Islamabad diary: Whose war? America’s or ours?

By Ayaz Amir
Was there such an animal as the Tehrik Taliban-I-Pakistan before the American invasion of Afghanistan? The Americans sparked turmoil and chaos in this region and now that they are bogged down in Afghanistan, how come this adventure they thoughtlessly started becomes our war?

Yet from President Asif Zardari downwards—Zardari more of America’s man than even Pervez Musharraf—our leadership is working overtime to convince a fed-up nation, which has lapped up more than its share of lies, that this is our war too and we are under a moral obligation to fight it.

Pakistan’s English-speaking classes—‘liberals’ for want of a better word—chant, nay roar, much the same slogan. Very clear in their minds about Taliban-spread terror they sputter and choke when it comes to American-spread terror. The Marriott bombing has brought terrorism home to mainstream Pakistan but slaughter on a far greater scale has occurred regularly in the tribal areas without having the same impact because those are remote areas not accessible to TV cameras.

Should terrorism be fought? Of course it should. Only question is whether it can be successfully fought by a nation perceived as having lost all self-respect and doing not what is in its best interests but in the interests of the United States. Constant American lectures about ‘doing more’, especially when our own people are dying every day, and monthly handouts—80-100 million dollars—for services rendered is almost guaranteed to ensure that the entire argument about this soc-called war on terror gets distorted and the Pakhtoon population which is in the centre of this conflict turns irredeemably hostile.

The way the Americans have gone about this business, carrying out unilateral strikes on the basis of doubtful intelligence and causing innocent deaths, and the way they have pressurised the army to conduct military operations in that area, they’ve been instrumental in destroying the old tribal-cum-administrative structure which stood Pakistan, and before us the British, in good stead for a hundred and fifty years. Now after helping create this chaos they are expecting the battered state of Pakistan to bestir itself from the ashes and perform miracles.

When will our military geniuses understand that far from enabling us to wage any kind of war, the American alliance—with the baggage of opprobrium that it brings—dooms us to eventual failure in the conflict now raging in the tribal areas? The Americans got it wrong, and disastrously so, in Iraq. The resurgence of the Taliban shows they got it wrong in Afghanistan. What makes us so sure they’ve got it right about our tribal areas?

Talibanism, let us remember, more than a physical phenomenon is a state of mind. President Bush is a Christian Taliban. So is the rest of the neo-conservative church whose vicars and priests hollered for the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. The strike on the Twin Towers was just an excuse. Dreaming dreams of eternal dominance what they really wanted was to redraw the map of the Middle East. Who’ll ever accuse Dick Cheney of having an open mind? These failed crusaders are seen as unmitigated disasters in their own land. But their word continues to be taken on trust in this strange, and so easily-bamboozled, republic of Pakistan. If there was a medal for being the world’s foremost suckers we’d win it.

So what should we do? Loosen America’s clammy embrace. Which doesn’t mean we go picking quarrels with it or indulging in chest-thumping and empty rhetoric. But we can unravel some of the strings that needlessly tie us to the United States.

Why is the military so hung up on expensive weaponry—F-16s and the like—when the entire concept of the threat we face has changed? Let us learn to live within our means and let the army, with its conviction that it has a monopoly on patriotism, show the rest of the nation the way. For what reason out of Clausewitz or Sun Tzu do we need that white elephant of a new General Headquarters in Islamabad? Will the army start producing better warriors as a result? Why is the military so sold on training courses for officers in US war academies? Can we name one officer who has done well out of such courses? Far better to learn from China or even Vietnam and Cuba.

Our elite classes are bent to American ways not so much physically as in their minds. A colonisation of the mind, that’s what it is, more nefarious in its effects than physical occupation. Musharraf may have been a much feted figure abroad but he was reviled at home. Why? Because the Pakistani masses were convinced he was sold out to the Americans. Zardari and company are not only following Musharraf’s policies but bringing to them a renewed vigour. What makes them think that where Musharraf was detested they will be applauded?

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen Petraeus, the new Centcom commander, shouldn’t be touching down in Islamabad whenever they feel like it. If there is a problem in FATA we should look to it in our own way. But we must put our house in order. The charges hurled at us of the ISI being double-faced should be honestly investigated. The ISI should have no room for operatives pursuing lone ranger agendas. The days of ‘jihad’ as conceived by General Ziaul Haq and General Akhtar Abdul Rehman are over. Time we moved on and exorcised those ghosts. What the US is trying to do is push us into another ‘jihad’. This is a kindness best avoided.

In small things there is no one to beat our cunningness. To larger issues we bring concentrated stupidity. Why must we think only in extremes? Why must we think that if we are not bootlickers of America we must necessarily be its enemy? The real world doesn’t operate like this. Most things are not in black and white. There are shades of grey in between and a middle path between extremes. If we learn to respect ourselves a little better, others, including the US, will also respect us a bit more. Whoever takes a doormat seriously? That’s what we are in American eyes.

Take Kashmir. Who says we should go to war with India over Kashmir? But should that mean that we go to the other extreme and jettison our principled stand on Kashmir as Musharraf repeatedly did and as Zardari has shown every intention of doing? The longest passage in Zardari’s address to parliament was devoted to India. Why? This at a time when the people of Kashmir are agitating once more against Indian rule. If we can’t do anything for the Kashmiris—and I am not saying send fighters there which is the wrong approach—why should we invite the charge that we are stabbing them in the back?

Our problem is not money and economic assistance but the ability to use it. US assistance, and we’ve received plenty of it over the years, should have made us strong. Instead it has only created a dependency syndrome, making parasites of the Pakistani elite. Pakistan received billions of US dollars during the Zia years. Where did that money go? The sizeable sums in aid and assistance received since 2001, to what productive uses were they put? We are hobbling on American crutches but they won’t allow us to walk unless we learn to do without them.

But we’ll have to do something, and pretty quickly, about our leadership problem. Consider in this context Zardari’s performance when he met President Bush in New York. After Bush’s opening remarks, Zardari said: “As always you prove to the world that your heart is in there for us Pakistanis.” This is embarrassing stuff but wait for the next bit: “We respect your feelings, we respect the American ideals. And we bring to this the whole concept of your promise to the world of bringing democracy to Pakistan.”

So Bush promised the world—when did he do this?—that democracy would be brought to Pakistan. President Zardari should choose a good speech writer and keep him close by his side at all times.


Source: The News, 26/9/2008


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