PAKISTANI student Samad Khurram’s act of snubbing the US ambassador by returning his reward has caught the media’s attention. While some condemned his act, others have lapped up his act of defiance and he is now the new hero.
Many who are upset with Samad have missed an important point that the manner in which the student was applauded by the media and other segments of society is an indicator of America’s waning popularity and also Islamabad’s inability to fathom the distance between public perception and state policies. But let’s for a minute question the young man’s logic. Perhaps Samad has not noticed the systemic flaw in our system. He failed to understand the most important feature of the Pakistani state, namely its client nature, which has very little option but to watch its patron get into a twist on something it has paid for. More important, should Samad’s example be followed by the rest of the student community which should find the courage to say no to opportunities offered by the US and the rest of the western world which the Pakistani government, like many other client governments, cannot resist?
Pakistan stands in the middle of two systemic fault lines. The first one pertains to Pakistan’s status as a client state. Policies do not get changed any more due to individual sacrifices because the ruling oligarchy is happy serving its patrons. The rulers are so comfortable working as mercenaries that bombing of Mohmand or Bajaur agencies or any other part of the population just does not matter any more.
The state machinery, which includes the military and the political parties, will not break away from the US. There is a strong pro-US lobby in the country and senior officials have worked for the CIA starting with various finance ministers. What is worse is that they will not even clarify that it is their own war being fought.
The other fault line pertains to the growing influence of the Taliban in the country or pursuance of policies which would indubitably encourage the Taliban-type. While there is the confusion in Waziristan, Fata and Swat, the deeper establishment also seems to be encouraging militants in other places such as the Punjabi Taliban. There is evidence of growing influence of the Punjabi Taliban especially in South Punjab. The question that bright young people like Samad Khurram must ask themselves is that the military action, which we lambast the US for, is what we might have to do ourselves because the Taliban will challenge and destroy the lifestyle of ordinary Pakistanis if they manage to gain strength.
Here is not just an issue of a liberal approach to what the country’s future should be. How will the majority of the population go about life once we have Taliban-type control over the bulk of the country, if not the whole of it? It is not just about the western educated elite but the majority of the population, including the lower classes, that will be uncomfortable with a Taliban style socio-politics. Pakistan is and remains an agrarian society where men and women work together in the fields. Just imagine a political system that would force the women to abandon their work and be confined to their houses. A similar situation applies to the cities where men and women have to work hard for their sustenance.
Surely, it is a bad approach to kill one’s own people and it is important to negotiate for peace. However, the ANP, one of the primary promoters of dialogue with the warlords in tribal areas, never ruled out military operation. The party has proposed a mix of dialogue and military operation where need be. There are many ways such as surgical operations (not carpet bombing) through which these elements could be eliminated.
The problem gets out of hand, however, where exogenous factors (in terms of the peace process) such as the intelligence agencies use militants and militancy as a tool to get greater American support and funding. It is absolutely bizarre that Peshawar is besieged by the Taliban despite the presence of an army corps and military operations conducted under Musharraf’s command. Surely, the Taliban haven’t just grown stronger in the past six months.
When it comes to dialogue, a question we must ask ourselves is that does the state really want to encourage other elements to share in the use of violence. The military of a state becomes a symbol of its strength and integrity (anywhere in the world) due to its ability to monopolise violence. A state which allows others to use violence, hence, becomes weak. This is an argument which Islamabad uses in the case of Balochistan. Then why not apply it in the case of tribal areas and Punjabi Taliban?
The confusion is at the end of both the government and general public. The government continues to look at the militants as assets which it could probably use in times of strategic need. These elements were created during the eighties to fight the Soviet military invasion of Afghanistan. Then, both Washington and Islamabad used to challenge the concerns voiced by Moscow and its foreign minister, Andrei Gromyko regarding radicalisation of the region. It is ironic that the Bush administration complains now about the jihadis they created.
As for Islamabad, it encouraged the militants to create strategic depth which now appears to be an inverse process. The Taliban are trying to create strategic depth inside Pakistan.
The general public seems equally confused about how to treat the Taliban. It is not just the issue of defending American security objectives or American-style freedom but the freedom of the people of Pakistan to live their lives as envisioned by the father of the state, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, when he said that this will be a country where people of all religions would have the freedom to pursue their faith.
The confusion regarding the war in the tribal areas reminds one of a joke about a bunch of people trying to determine Hanuman’s religion. A Muslim said that he was a Muslim and a Hindu claimed that Hanuman was a devotee of Ram and thus a Hindu. Similarly, a Christian claimed Hanuman to be of his faith and a Buddhist as his own. Finally, a Sikh said that Hanuman was a ‘sardar’. His logic was that what else would you call a deity who set his tail on fire and then burnt a village because someone kidnapped someone else’s woman.
Here we are confused about our future just because the American call it their war.
The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.
Source: Dawn, 4/7/2008