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The flip side of intervention

Published Jun 25, 2012 06:22am


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IF somebody were to rely exclusively on our TV channels for news, he would soon come to believe that Pakistan is the centre of the universe. Events abroad — unless they relate to our country — are barely reported, and hardly ever deemed worthy of comment or debate.

Thus, the ongoing civil conflict in Syria — and its implications for the region and the world — has hardly figured in any of the TV reports and chat shows that I have been watching these last few weeks. Although around 15,000 Syrian have been killed over the last year, the Pakistani response has been a deafening silence.

We in Pakistan are so gripped by our unending and entirely self-created political crises that we have little time for, or interest in, what’s happening around the world. This unhealthy preoccupation with our series of storms in the proverbial teacup has resulted in an inward-looking mindset where conspiracies replace logic, and paranoid fantasies displace reality.

Had 15,000 Muslims — including hundreds of children — been killed, and thousands more tortured and wounded, by a non-Muslim power, we would have been demonstrating and attacking the embassy of the guilty state. Indeed, Pakistani politicians and clerics score points regularly by taking to the streets when an American drone strike kills villagers behind whom extremists shelter in our tribal areas.

But Muslim-on-Muslim killings go largely unreported and uncondemned. Whether the Taliban slaughter their fellow-Afghans next door, or jihadis kill Pakistanis by the thousands, there is scarcely a murmur of protest by the likes of Nawaz Sharif, Hameed Gul and Imran Khan.

So when Bashar al-Assad’s forces shell towns, or attack the opposition with helicopter gunships, few in the Muslim world are moved to protest. True, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are reported to be supplying arms to the opposition. But this is not out of any sympathy for Syrian civilians: the cold calculus here is that by removing Bashar, Iran will be deprived of a crucial regional ally.

This suits western powers as they try to cut Tehran down to size. Thus, the rising chorus to intervene in Washington and London. Had it not been for war-weariness and the current economic crisis, I have little doubt that we would have seen Nato planes over Syria by now.

Meanwhile, beyond the scarcely concealed supply of arms to Syrian rebels by Saudi Arabia (and coordinated, we are told, by the CIA), the Muslim world seems to have no clear role or strategy. Turkey has come out strongly against the Assad regime, but is cautious about direct intervention.

The downing of a Turkish jet fighter flying over Syrian airspace will have sent out a clear message that the country is not another Libya. The fact that the Syrian army has remained relatively united under the Assad government is a reminder that any armed intervention will be fiercely resisted. Continuing Russian and Iranian support are the other factors that discourage a Libya-type attempt at regime change.

While I would dearly love to see the Syrian dictator leave, the reality is that his departure might cause more problems than it solves. With an Allewite minority ruling over a majority of Sunnis, there are already rising sectarian tensions between the two communities. There have been credible reports of groups of pro-Assad Allewite thugs killing and torturing civilians. Should the regime collapse, there is a grave risk of a sectarian bloodbath as Sunnis settle scores.

Apart from Sunnis and Shia Allewites, Syria is also home to Christians, Druzes and small numbers of Jews and Yazdis. These minorities fear that once the brutal but secular government of Bashar al-Assad is deposed, the next one might not be as tolerant. They have reason to be worried, judging from the targeted killings of Christians in Egypt and Iraq. Indeed, around half of the country’s million-plus Christians have fled their homes in post-Saddam Iraq. The ancient, pre-Islamic Maronite community of Egypt makes up around 10 per cent of the population, and has been persecuted for years. But now, without the minimal protection they received from Mubarak, they fear the worst under an Islamic dispensation.

Libya today is witnessing regional fragmentation as local militias grab power, and confront a weak and chaotic Transitional National Council. Given the disunity and confusion, there are few prospects of a stable government emerging anytime soon. So clearly, it is easier to remove a despotic regime than it is to replace it with a democratic one.

Returning to Syria, it seems that a diplomatic solution is the only way forward if we are to avoid a messy endgame of the sort we saw in Iraq and are witnessing in Libya. Clearly, the Kofi Anan formula has collapsed under the weight of multiple breaches of the fragile truce by both sides. Britain and the US are now trying to persuade the Syrian dictator to go into exile with a guarantee of immunity from prosecution. This is known as the Yemen model whereby President Saleh stepped down after months of bloody street protests.

