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So adept at own goals


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NONE of us knew who Dr Shakil Afridi was till the Guardian’s Saeed Shah broke the story about the Pakhtun medic’s arrest after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

That was towards the middle of last year. A year on, everyone who follows the news not only knows the man but also has a strong view on whether the doctor’s sentencing to a 33-year prison term for ‘treason’ was just or a mere travesty, an outrage.

Newspaper editorials, articles, online blogs, even social media content are all laden with the entire spectrum of opinion on Afridi’s prison sentence and the manner in which a jirga of tribal elders convened by a political agent under the Frontier Crimes Regulation convicted him.

There is no point in adding my two bits worth to the ‘debate’ apart from saying its timing represents the larger malaise, the royal mess that is Pakistan’s decision-making ability. There appears to be no leadership even in areas of utmost import to the health of the republic.

Consider Pakistan’s reaction to the Salala incident of last November where two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed when their post on the border with Afghanistan came under attack by Nato (read US) helicopter gunships called in by a ground patrol.

Our anger was just. But the chain reaction of events it triggered can hardly be described as wise. If we had taken a policy decision to shut the Nato supply route after a sane cost-benefit analysis, there wouldn’t be a problem. Ours was a knee-jerk reaction, a manifestation of perilous emotionalism.

While there was method to the madness of the Japanese kamikaze pilot who sacrificed his own life to destroy a formidable military target and inflict a debilitating loss on the enemy; here, the Shuja Pashas of this world nudged us closer to mass suicide almost without reason.

For its part, the US has also been wanting in terms of sanity. The ‘duplicity’ of the Pakistanis notwithstanding, by constantly going public with its charges against GHQ in often pointlessly arrogant terms, Washington fuelled anti-Americanism in the country as well.

It converted a willing, if occasionally devious, ally into a reluctant partner. In a country where people are known to hack their own flesh and blood in the name of ‘honour’, the US didn’t gauge well the reaction of an army high command feeling perpetually slighted and sorry for itself.

The war in Iraq may have planted the seeds of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, but a military and its intelligence set-up unsure of its place at the table of the superpower it served enthusiastically and rather cunningly tried to short-change at the same time added booster rockets to the hate spiral.

When the US started to go public with its charge-sheet against GHQ and the ISI, the latter reacted through proxies such as the Difa-i-Pakistan Council and equally patriotic sympathisers, even surrogates, in the media. Where has the resultant hysteria left us? Well not too far from where officially orchestrated militancy left us: with a runaway monster. Now we are told key military leaders spend their Friday afternoons analysing ‘pulse’ (finger-on-the-pulse) reports based on the prayer congregations across the country and decide their next move.

The PPP-led government has its eyes firmly on an election less than a year away and appears keen not to let its popularity slide further. It may have done deals with the army behind the scenes to complete its term, but appears determined not to raise its head above the parapet As it invited President Zardari to Chicago, Nato may also have underestimated (like many of us) the reluctance of the PPP to continue to act as a decoy to draw fire away from the military for some of GHQ’s own policies and decisions.

In fact, the fear of perceived backlash is so pronounced and the spines of leaders both civil and military so weakened that they don’t even go public in defence of their policies some of which, in one’s humble opinion, may well be in the longer-term national interest.

And many in the country and abroad may have to wait for the next round of Wikileaks to learn the truth hidden behind the patriotic bombast of the leaders — take for example our refusal to nominate an officer to join the US-led inquiry into the Salala incident when invited.

Then several months later a Pakistani general quietly (and anonymously of course) tells a US newspaper that our army is now aware that someone from the Salala post fired first. This story has been denied. Even if it’s true, the loss of life remains tragic and irreplaceable.

But the incident would get downgraded from a deliberate, hostile act to an unfortunate ‘friendly fire’ incident, the result of a misunderstanding where both forces misidentified each other/misread each other’s intentions, underlining no more than the need for better coordination.

One isn’t saying this was the case. Neither is one advocating the expeditious reopening of the supply routes. All one is asking for is a little more effort at sharing the truth; only then people will understand a decision and more significantly its repercussions.

And one is seeking a little more serious reflection before we unleash media campaigns to kick up mass hysteria to ‘strengthen’ our negotiating hand. Wouldn’t it be prudent to also assess how this hysteria may itself limit the range of options we can exercise in the end?

