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Challenge of wasteful passions

Article written by Mr. Zafar Hilaly, published in “THE NEWS” on 30th October 2013

James Stewart thought that he was successful if he played the part and the acting didn’t show. Well, there was precious little on view except acting during Nawaz Sharif’s Washington visit. As for the ‘acting’, that too was below par.

According to the script Obama was supposed to express his appreciation for Pakistan’s role in combating terrorism while looking Sharif in the eye. But he couldn’t bring himself to do that. He looked everyone else in the eye except Sharif, thereby prompting one wit to tweet: ‘it looks like Obama prefers to be somewhere else, with someone else’.

As for Sharif, when asked what he had said to Obama he fished out a sheaf of notes and proceeded to read from them , which is usually a giveaway – not for what was said but what should have been said and wasn’t.

Besides, reading from a prepared text on such occasions conveys an element of ‘stage fright’, which in turn suggests inexperience and that’s hardly an excuse for a third-time prime minister.

I had no ready answers for those who enquired why Sharif acted in the manner he did, and generally seemed so nervous. ‘Let’s just say,’ I finally told the tenth person who enquired, ‘that while we may never know, we are the wiser for it’.

Many Pakistanis were curious to know what Obama would have to say during the two leaders’ joint press appearance. I don’t know what they expected but the little that Obama said – the flowery part – about how bravely Pakistan was fighting terror, did not sound sincere. But then little of what Obama says carries conviction with the people of Pakistan. He lost his credibility with us long ago when he claimed that Raymond Davis, the CIA thug-cum-murderer, was in fact a bona fide US diplomat.

Exactly why Obama personally had to lie made no sense, then or now. But the fact that he did confirmed how closely Obama monitors and directs CIA skulduggery, including drone attacks and that he takes personal responsibility for the outcome.

A little noticed news item leaked, via Snowden, immediately prior to Sharif’s arrival confirmed Obama’s bias against Pakistan. Apparently Obama was spending as much as $20 billion gathering intelligence about Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme. “Obama would gladly spend ten times the amount in getting his hands on it”, said a former US think-tank scholar familiar with the workings of the US intelligence gathering system. Clearly, if Richard Nixon had a ‘tilt’ in our favour Obama has a whole ‘slope’ going in the opposite direction.

We are told we have no option but to hold our nose and deal with Obama. Had we collected taxes and stopped electricity theft the need would not have been so urgent. But as long as we elect foxes to guard the chicken coop and need to borrow to live, Obamas will feature prominently in our calculations.

It’s a pity that Nawaz Sharif went on and on about ending drone attacks during his trip as if nothing else mattered for us. Besides, if he really had a mind to stop drones he should have announced it publicly as soon as he assumed office; made a formal demarche to the US and followed that up by asking for a UNSC meeting claiming drone attacks constituted a ‘threat to world peace and security’ and, if drone attacks continued, use force if necessary to deal with them.

Of course, in the process he would have landed back in exile, if he was lucky, and if not, in his cell in Attock Fort. But at least that line of thinking has the virtue of consistency. Nawaz’s current stance does not. It is also intellectually dishonest.

The non-combatant deaths/collateral damage resulting from drone attacks is but a small fraction of the civilian casualties that occur as a result of army operations. We have seen this time and time again. Besides, in past wars the large number of civilian casualties has famously never bothered either Pakistan or the US’ respective public or leaders. Just as the killings of thousands of Indian Muslim non-combatants in war zones in Kashmir have not raised a sliver of protest among Indians or in the scandalously two-faced Indian media.

According to a new book, ‘Western Terror’ by Noam Chomsky and Andre Vltchek, the US and its vassals have murdered between 55 to 60 million civilians in military and CIA interventions since World War II. ‘It seems,’ conclude the authors, ‘that western leaders are completely unrestrained by any fear of facing final judgment for their actions’.

In the case of India’s gory and bloody record in Kashmir, there are several publications and reports of a plethora of human rights groups which document the Indian Army’s killings. Few have done so more poignantly and effectively than those edited by the brave and talented Arundhati Roy whose moving account of the murder of Afzal Guru by the Indian judicial system is damming.

The real reason Nawaz Sharif is making a song and dance about drones is because he’s aware that growing international opposition to their use is already having a strong impact – only 24 drone strikes this year as compared to well over a hundred a year earlier; and, as the US winds down its presence in Afghanistan such attacks will diminish. So if Sharif can hog some of the credit for that why not? And what better way to burnish his credentials with the TTP who desperately want a respite from drone attacks prior to peace talks?

The Sharifs can be sober, clear-eyed realists when they want to be but, at times, they give in to the lies and myths the public expects and badly wants to believe in. That cessation of drone attacks will somehow placate and remove our obscure anxieties, annul our difficulties and unite the people is one such popular myth.

The Sharifs have also given in because not for them the imposition of sober policies imposing real sacrifices and stern discipline or careful planning, grim studying and hard work. They cannot conceive such a dreary programme let alone carry it through.

The explanation for the failure of the Sharifs, when it happens finally, will be that they were not failures. Their goal was not to save the country and make it prosperous. It was not to organise the country for war and victory. It was merely to put up a good show while doing so.

But what they and our other politicians do not know, or cannot come to terms with, is really how weak and demoralised the country is and that it can no longer withstand the crude hedonism, the idle and wasteful passions and the corruption, squalor, poverty, hopelessness, insecurity and injustice society has to offer. It is this challenge that we need to confront with solid, measurable, sensible reality, not the occasional drone attack.

And, rather than begging the Americans, why not instead demonstrate by our actions to the custodians of the Empire that one good turn on their part will deserve another on our part; just as one favour denied will lead to another being withheld.

Let’s play that game for a change, at least, for the next fourteen months. There has rarely been an occasion when we could do so with greater advantage or better prospects for success. And, for God’s sake, no more visions of prime ministers cooling their heels in American ante rooms, talking points in hand.

The writer is a former ambassador.


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