In an ideal world, a movement against dictatorship should culminate in the emergence of a freely elected, democratic government. Sadly, things are never that simple. Vestiges of the old regime continue to cling to power, as we are seeing in Egypt: with the military and security forces still entrenched, they are placing a series of roadblocks on the road to democracy.

How should the world react when faced with the kind of bloodbath we are witnessing in Syria today? Decent people want to see it end, and the only way to stop it seems to be the immediate removal of the dictator. Thus, the Nato campaign to rid Libya of Qadhafi was widely welcomed at the time. But few people are concerned with the disturbing aftermath. Similarly, hardly anybody in the West is aware of the disastrous impact of Saddam Hussein’s removal on women and the minorities in Iraq.

These are tricky moral and political issues, and there are no easy answers. Unfortunately, these questions are not properly discussed in Pakistan where, despite — or because of — our 24/7 rolling news and TV chat shows, we get more confused than ever.


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

Comments (26) Closed

Cindy Jun 25, 2012 03:19pm
"Talk to anyone or everyone in Pakistan... America and Israel...plan, plot changes for Pakistan...planned to harm Pakistan." SIR, Please look around, do you not see anything happening around you in Pakistan? Check-out the Middle-East if you will. You think that is all by chance? Any student of history and politics knows that such events are not due to happen-stance but are the result of long term schemes, plans, and plots. You Muslims think them to be acts of god. Sorry, they are but of man's doing lone--freewill.
Sattar Jun 25, 2012 06:22pm
Your response is typical of a person blaming everyone else for his problems. I am surprised you have not claimed that the political chaos, the earth quakes, the floods, the draught, etc., in Pakistan are the results of plots by the US, or the Western countries. Ever wonder why the world is ganging on Pakistan?
Razzaq Jun 25, 2012 07:33pm
Irfan Saheb, the electronic media has it's own agenda and greedy needs. In practice it is not even worth of talking.
greg Jun 25, 2012 07:43pm
im living in syria and not a syrian. the situation is being blown out of proportions. it is not that bad here. most of the 'freedom fighters' are criminals trying to gain money through kidnapings. others are muslim brotherhood mostly salafi. they are funded by saudi arabia. i can report 1 incident where aljazeera reported false figures of military operations. one took place in damascus few months back they reported 80 people dead however only 3 people had died including a security officer. large amounts of bullets and other weapons were found from the apartment where the military operation took place. i have seen the apartment location there is no way 80 people could have died there. there is no flip side of intervention it did not work in Libya the current situation there is dangerous. An intervention in syria would result in more anarchy in lebanon and not forget the kurdistan concept that will also come up creating more bloodshed. change should come but through an organic and entirely based on indigenous forces.
shaukat ali chughtai Jun 25, 2012 08:51pm
Excellent article to awaken the minds of Religious Theykedars in Pakistan. Right, I haven't noticed any anchor person talking about middle east or international scenario. When the pseudo intellectuals talk about Ummah, we should ask them where they had gone or vanished. Why Hamid Gul and Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif does not talk on these issues. You have shown mirror to the intellegentia of Pakistan, thanks a lot.
asfand62 Jun 25, 2012 09:02pm
Irfan Sahib I am so surprised that you are not writing about the on-going corruption in Pakland? You are covering everything else except the core issue of bad governance in Pakland. I like to hear your comments on current Paki Politics.
Ronnie Dsouza Jun 25, 2012 01:56pm
A thought provoking article, Mr. Irfan, very well summed it up and exactly the way I think, the people in Pakistan act, that is always in a negative way when Muslims-on-Muslims killing go unnoticed, they tend to act silent without voicing their disapproval, nor expressing their protest.
Safdar Jul 01, 2012 03:52pm
Very rational!!. Write for Bahrain too!!!!!
M R Jun 25, 2012 02:32pm
@Naeem Malik, In last few days, 15 pakistani soldiers were BEHEADED by the talibans and few were captured by the talibans. Where is the outrage?Where PTI and IK? I personally think beheading of soldiers is more provocative than salala incident!!!
