POSTCARD USA: Where do we go from here? — Khalid Hasan

Today, Pakistan is not known for its saints and music, its poets and thinkers, its mountains and rivers but by its suicide bombers who strike at will when and where they please

Not only in Pakistan, but out here and no doubt in Europe too, Pakistanis are in denial of what the rest of the world believes to be true. There is little interest in or scant regard for facts. What matters are opinions, which are held with such vehemence that those in disagreement should be prepared for an assault or, at the very least, denunciation as this or that foreign power’s agent.

Before the demise of the Soviet Union, all persons of left and liberal thinking in Pakistan were viewed as card-carrying members of the Indo-Soviet lobby. If Putin’s Russia again becomes the power it once was, there is no doubt that the Indo-Soviet lobby will have its second coming in Lahore and wherever Pakistanis live.

Take the case of Aafia Siddiqui, who disappeared in Karachi five years ago and resurfaced in Kabul from where the Americans brought her to New York where she is lodged in a maximum security prison, awaiting trial, so far on one charge, but eventually on several, including terrorism.

However, in Pakistan the verdict is already out. She is innocent and the five years she was missing — regardless of the fact that her family never lodged a police report to that effect — she was in Pakistani custody or that of the United States or in that of both or first ours then theirs. Had she been in US custody all this time, a charge formally denied by the US, she would have either been produced in court or sent to Guantanamo.

There have been thundering speeches made about her in our parliament from both sides of the house and even an announcement that a delegation of senators will soon be on its way to the US to meet her. An Urdu columnist, who was asked by one of his readers why he had remained silent on Aafia so far, responded with a long poem on this “brave daughter of Pakistan” and the glorious example she had set the world. Others have been even more eloquent in prose.

Husain Haqqani has been telling this story to his friends of late, which is both funny and worrisome, the latter because it casts a shadow on what is now known as our new journalism, spearheaded by an “anchrocracy”, which sits in judgement on anything and everything, often getting the wrong end of the stick. “Strip” TV journalism, which is how most now get their news, has freed viewers of the need to go beyond the screaming headline flung at them all hours of the day and night.

Haqqani learnt one morning that the “live and let die” channel was running a strip that said John Negroponte was travelling to Pakistan. Since the man who should have known about it was unaware of any such trip, he phoned the State Department and was told that Negroponte was not going to Pakistan.

Haqqani phoned the channel saying Nogroponte was not going to Pakistan and the report was wrong. “We will make a correction,” he was assured. Five minutes later, the old strip that was sending Negroponte to Pakistan was replaced with one that said, “Negroponte cancels Pakistan visit”.

But our troubles are serious and we don’t seem equipped or ready to deal with them. Here in America, were you to go before a well-informed audience, how would you even begin to talk about Pakistan? The average American’s idea of Pakistan, what it is and what it isn’t, is fashioned by instant headlines and hurriedly read or heard stories. In the last few years, Pakistan has come to be seen as the breeding ground and operational base of fierce, wild-eyed, bomb-carrying, men in unkempt beards, wearing loose robes that look unwashed and most certainly unpressed, set to bring about the destruction of Western civilisation and the establishment of an infidel-free Islamic state to be kept in a state of permanent war with the rest of the world.

It is true that while there indeed are such men, not only in Pakistan but elsewhere, how has it happened that a billion Muslims of the world are now considered indistinguishable from them?

So lethal has this association become that Barack Obama, who is as good a Christian as a person can be, is in terror of being linked even remotely to Islam. What if Obama were a Muslim, I asked an American friend. In reply, he gave me such a look of disbelief that there was no need to ask him for more.

It makes you wonder. Take the growing denigration of the Prophet (PBUH). How come one of history’s noblest figures, a man who did not claim divinity but always emphasised his mortal, human nature, whose message continues to gather strength with the passage of time, is portrayed negatively.

These indeed are troubling questions but it is time they began to be asked if the world is to live at peace. Today in the minds of most Americans, Pakistan is seen as a breeding ground of terrorism and you will have to look long and hard for someone who does not believe that the next major attack on the US mainland is now incubating in Waziristan. No one is prepared to be told that if a count were taken over the last seven years of how many Muslims who were innocent of any crime and who were non-combatants have lost their lives and what the tally of death has been on the side of those who claim to act in the name of freedom and justice, the ratio would work out at 10,000 to one.

It is also a fact that all Muslims are caricatured as Arabs. Any cartoon depicting a Muslim depicts him as an ugly, mean-looking Arab out to take your life and your money, preferably both. That was how Jews were once portrayed in the West. No one is prepared to consider that Islam transcends race, colour and creed, or that Muslims are no more wicked than the followers of other religions or creeds. The prototype seems hard to undo, the cliché far too powerful to defeat.

But to return to Pakistan, sometimes called “the jihad factory”, everyone who has held power there is to blame for where the country is today. By everyone I mean everyone: from Liaquat Ali Khan’s Objectives Resolution to Zia-ul Haq’s GHQ-manufactured Islam, to Nawaz Sharif’s bid to impose sharia, to Benazir Bhutto’s half-cocked attempts to fight mullahism, to Musharraf’s effort to sell that strange bird called “enlightened moderation”.

Today, Pakistan is not known for its saints and music, its poets and thinkers, its mountains and rivers but by its suicide bombers who strike at will when and where they please.

If Asif Zardari wants to go down in history, here is his opportunity.

Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is khasan2@cox.net

Source: Daily Times, 24/8/2008

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