Mar 25, 2009

Pakistan's major threat: US ignorance

US ignorance regarding the ground realities of Pakistan is a source of major threat to Pakistan, both in terms of its internal dynamics and external security concerns. Taking the internal dynamics first, there were the crude US interventions during the nation's reassertion of its self in the context of the long march and the demand for the restoration of the constitutional chief justice – with members of the US Administration trying to bulldoze the opposition political leaders into abandoning the march to Islamabad and into making unholy compromises with their present favourite Pakistani – President Zardari. It is a testimony to the Pakistani people that the US failed in its nefarious designs and at the end of the day had to make conciliatory statements regarding the restoration of Chief Justice Chaudhry. But imperial hubris could not resist sending the CIA chief to Islamabad to coincide with the CJP's date of restoration of office.But these were only the most recent examples of US ignorance muscling itself into Pakistan's domestic domain. Not to be left behind, the Brits through their rather brash Miliband also hopped on the US bandwagon (and we thought that was only Tony Blair's problem!) and gave bizarre statements about Pakistan's imminent descent to chaos as a result of the long march. Given how millions took to the streets of London to protest the Iraq war, why should the Brits assume that the Pakistani nation's march for justice would cause a descent into chaos? On the contrary, it showed the growing vitality of the Pakistani nation to seek its own destiny against the machinations of its rulers and their foreign sponsors. Of course, being rather tiny now, the British can be and were chastised severely by different Pakistani quarters but the US seems to send fear into the hearts of our ruling elites. Not so our masses mercifully!Coming back to how US ignorance poses a threat to our internal dynamics, there is the issue of Dr A Q Khan who seems to have sent the US Establishment into a permanent trauma. So once again we heard the mantra of linking aid to Pakistan with access to Dr Khan. Only this time, the "threat" was the withholding of military assistance. Now the US knows that there is no reason, even legally, to let them have access to Dr Khan but they still do not realise that even the most obliging of Pakistani leaders will not be able to do the needful on this count and survive in power. Dr Khan, rightfully, is a national hero and as we in Pakistan know only too well, he has never contravened any of Pakistan's international legal obligations since we are neither members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Nuclear Suppliers' Group. But the threat should have shown the Pakistan military the futility of seeking US military assistance – which we have done well without for many decades. In fact, the army's offensive weapon systems have no US linkage or dependency at all, so why create it now? In any case, this absurd demand of the US does expose US intent and the military would do well to do a major rethink of its present close collaboration with the US.The most recent ignorant remark relating to Pakistan has come from an Australian consultant to Centcom commander General Petraeus, David Kilcullen, that Pakistan could collapse in six months. Clearly wishful thinking by our detractors as the nation now stands revitalised after the successful challenge to dictatorial state authority on the judiciary issue. But what is of concern in Kilcullen's remarks is his claim that the military, intelligence agencies and the police (this last category is a new addition to the diatribes coming from the US and its allies) did not follow the civilian government but were a "rogue state" within a state. Honestly, talk about a total lack of comprehension of how the police force and the civilian intelligence agencies work in Pakistan! They are certainly inefficient and corrupt but that is another issue all together! Of course, we also know that since the ISI and the CIA fell out about a year ago, there has been an insidious campaign against the ISI and the Pakistan military but now it seems the police and FIA and so on are also on the hit list. In other words, all security and law and order forces must be scrapped, if Kilcullen is to be believed – and presumably reconstituted with US loyalists or what the US would term "secularists". Clearly, in the case of the US relationship with Pakistan, ignorance is certainly not blissful for the latter.But for their ignorance, the US would realise that while most Muslim Pakistanis see themselves as easy-going, tolerant – also referred to as "moderate" – Muslims, very few regard themselves as "secular" in the US context. Which brings one to the constant mantra from the US and its allies about how Pakistan is about to be taken over by the Taliban. If this was to be true it would certainly be the fault of the Pakistani rulers, their image as US surrogates and their inability to deliver to the people on all counts – especially justice, equity and a dignified existence. But if one looks at the electoral patterns, one can see the standing of religious parties within mainstream Pakistan. However, it is true that the inability of the Pakistani state to deliver may well allow the more extreme religious groups to make inroads – after all, there are a phenomenal amount of madressahs across the country if my date collection for southern Punjab is any guide. And we do know that the Taliban have begun a peaceful campaign to make inroads into crucial cities in Punjab like Lahore and Faisalabad. In the latter city they have passed pamphlets to the trader community asking them to close their shops at prayer times, shun television and DVDs, ask their ladies to observe purdah and take their conflicts to the ulema rather than the civil courts. Has the state taken any action against these pamphlets or sought to provide quick justice and security for the population at large? Add to this the US insistence on the killing of Pakistani citizens – whether as "collateral damage" or deliberate targeting – through drone attacks, and the perception of a corrupt and US-driven Pakistani state becomes ever more widespread. This is where the US ignorance impacts both our external security dynamics and internal processes. Our external security becomes aggravated as the military loses credibility within its own people, especially in FATA. Now the US is threatening drone attacks in Balochistan which will offer new space for the religious militants in that province. The provincial leadership has wisely already condemned this policy pre-emptively. Perhaps it can actually move to close the Bandari drone base about 87 kilometres from Kharan southeastward – since the federal government seems unable or unwilling to do so.Certainly nothing has impacted the Pakistani populace against the US as the drone attacks have, and US ignorance about the functioning of our society has made them continue with this negative policy. So a few militants may have been killed in the process – look at the number of future militants these attacks create! In terms of Pakistan's external security, the US using Jundullah through Balochistan to destabilise Iran undermines the socio-historical, cultural and political Pakistan-Iran relationship and creates its own destabilising dynamics within Pakistani society. Perhaps the absurdity of the US ignorance is reflected most clearly now in the statements coming from Obama's Special Envoy for this region, Richard Holbrooke. He showed it after his visit to Pakistan when he talked about people not being able to walk their dogs in Peshawar. More recently he declared, with his usual arrogance, that the 9/11 terrorists, the killers of Ms Bhutto, the Mumbai attackers and the perpetrators of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team were all one and the same lot. What a lethal mix of arrogance and ignorance! After all the 9/11 perpetrators were rich Arabs educated in the west and living there; we do not yet know who killed Ms Bhutto; the Mumbai trail spreads across many countries; and, our foreign minister has also now referred to a "foreign hand", probably India's RAW, in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers. So while it may comfort the Americans to forget such distinctions, it will not resolve the global terrorism problem – especially when in all probability the threat of terrorism across the US and or Europe will tend to come from the marginalised Muslims of Europe rather than our madressah-bred extremists. That is, for better or worse, our problem for which we have to find our own solutions. In this context, US ignorance has a lethal cost which we cannot afford.

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