shankar Jun 25, 2012 08:10am
So true!
s.khan Jun 25, 2012 02:56pm
Why Pakistanis need to hear more of muslims-on-muslims violence?There is plenty at home to witness. Muslims world is going through violent change. After many sacrifices something good will emerge. No big change ever take place in human affairs without shedding some blood. It is unfortunate but history doesn't lie. Any way Pakistanis can do very little to change any thing in Syria or any other place. They are helpless spectators in their own country where there are so many problems and seem to multiply with the time.
@SecularPakista1 Jun 25, 2012 02:51pm
Bhutto's wishes have come true. Millions of Pakistani poor are eating grass while his son in law, Zardari and his grandson are eating caviar and hiding billions in foreign bank accounts. Bhutto was no angel. He undemined Pakistan and derailed deomcracy. We are still suffering from his and those who followed after him, Zia,..... Nawaz.....Benazir..... Musharraf......and now Zardari. We keep going in circles, like a dog chasing its own tail.
Rehman Khattack Jun 25, 2012 02:14pm
All killings are vile and in humane but it is indictable that a Pakistani journalist is almost approving the drone attack whilst all other civilized voices around the world condemn them.
Naeem Malik Jun 25, 2012 12:45pm
I do not know balanced or not but let me put it another way any country that would have been droned by a foreign power as many times as Pakistan would at least have taken the matter to the UN- Pakistan did not - If 28 soldiers of any country would have been killed within their own borders by a foreign power at a minimum ambassadors would have been withdrawn and foreign power involved would have been asked to remove their ambassadors. As to the crisis in Pakistan being of our own making. Pakistan did not invade Afghanistan in the last century. USSR did. Pakistan did not invade Afghanistan in 2001 US and its European allies did. Whatever followed from these two events, Pakistanis and particularly the poor majority who probably cannot afford to buy the DAWN let alone read it paid a heavy price and are still paying it. Perhaps a balanced view is required. When is our elite going to get rid of their slavish mentality and think for themselves. What has happened to Zulfiqar Bhutto's slogan "We will eat grass for a thousand years". At the current rate many Pakistanis are fortunate if they can feed their families one meal a day.
Rehman Khattack Jun 25, 2012 02:24pm
I applaud your comment. It is so refreshing to read someone who is able to criticize people like Mr Hussain who write to please certain sections of our cacooned society.
Tariq K Sami Jun 25, 2012 01:42pm
In Pakistan we always listened to BBC urdu service. We did have something called Alami khabrain on PTV We need to have something like BBC Urdu Service or World news with Brian Williams.
Bakhtawer Bilal Jun 25, 2012 11:41am
You are exactly right. Talk to anyone or everyone in Pakistan, and it would seems that all America and Israel do is to plan and plot changes for Pakistan. Every thing small and large is been planned somewhere to harm Pakistan. And also due to the picture media is showing, the only savior remaining wears a robe.
Cyrus Howell Jun 25, 2012 05:43pm
The Syrian Air Force still has 80 fighter Jets - mostly Russian Mig-21s ans Mig-22s. Those would have to be shot down or otherwise destroyed on the ground ( or pilots forced to land in Iran or Jordan), before any land attack could be begun. Syria has enough tanks and artillery on the ground to sway the balance. Syria has a professional (and experienced )military in charge of the country. Indeed. They are not Libyans.
Shazaad Ali Jun 25, 2012 04:35pm
Amazing reply to a conceited and an arrogant view point.
BHARATI Jun 25, 2012 11:22am
@MeTousif Jun 25, 2012 07:45am
What else can one expect from such make-shift no-ethic media? They have made this nation sick and tired. People want them to taken rid off.
Mlang Jun 25, 2012 02:20pm
Supplying arms to the rebels in syria by saudis and qatar can't be a good idea.. What if some country supply arms to anti saudi party's..
Ajaya K Dutt Jun 26, 2012 02:34am
Hats off to a lonely voice.
abdul Jun 26, 2012 06:01am
u r right
Rafiq Jun 26, 2012 07:01am
Taking the drone issue to the UN? How? When it is known that the President of Pakistan told the Americans 'you can do what you like and we will protest'!?
Saty,Bangalore Jun 28, 2012 04:08am
Brilliant article by Mr.Irfan Hussain. It is so well-written and thought provoking. We need more Irfans in India and Pakistan.