Interesting Times

Lurching from crisis to crisis for some time, some of our own making and some tailor-made for us, Pakistan is faced with trouble in both the domestic and external spectrums. These are further complicated by a deepening credibility gap and a worsening image problem, we lack answers to both. The fact that the world is facing on the one hand an economic recession, the backlash of which has denied us full redemption thereof, and on the other continuing attacks by terrorists with origin/links to this region and bent upon inflicting 9/11 type of carnage, makes our continued existence as a sovereign entity rather precarious. As a force-multiplication of the many problems, some of our domestic ones have tended to spill into the international arena, thereby creating a further backlash on our already tarnished image and putting additional pressure on us. Whichever major crisis the world is facing, we are somehow part of it!

Prolonged negotiations between the ruling coalition and the religious MMA grouping papered over the Constitutional impasse, we are still facing continuing political crisis. The Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), Opposition grouping within and outside Parliament, is conducting a relentless “Remove Musharraf” campaign. In a two track policy reflecting their ambivalence towards good governance, the MMA has now lined up with the ARD in the streets. While “politics makes for strange bedfellows”, the whole situation is rather mind-boggling with the MMA contesting an alliance of PML (N), PPP and the smaller parties in opposition for the post of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (NA). With ideologies widely dissimilar, the only issue the Opposition is really united on is the removal of Gen Musharraf as Head of State, more particularly as COAS. Unity in this resolve does not deter these political parties from clandestine parleys with the President to further their own political fortunes. Against the President on principle, if they can become PM such principles can be ignored! They constantly leak rumours of secret talks to keep alive the hopes of their rank and file for a windfall of political patronage that they will not miss out on the gravy train.

While the role of Opposition parties is to effect accountability of the government on a whole host of issues, opposition simply for the sake of opposition is counter-productive to the democratic process, this must evoke criticism and contention on issues and principles rather than orbit only around particular personalities as is mainly the case in Pakistan, (and South Asia). Where political parties are based on a personality cult and ideology is given broad brush and lip-service only, it is very difficult to agree on national issues. Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan (AQK) is an acknowledged hero for giving Pakistan an essential nuclear deterrent, regretfully he used the same underground network for personal profit by engaging in nuclear proliferation. How does one support the “import” network from the “export” one? While the world has been looking askance at Pakistan for setting up our nuclear potential in a clandestine manner, there was acceptance of our legitimate defence needs given our conventional (and nuclear) disparity with India. How does one explain a “rogue” scientist engaged in such illegal nuclear proliferation activity in the world environment post-9/11? While the evidence is pretty red-handed the government is scrambling for “damage control” so that our nuclear capability does not come on the “weapon of mass destruction” (WMD) hit list, an opportunity target as some in the international community now openly want it to be. However the opposition’s rhetoric is tending to put Pakistan pointblank in the gunsights of the world, the strident “strategic defiance” by the Opposition being picked up by foreign governments as an excuse to de-nuke us. If only for national security considerations, we should be presenting a united front, the present disarray in our ranks on such an important national issue is self-destructive.

Given that Musharraf did an 180 degree turn on the Talibaan after 9/11, should any Pakistani leader in power have supported the Talibaan in giving armed sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida given the 9/11 circumstances? Having been accused of mid-wifing the birth of the Talibaan, we did try to save their hides by encouraging Mullah Umar to not take a death-wish and engage in constructive dialogue with the western powers. On the other hand our political parties, led by the MMA, vociferously protested the US and Coalition attack on Afghanistan in the streets and exhorted our young men to go and fight on the side of the Talibaan. Thousands of our youth died in this effort, several thousands are still missing. The Talibaan put the Pakistani volunteers in fixed defensive lines outside Kabul, Kandhar, Herat, Mazar-I-Sharif, etc, they were literally obliterated from the air by carpet bombing by B-52s. The Talibaan defenders of Konduz handed over the Pakistanis to Rashid Dostum in exchange for their own freedom, he promptly buried thousands of Pakistanis alive in containers near Shebergan. Is there no voice in Pakistan (even from among those who encouraged our young men to volunteer their lives) to question the Afghans about these atrocities? The result of a decade plus of a convoluted and bankrupt policy is that while the Tajiks and Uzbeks hate us anyway, even the Pashtoons are now almost evenly divided between hating us and barely tolerating us, love and friendship being a fickle memory of the past and gratitude not being a factor with the Afghans anyway.

While the government is not entirely blameless in the conceiving and implementation of our Afghanistan policy (the only policy should be to lay off and keep our hands off), the Opposition is complicating things by opposing military action against those harbouring terrorists in our tribal areas. Are we a “criminal” or “rogue” nation that we should give sanctuary to confirmed terrorists? Our political leaders seem to be generally satisfied that the convoluted policy taking on the military might of the world was a correct one to emulate! This fact is used by a host of our enemies to question the very existence of our nation. The same thing goes for our approach to Iraq. The problem is further exacerbated by our media analysts who regale the audience with what the public emotion wants to hear (“mother of all battles” has begun) rather than giving a reasoned analytical explanation to the public as to why one must go with the head rather than with the heart. It is said that when an elephant goes mad in the forest, it is better to get out of the way lest one be trampled. While not fully subscribing to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”, the fact remains that Islam has been targeted in the world, the Catch-22 is that those attacking us use the rhetoric and actions of the extremists amongst us to justify their campaign. Better sense must prevail among our religious (and political) leaders, they must not drag us into oblivion “a la Talibaan” because of their own narrow vested reasoning and/or their interests.

There has been real progress in our growing amity with India. Quite unnoticed has been the cabinet level instructions by the Indian ruling regime to the Indian occupation forces within Held-Kashmir to stop human rights abuses. The recent agreement in Islamabad for structured talks starting June 2004 on all major issues including Kashmir and nuclear weapons has been an acknowledged success. Instead of supporting the government in its success in engaging India in a reasonable, well structured dialogue, we are now bracing for the Opposition to denounce the whole process. Some of our problems have their genesis in our five decades-old feud with India. Unless these problems are solved, we have a pot boiling with issues but without the means (or the will) to solve them. Who says we do not live in interesting times?