Let’s face it. When a phrase like ‘Pakistan comes first’ is bandied about so much, there’s got to be something very wrong. It goes without saying that one’s country comes first. It’s understood. If one says repeatedly ‘I love my mother’ there’s something peculiar. Why then do we keep stating the obvious? Could it be that we have never quite decided whether we are Muslims first or Pakistanis, which has led us to support many Muslim causes at great cost to our country with precious little in return. But the real reason is that Pakistan has hardly ever come first for its rulers who have looked after their own interests first. If Pakistan managed to scavenge some scraps that dropped to the floor off the rulers’ banquet table, it was touted as a great service to the country, and woe betide anyone who said otherwise. Thus it was easy for America to use, abuse and abandon us. If you don’t respect yourself, why would others?
There are disquieting signs that Pakistan’s objectives in taking America’s side again and risking all might be lost. If America does not take immediate corrective action to rectify this perception, not just another Pakistan-America alliance is in danger of biting the dust, it would destabilize the country and the region dangerously even before America’s own objectives are met. What they call an ‘extremist’ government just might materialize in Pakistan.
Not so long ago Clinton was prepared to get Daily Delhi Diarrhea for five days but not spend a second in Pakistan. September 11 changed all that, perhaps everything. Came the season for U-turns. Pakistan is being wooed again. Despite being badly let down a number of times, Pakistan went along with America by doing a U-turn of its own on Afghanistan at great internal and regional peril. It did so for four overt and one not so covert reason. We abhor terrorism; the new Afghan government must be pro-Pakistan; India and Israel must be kept out of the coalition; organizations striving for Kashmir’s freedom will not be harmed; and, America will help Pakistan out of its economic quagmire. All five are in jeopardy.
America has made the anti-Pakistan, pro-India Northern Alliance front its advance. That could vitiate installing a pro-Pakistan government. They are backed by India, just as the Taliban were once backed by our ISI and CIA before they ditched us. If I am reading too much into this – as patronising Pakistani officialdom and condescending Westerners tell me – why would our foreign minister go public and say that no government can be foisted on Afghanistan? Allies don’t behave like this. They go public only when private persuasion has failed. Meantime, a hysterical India is doing its damnedest to derail the Pakistan-US alliance with a botched up bogus hijacking and murdering their people in Srinagar to ‘prove’ that Pakistan is a terrorist state. Remember they killed five Sikhs in Jammu just before Clinton’s visit so that he would not come to Pakistan. Later it was discovered to be India’s bloody handiwork. Indian journalists Butt into White House press briefing with out-of-context leading questions about Pakistan’s ‘terrorism’ whilst no voice from our side is heard. Pakistanis are justified in feeling furious that no one is there to speak for them. Musharraf may have great instincts but at least half his team is pathetic. In such a dire situation it makes us mad. This is the harvest of posting nincompoops for reasons other than merit.
America banned an organisation involved exclusively in Kashmir’s freedom struggle. What is the guarantee America will not run out others and do India’s dirty work for it? When Bush said that he would go for terrorist organisations with global reach one was reassured that the Kashmiri freedom fighters, not terrorists by any stretch of the imagination except India’s, would be safe. One fears they may not be.
As to economic bailout, let’s reserve judgement till the Finance Minister returns from Washington. So far only sanctions have gone and a $50 million US humanitarian grant has come. There is Japan’s $40 million Afghan refugee grant and $550 million debt rescheduling and the $375 million US debt rescheduling, promise of humanitarian aid from the European Union and a pat on the back by NATO. Big deal! As to eliminating quotas, America has slapped countervailing duties on our textiles because someone in our government did not know when to keep his big mouth shut and alerted US lobbies. What we want is debt riddance, not just handouts for refugees. We who have been hosting the largest refugee population in the world for two decades (2 million) are in real danger of breaking all records by hosting another million to seven million, depending on whether America opts for selective precision or indiscrimination. Indiscriminate bombing of Afghanistan will make the larger refugee figure and swamp us, giving birth to a much more virulent hatred of America and terrorism so terrible as to make Osama look angelic.
As for our being against terrorism, America’s affiliation with the Northern Alliance is like getting into bed with one terrorist to get rid of another. Iran would say one terrorist getting into bed with another terrorist to get rid of a third terrorist in an orgy of sleeping with the enemy. Iran’s stand, that it is against both terrorism and America (because it aids and abets Israeli state terrorism) made me proud to be a Muslim (albeit of the Sunni variety). The strange idea that one can only be with America or with terrorism, with no third option, is false, typical American arrogance that can be understood, if not forgiven, this once because it is so stunned. Our government’s deft handling (thus far) of a crisis with the greatest spectrum of uncertainty there has ever been in our history makes me proud to be a Pakistani. Our compulsions are different from Iran’s.
Musharraf may want a friendly Afghan government but can he name one Afghan, including Zahir Shah (whose ouster by his cousin Sardar ‘Majnoon’ Dawood started the whole shebang), that likes Pakistan? The Northern Alliance represents a minority jing bang lot of nationalities, and I dare say Martians too. Their government will be a mongrel of indeterminate parentage and will not last, pushing Afghanistan and the world into greater crisis. The Taliban may lose government but they won’t lose without fighting every inch of the way and make for our mountains and theirs, impossible to dislodge and constantly sniping at stability. Prosperity is the only way of bringing Afghanistan into the mainstream and helping Pakistan stabilize. Prosperity will come only if, in tandem with a new Afghan national government, there is immediate and demonstrable action towards development. Only by winning hearts and minds can Afghanistan be conquered. That is when the Taliban and terrorism will be conquered too. If the US had only invested $5 billion in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal they would not have seen this day when they have lost more than $100 billion – and rising. Development in Afghanistan’s infrastructure and humanity will fix a turbo on Pakistan’s economy. Hopefully, America will discover the icing of wisdom for their cake of cleverness. The British, who understand the world and the rhythm of history, can best help them find it. Between cowboy and commando we might just make it.
But let’s hold our horses till America makes its move. Will there be a reprisal, an Act 2? If there is I fear for the global economy.
We Pakistanis must realize that handouts and luck are all very well, but we have no option left except to put our faith in Pakistan and genuinely place it first on our list of priorities. Pakistan being first needn’t happen at the cost of self-interest for the two are the same. A prosperous Pakistan means a prosperous people. We have to make it so that our people don’t opt to live like second class citizens in other countries.
Certainly there is every point in asking whether we can trust a particular country. But first we must learn to trust and respect ourselves. Only then will we earn the trust and respect of others, and learn to trust them sensibly. Only when we have faith and trust in ourselves can we make Pakistan a country that no citizen wants to leave.