the law enforcement agencies themselves, and ensure that the measures taken towards ensuring good governance take effect. Unfortunately Pervez Musharraf does not have the luxury of resting on his laurels, very much like Atlas bearing the burden of the world, he cannot shrug but keep going.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).