Fate hanging in the balance

Published November 2, 2007

NOT an individual’s fate but the nation’s because if we get it wrong this time, and take the wrong turning, the gods won’t forgive us and we will have time enough to bewail the consequences.

Even if Mossad and RAW together had scripted a plan for subverting Pakistan, they couldn’t have bettered what we are doing to ourselves. Parts of Balochistan long swept by unrest, terrorists striking at will across the country, and now the fires of insurrection burning in an arc from Waziristan to Swat. All because of a mixing of roles: the army neglecting what it should be doing and doing that for which it is entirely unequipped.

The most striking thing about Pakistan today is the yawning gulf between danger and response. While the country is in turmoil and Pakistanis who care to think about such things are fearful of the future, those at the helm — whom God knows we never chose as our saviours — are lost in a world of their own, concerned only about self-preservation, this at a time when their inadequacy stands proven beyond words.

If they had the nation’s good at heart they would be thinking of an orderly exit. But in the turbulent world of Pakistani politics this is one manoeuvre we have yet to master. Our horse riders are great at grand entrances but a tad clueless about how to leave the arena when their time is up.

Nero at least was aware that Rome was burning. The guys we are saddled with seem unaware of the price of their ineptitude. Why else would they be playing power games that are only making the nation sicker and adding to the sum of its cynicism? Pakistan has withstood external enemies and is more than a match for them but the gathering rot within is proving more powerful than external machinations.

Insurgencies were supposed to happen elsewhere: in Afghanistan, in Indian-occupied Kashmir. But hand it to our Napoleons for bringing the chickens home to roost, pursuing policies which have sparked uprisings within Pakistan, leading to the image increasingly advertised of this being one of the most dangerous places on earth.

In the tribal areas, and now in Swat, the army is stuck in low-intensity conflicts it has no heart or stomach for fighting. Facing an external enemy is one thing but fighting your own countrymen, especially when of the same racial stock (a distinction which did not apply to our brethren in East Pakistan), is quite different.

This is not a battle for the soul of Pakistan, or to slay the dragon of extremism, as our foreign godfathers wish us to believe so that the more readily we jump to their commands and do their bidding. This is a fight for American interests in Afghanistan and we are only performing the role of unwilling mercenaries, hardly the higher purpose of an army whose motto is ‘jihad in the name of Allah’.

We know how we have got into this mess. Our military leadership thought it was being smart when it signed on with the United States post-Sept 11. Six years down the road we are living with the consequences. Fear and greed lay behind that fateful decision. Fear of what the US might do to us should we refuse; and greed fuelled by the belief that an alliance with America would legitimise military rule.

Anyhow, no use crying over the past, we have to move on.

But how? Not by becoming indifferent to what is happening in the tribal areas, for that is a luxury we cannot afford, but by looking at the causes of the insurgency there, how the Baitullah Mehsuds have taken up arms, why their clout is increasing, and why, conversely, the state is so helpless to meet the challenge they pose.

One answer is that the military leadership is simply distracted, embroiled in politics so much and in the battle for self-survival that it has time for no other battle. That is why we have seen that problems that could easily have been settled when they first reared their heads, such as the Lal Masjid episode in Islamabad, were left unattended and tackled only when they had become monsters, naturally exacting a heavier price then. The same thing happened earlier in Waziristan and now in Swat.

The army is in a soup and so is the nation. Regardless of what is happening those in power are driven only by the ambition to stick to power come what may. The leading political players are interested only in a share of the cake and to listen to their discordant, self-serving chorus is to get the impression that Pakistan is a carcass on the table waiting to be cut up by a bunch of hungry, salivating souls.

No, I don’t think most Pakistanis will warm to the idea of their country left to the tender mercies of power-seeking vultures. Sick and tired of the present situation they want their country’s future secured. They want it rescued from its current predicament but they also know that this rescuing won’t come from the army command which is a part of the problem, or from the leading lights of the political class who, alas, have proved all too small-minded to show any concern about the larger picture.

This rescue operation has to come from some other source, perhaps the Supreme Court. One clutches at straws that are available and in our reduced circumstances it is only the Supreme Court which is keeping the nation’s hopes alive even though much of the euphoria kindled by the lawyers’ movement and the judicial crisis has since abated.

Even so, it says something about the new assertiveness of the highest judicial body that the president’s election is still dangling in the air, the petition regarding his eligibility still before the Supreme Court. How it is decided will have an important bearing on the future: either giving a blow to controlled democracy, our bane throughout our history, or giving it another lease of life.

The argument being advanced against a radical verdict is that it will derail the march to democracy. Call the games of Islamabad a move towards democracy? This shambles is not worth preserving and five more years of it and we will be done in completely: army compromised further, nuclear programme threatened, the last hopes of political stability disappearing.

Therefore a clean break with the past to dispel the clouds of confusion and uncertainty over the nation, sapping its will and destroying its spirit, and restoring the Constitution as understood by its framers to its rightful place are the needs of this fateful hour. Half-measures will only make matters worse.

Small wonder the government is resorting to delaying tactics in the Supreme Court and to confuse matters further the air is full of doomsday theories about a state of emergency and the like. If this talk indicates anything it is of a ruling dispensation in trouble, unsure of itself and heedless of the uncertainty it is visiting upon the country.

All the more reason for corrective steps because of a strange mood we are caught in. The waters are rising but all that the powers-that-be are concerned about are their petty interests.Hard to imagine a greater disconnect between fantasy and reality. National bankruptcy can’t travel further than this. Such moods at other times and in other places have been the prelude to revolutions. Only in our case no such luck, this country not created for revolutions and its soil not conducive to such dangerous enterprises.

Opinion

Editorial

The whole truth
28 Sep, 2022

The whole truth

THE war on truth has never been more relentless than it is today. Authoritarianism is on the rise and purveyors of...
Real-world trolls
Updated 28 Sep, 2022

Real-world trolls

It's reprehensible how PTI supporters now seem convinced that politicians from opposing camps aren't entitled to basic dignity.
Islamabad wildlife
28 Sep, 2022

Islamabad wildlife

PRESERVING biodiversity is low on the list of priorities of both state and society. However, successful attempts at...
Noon leaks
Updated 27 Sep, 2022

Noon leaks

PMO audio leaks are a national security emergency that ought to be investigated at the highest level.
Cipher probe offer
27 Sep, 2022

Cipher probe offer

CONSIDERING the toxic political polarisation in the country, former prime minister Imran Khan’s suggestion that ...
Delaying Doha plans
27 Sep, 2022

Delaying Doha plans

WHEN Doha announced its intention to spend $3bn in different commercial and investment sectors of Pakistan around a...