Rather than making a dent in the armour of an adversary when our propaganda war starts looking more and more like an own goal, shouldn’t we say it’s time for some serious soul-searching? And what do we do? We live up to the worst stereotype of ourselves with our atrocious sense of timing.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

ali May 26, 2012 05:37am
Yep goal after goal.
atif May 26, 2012 05:49am
there is no proof and you say anomalously some general told a news paper that pakistani soldiers fired first is incorrect and should not be mention in your article. please don't miss lead readers.
Brahmaputra May 26, 2012 06:56am
Why is Pakistan so reluctant for a joint inquiry into the Salala incident as proposed by NATO? This reluctance gives more credence to the popular perception (outside Pakistan) that the troops in Salala were helping militants cross over into Afghanistan.
Muhammad Ishaq May 26, 2012 07:46am
Good analysis. We starter honor hysteria and now we cant dare to break it.
Shankar May 26, 2012 07:49am
Lost cause! All your advice & pleadings will fall on deaf ears! The majority of the people of Pakistan are against the war on terror. They seem to equate the war on terror to war on Islam. They hate the US & the West. A representative democratic government can do very little here. A dictator can muscle the people but a democratic government. The next government will be a lot more anti-west. Things will get a lot worse before they get better!
Ashu May 26, 2012 11:04am
A fit case of clever by half..... Watch out for the moment when the 'establishment' would not be able to switch on and switch off 'proxy ' at will....
raika45 May 26, 2012 12:17pm
Your nations goals regarding your well being with America which is till now your biggest donor of foreign exchange is very perplexing to the rest of the world.On one hand you want the money and on the other you confront them.You do not seem to have a win win policy that is acceptable to both countries.While they are having an upper hand at the moment, you have to tone down down your belligerence. Prolonging this standoff will only hurt your country economically.It is not only America but the whole of NATO.Think of your business transactions by your industries with these countries.
Cyrus Howell May 26, 2012 02:07pm
It could have happened. There is no proof it didn't. Both sides could have mistaken each other for the Taliban. We don't know.
observer May 26, 2012 02:23pm
You create a Tiger of hatred and ride it to intimidate your 'enemies', and in the process you forget that someday you have to get off the tiger too. So what and where is the exit strategy.
Shahzad May 27, 2012 12:24am
Own goals true - including this piece. we are also informed by other great commentators that there was movement on the afghan side which wasnt suppose to be! everything and everything has been muddled up by self servicing politicos - GHQs fault offcourse.
Clyde Magillicuddy May 27, 2012 02:57am
Writing as an observer in the USA, I'm not sure that the US government rift with the Pakistan military or its intelligence service can be repaired -- or ought to be. Between them, Pakistani governments that have been run essentially by the military for 50 years have taken most of the country's resources for themselves and their friends, leaving few crumbs for developing a modern economy.. -- Rather then spending enough money for public education, they left it to Wahhabi financed madrassas, which have trained far more fanatics and terrorists than university candidates, particularly in the countryside. -- The Afghani Taliban were funded and pushed into Afghanistan by the ISI, for which Afghanis, the U.S.and most of Europe are deeply grateful. The ISI continues to stir the pot in Afghanistan. -- Now a doctor has been sentenced to 33 years in jail for helping the CIA find Osama Bin Laden. Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life in prison for stealing United States secret intelligence and giving it to Israel. Nothing was stolen from the ISI but the ability of religious fanatics within it to tip off Bin Laden before the attack. Given that BinLaden was able to build his compound within spitting distance of PMA Kakul, most persons in the U.S. believe that some arm of Pakistani intelligence well knew what was going on and that Pakistan is not a reliable ally. -- Even most of us who stay informed are far from convinced that India covets anything in Pakistan. They'd have to be crazy, because Pakistan is increasingly a basket case. The Indians want to power themselves into the 21st Century rather than return to the 7th, as so many want to do in Pakistan . The anti-Indian, jingoistic paranoia is generated by the military to justify its grasp on money and power; and it's used those resources to foul both their own nest and much of South Asia. Neither the U.S. or India are any "bowl of cherries" for Pakistanis to deal with, but their governments are legitimate and not run by their armed forces. Pakistan is increasingly a failed state, with much of the blame to be laid at the foot of its Army. The problem with the attack on BinLaden was not that that U.S. special forces entered Pakistani territory but that they needed to do it at all.
Sanjay Saksena May 27, 2012 03:25am
Extremely well written, very sharp analysis. The tragedy of both India and Pakistan is that men in important decision making positions suffer from mediocrity of high order.They are intellectually incapable of thinking through the consequences of their ill conceived decisions. Like Shuja Pasha, our finance minister, Mr. Mukherjee has done great harm to the economy by proposing retrospective taxation. Clearly, the bureaucrats on whose advise he presumably acted, did not foresee how negatively it would be viewed by the foreign investors whose dollars shore up our balance of payments. similarly, hare brained, populist, politically motivated employment schemes like the one launched by the present government in the countryside have laid to rest for a long time to come, the great India story. We are suffering high inflation, high interest rates, low rate of growth of economy and continuously deteriorating balance of payments only because the men in charge of decision making are incompetent nincompoops. The mediocrity of our decision makers is the bane of both India and Pakistan.