God bless America, long live Pakistan

Kamal Siddiqi
As the Americans gather on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, we are told that an offensive is about to be launched from that side. It’s not as simple as the Pakistan Army pushing the militants from this side and the US troops catching them as they enter Afghanistan – like the shikars that were once played in the sub-continent. This is a more complicated shikar. One is now not sure which is the tiger and which is the shikari. We are not even sure if this is the age of the tigers any more. So far, everyone seems to be acting like foxes and wolves.

We are warned that there are tough times ahead. The month has seen much action on our border with Afghanistan. Our prime minister has said that he fears another 9/11 if foreign militants are not dealt with “sternly”. At the same time, his government seems to have lost the plot on the war on terror. The whole idea of a ‘homegrown’ policy lies abandoned. Once again, we are being told what to do.

But things are heating up. NATO recently retaliated over what it said was attacks from North Waziristan. One fears this is just the beginning. Many want to know who is in charge. While there is talk of coordination and consultation, the recent attacks on a Pakistani border post by American planes which led to several deaths is a case in point. The US says that it was never informed of the presence of such a post. Pakistan says that this is not true. In the confusion, precious Pakistani lives were lost.

One thing is for sure, however. The US administration feels, as usual, that the Pakistanis are not doing enough. We are being blamed for the faults and near-sightedness of others, apart from ourselves. President Bush says he is troubled by the consistent intrusions from the Pakistan side and so we have to do more. Not only do we have to stop the militants from causing havoc in Pakistan, we need to also stop them from crossing over into Afghanistan. Are we up to this challenge?

To sweeten the deal, the Americans have promised us more aid. Now the money will be tripled and once again linked to performance. One wonders whether we should be overjoyed or wary. We also want to know on behalf of the American taxpayer what happened to the earlier installments. Where was the money used and who benefited? We see almost none of the money that was promised to be injected in the tribal areas and the NWFP. What happened to the pockets of industry that were promised? Or for that matter, the madressah reform plans.

With an election approaching, the American government also wants to do more. Our prime minister has been summoned to the US for some “consultations”. By month end, our prime minister and his team will be told of what is expected of his government. The agenda for the months leading up to the elections will be set. It is hoped that it will be clear sailing from then on.

Not to be outdone by President Bush, the presidential hopefuls are also giving in their two cents’ worth on what to do in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both Mr Obama and Mr McCain said that the focus should now shift to Afghanistan (and by default, Pakistan) where they advocated more soldiers to fight the war. This is worrisome of all of us.

For the Americans, intrusion onto Pakistani soil is not an issue. It’s more an issue of when, not if. In one of his trademark speeches, however, Prime Minister Gilani has assured us that no one will be allowed onto Pakistani soil and our sovereignty will remain intact. Long live America. God bless Pakistan.

Wise men have asked their families to move out of the border areas. Many of these families are ending up in Karachi and such is the influx that the MQM feels that the movement may alter their vote bank in some areas. The MQM is warning of the Talibanization of Karachi. One wonders what is happening in the rest of Pakistan.

The militants too are in a mood for a fight. After storming a fort in Hangu, they are now engaging our forces in different areas. Baitullah Mehsud has also given the NWFP government a deadline to step down or else face an armed movement from the militants. The militants say that the government violated the agreement. The government says it’s the other way round. Who do we believe? The bottom line is that people are afraid and nervous. Things are going from bad to worse.

In all this, our jetsetting leaders feel that there are other issues to focus on. We are expecting another round of talks between Mian Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari, once again outside Pakistan. The two leaders are spending more time abroad than they are in the country. Why are they so eager to leave? Mr Sharif promises that this will be the deciding round. One can only hope so. We need to focus on more important issues like law and order as well as the economy. It seems these are not a priority of the Peoples’ government.

Meanwhile the costs of keeping our elected representatives happy continue to increase. The diversion of the prime minister’s plane from Kuala Lumpur (where he went to attend the D-8 summit) to Dubai iInstead of landing at Islamabad cost the tax-payer more than Rs10 million. The plane was diverted, according to a report, because the prime minister had to attend a party meeting.

We are also told that four persons of the ruling coalition alliance enjoy VVIP protocol at our expense. The president also enjoys this protocol. But with the Peoples’ government in place, the four “blessed” people are the prime minister himself, Mr Nawaz Sharif, Mr Asif Zardari and the de-facto interior minister Rehman Malik. This includes hundreds of police personnel as well as vehicles that are bullet proof and bomb proof and are imported for millions of rupees. The VVIP protocol also means that when these personages are in some town or city, roads are blocked and traffic is stopped so that they can pass through. Most Pakistanis wonder whether it is worth it.

One can only wonder what the priorities of this government are. The Sindh chief minister seems to have all the time to dress up for diplomatic receptions but cannot find time to address the real problems that plague the province he governs. We are told that the ‘new jiyalas’ are now running the show in the province.

Instead of focusing on the economy, the government seems more intent on ousting President Musharraf – we are not even sure if that is true. However, Mr Zardari also wants Mr Sharif to come along with him to the US to talk to American officials. Together they are expected to convince the Americans why the president has to go. But Mr Sharif doesn’t seem to be playing along – President Musharraf may yet survive.

The battle rages between America’s strategic interests, as defined by its presidential election and Pakistan’s assumed sovereignty. While it will be unpatriotic to speculate on who will win, it would be in order to try and ascertain the implications of the moves that are being planned and thought over.

President Bush has called Pakistan an “all-weather friend”. For our government, the priority should be the Pakistani electorate, not American voters. We are hopeful that after so many wrongs, our elected representatives get some things right. It is a hope, but then that is what we have been living on for so many years. Why not for a few months more?

Email: kamal.siddiqi@thenews.com.pk

Source: The News, 21/7/2008

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