Timidity abroad, feudal ferocity at home- Shireen M Mazari

It would appear that the wimpish political leadership, in the wake of the no-nonsense statements of the army and air chiefs, has finally reconciled to the fact that the nation could not continue to accept the expanding US military intrusions into Pakistan. Of course, Prime Minister Gilani continued to show his timidity in the face of the US by declaring that we could only deal with the US diplomatically, and Zardari has yet to make a comment on the issue, but eventually the Pakistani security forces took action against US forces seeking intrusion into Pakistan and their non-lethal firing sent the proper message to the would-be invaders. Equally comforting was the fact that the Wazir tribesmen actively supported the security forces – showing once again that when the state is in consonance with its people rather than with hostile external players, the people will show their support.

This is just the beginning of a new threat Pakistani is now going to face, given the noises coming out of the US – especially from its aspiring leadership. The Republicans have now got a religious extremist as their vice-presidential candidate so God help the Muslim world if the McCain-Palin ticket is successful. After all, if Palin sees Iraq as “God’s War”, one can rest assured she will see other US invasions in a similar vein. As for Obama, he has been itching to have the US forces enter Pakistan since the time he began his campaign. So for Pakistan specifically, and for the Muslim world in general, the new US administration will offer no respite from the bigotry and extremism that dominates the American polity today.

Therefore, Pakistan has to be prepared to fight a dual terrorist threat – from the militants within our own polity and the state terrorism of the US that is now directly threatening Pakistan. That is why there has to be complete clarity and resoluteness on a rational national policy to combat these threats. The Information minister, Ms Rehman, has talked of a three-pronged strategy which totally leaves out any dialogue with militants. Perhaps this is mere ignorance, since wherever a militancy exists governments have had to seek dialogue to bring the militants round to a political settlement (a simple study of Ireland, Philippines and Sri Lanka, would help). After all, one cannot simply kill our own people. Instead, we have to show them the viability of dialogue and political accommodation – but the state must negotiate from a position of strength, which means those opposing militancy must be separated from the militants and given protection. But most important, the state has to be seen to be following national compulsions not US diktat. The US diktat is not restricted to the war on terror issues but intrudes into the domestic sphere as well. Only recently, the US State Department has intervened in a Rs8 billion Railways project which had been given to the Chinese. Seems the US is set to wreck Pakistan-China relations on many fronts.

The present NRO-scripted leadership seems to be going along with this US agenda, with President Zardari accepting the summons of the British prime minister – for that is what it sounded like from the British statement – and postponing his official trip to China. Despite all the efforts of this government to play the US game of distancing from China, the Chinese showed their commitment to Pakistan in the manner in which they dealt with the Indo-US nuclear deal in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group as well as in the statements made by the Chinese foreign minister while on a recent official visit to India.

One can trace the whole history of Pakistan-US relations and one will not find a similar supportive statement by the Americans for Pakistan’s strategic interests. In contrast, of course, we can find a plethora of statements by our people, justifying what the US is doing to Pakistan. The present government’s US-sponsored henchmen are doing a wonderful job in this regard, led from the front by supposedly our man in Washington, Haqqani, whose utterances are more as an apologist for the US. Take for example, his statement, at the time of the revelations that Bush had agreed to US forces going into Pakistan and in the immediate aftermath of the Angoor Adda attack – “No US orders of incursions” is what he declared in an interview with CNN! Makes one wonder whom he represents.

As for the terrorism issue, unfortunately, because of the massive accommodation of the US post-9/11, unless the Pakistani state can create space between it and the US, none of its anti-terrorism policies will have credibility. A beginning has been made by the proactive action taken against US forces in South Waziristan agency. It needs to be followed up with suspension of logistic supplies and withdrawal from the Trilateral Commission. Now that it is becoming evident that the actual agreements on paper between the US and Pakistan were not as extensive as has been given out since 9/11, it is time for the Pakistani state to reveal exactly what was committed to in terms of support for the US. Also, is it not time to reclaim all the bases that were handed over to the US, especially the sensitive Shamsi base in Balochistan?

It is the lack of clarity over government intent that has prevented a trust factor from developing between the state and civil society, so that only deeds can show intent. Belated correct noises on dealing with US military attacks, even though the president has yet to utter a definitive statement on this count, can only be believed by action on the ground. But the US is only one, albeit the most threatening, issue.

On the domestic front, the deceit over the judicial issue reflects an autocratic mindset that shows no concern for the voice of the people that actually created the space for democracy to revive itself again. Equally disturbing has been the active effort by the PPP leadership to conceal the truth of the Baloch women murdered and surreptitiously buried, simply to protect one of their own. Why have the voices of the PPP women also gone silent on this count? And it was unbelievable to find the respectable Raza Rabbani rudely objecting to the Senate Human Rights Committee taking up this most gross human rights abuse, and forcing the chairman to expunge the remarks of that brave human rights activist Tahira Abdullah, who was simply asking for the PPP senior hierarchy to take note of the investigation into the case.

Nor has any substantive action been taken against the death threat issued by Senator Zehri to Senator Yasmin Shah. Instead, we have had to witness the law and justice minister of Balochistan, a Baloch woman herself, actually defending this multiple murder of innocent Baloch women. Such is the power of decadent tribalism and feudalism in our “democracy”. This is certainly not a case of “the people versus the expats, aunties and urbanites”, but support to a struggle to end the illegal and decadent practices of the tumandars and to fight the repression of feudal and autocratic mindsets that still thrive in our political leadership – regardless of its urban or rural origins.

The fear that these traditions generate is reflected in the fact that only one defiant journalist, Rauf Klasra, has singlehandedly kept the issue alive for the public in the media – informing us of each new and ugly development in this case. Or is it vested interests that have silenced the self-proclaimed “liberal” media leaders on this issue?

Unfortunately, the present political leadership has shown a paucity for understanding the nation’s will, electoral success notwithstanding. Its feudal approach where the state is being treated akin to a personal fiefdom is hardly the way to progress in the twenty first century.

The writer is a defence analyst. Email: callstr@hotmail.com

Source: The News, 17/9/2008

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