Shireen M Mazari
It certainly did not take Holbrooke long to reveal his arrogant ignorance about Pakistan. Hysterical over the Swat agreement – clearly it undermines the US efforts to expand the destabilisation of Pakistan and thereby seek a rationale for sending troops into Pakistan and eventually targeting the country’s nuclear assets – he made some absolutely absurd remarks. First he chose to declare the 9/11 perpetrators as being similar to the Swat militants and to the groups of militants in FATA. Only his arrogance would push him into displaying such ignorance since we all know that the perpetrators of 9/11 were well-off Saudis educated in Western institutions (not madrassahs) and living in the West. Unlike them, the Swat militants are a motley group comprising various shades of Pakistanis, primarily madrassah educated and certainly not from the financial elite of the country. As for FATA, the militants comprise several groups ranging from Al-Qaeda offshoots, religious zealots, Afghan Taliban, Pakistan Taliban, local groups and criminal elements. But for Holbrooke it would appear these crucial differences are irrelevant and all that is relevant is the religious identity! Talk about bigotry and prejudice. As for his understanding of the security situation in the NWFP, it was defined in terms of people not “being able to walk their dogs!” Now how many ordinary citizens of Pakistan actually keep dogs as pets and walk them every evening a la New York style? And this is the best Obama could muster as a Special Envoy!
But for us Holbrooke is a secondary issue. Far more critical is the lying and cheating the governments of Pakistan have been indulging in with their own people as they have gradually conceded more and more sovereignty to the USA. We now know that the drone attacks have not only been done with the complicity of the Pakistan government (with both the military and civilian components giving their assent) but also with the provision of a special drone airbase at Bandari, about 87 kilometres from Kharan in Balochistan. There has been a deliberate effort to confuse the issue by citing the Shamsi base close to the Iranian border, built by an expansion of the old Juzzak airport, which is actually primarily being used by the US to destabilise Iran. The drone airfield is a separate clandestine one that does not figure even in the international list of the 22 restricted areas identified in Pakistan – because the drone base is not controlled at all by the Pakistan military – it has simply been handed over to the US to do with as they please. Even more pathetic is the news that our air defence personnel are now embedded in the US embassy in Islamabad to ensure the safety of the drones as they go about killing fellow Pakistanis.
As for our Defence Minister declaring that the US drones have been given rights to land only after they have killed Pakistanis; this is so ridiculous a claim one cannot waste time critiquing its irrationality. In any case, the Foreign Minister declared that the statement was based on a misperception – such is the dysfunctional nature of the state. But then when lies and cover ups are to be maintained this is what happens!
Nor is the drone issue the only major relinquishing of state sovereignty by Pakistan. The New York Times has revealed what many of us had been writing about for some time now, that the US has around 70 military advisers and technical specialists who are training our military to fight Al Qaeda. That is comical given the lack of success the US is having fighting this beast in Afghanistan! Apparently this secret task force has been in Pakistan since summer 2008 – although there have been sightings of the odd foreigner much earlier in the area around Warsak!
Then there is the access given to the FBI to accompany our security forces as they make their arrests. Why? Is it because the US does not trust our security forces? There are also revelations coming in of how the British were part of the torture machinery of Pakistani prisoners alongside our agencies. Now where will all this go? Will we soon simply hand over our nuclear assets to the US also for “security” reasons – if we have not already done so! After all, with all the duplicity going on, who can trust the state anymore to tell the truth?
Meanwhile we continue to hear statements that external sources are funding the militants in parts of Pakistan and now the ISPR head, General Athar Abbas has declared that the military cannot control the “external elements” being funded by hostile sources. But the point is why is no one in the state identifying these elements and sources of funding? Why is it being kept so vague? What is the pressure and where is it coming from?
As the deceit by the state continues, the peace in Swat seems to be holding for the present and the nine points for maintaining this peace that have been given by Sufi Mohammad are interesting because they make demands from both sides. Incidentally, the Taliban have also declared a unilateral ceasefire in Bajaur. Since our rulers look up to the West for almost everything, perhaps they should study the Good Friday Agreement which ended the Northern Ireland conflict and in which concessions were made by all parties. Just to inform some judgemental but ignorant critics, the British Army was also unable to go into areas of Northern Ireland controlled by the armed IRA – the many “no-go” areas but eventually control by the state came through dialogue, not military force! And many prisoners were also released as part of the deal.
Coming back to the issue of the Pakistani state’s deception of its own people, the net result is that there is no credibility left. That is why interlocutors like Sufi Mohammed become necessary. If the credibility of the government and the establishment is to be re-established, they must first come clean on the extent of the sovereignty already surrendered to the US. Then they must delink from the US and claim back the lost sovereignty before it is too late. Whether one likes it or not, unless Pakistan creates space between itself and the US, there will be no peace and security and the space for moderates will continue to shrink.
Study the history of US-backed regimes – be it in Iran, Vietnam, or the many examples of Latin America. US leaders like Obama will not alter the strategic vision the US has of itself – and Obama’s first moves vis-à-vis Pakistan have hardly been encouraging. So let us break our leadership’s psychological dependency on Washington. The rest will follow. Otherwise, the threat our ruling and miniscule westernised elites are seeking to avert will surely become a reality.
Tailpiece: It is sad that Farhat Taj has had to resort to using my columns out of context to counter my arguments but then since she is giving me so much time, I feel my writings must be hurting in the right quarters! Just to clarify some points: the sectarian problem in Pakistan was there much before there were any Pakistan Taliban. Secondly, since I have always made a distinction between the situation in Swat and FATA, I am well aware that there are no drones in Swat – though the US could move in that direction if it felt threatened by the peace and stability being re-established there! But that does not mean our leaders should not visit the area instead of remaining barricaded in their ivory tower residences. Not wanting to waste space on the diatribes of Ms Taj, let me simply say that if she is as intolerant of opposing viewpoints what is the difference between her and the Taliban that she accuses of intolerance – just the weapons? But if she wants to devote her columns to critiquing my writings, I have no complaints. It seems it is not just the Taliban and the US that have intolerance endemic in them!
The writer is a defence analyst
Source: The News International, 25-Feb-09