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Let Freedom Reign…

Ali Khan

May 13, 2011

Governments that are afraid of their own people are not sustainable. It can be argued that the opposite is indeed true but I believe there should be a distinction drawn between fear and respect. Those who fear their people live in perpetual exiles (both inside and outside of their countries). They live in another world inside their countries and insignificant lives outside. The sting of conscience does not allow them to completely escape their past, just as it does not the perpetrators of other selfish crimes. And yes, their acts are ultimately selfish, no matter how draped their actions are in the shrouds of patriotism and national interest. For it is apparent and the verdict is given; 2 plus 2 almost always equals 4.

Easy as it is to exhaust all the frustration and anger on the common Joes of Pakistan for being almost criminally negligent in electing the same rulers again and again (and to tolerate unconstitutional takeovers by the military), it is with the leadership of the country the burden of progress must lie. Who are Mr. and Mrs. Joe supposed to vote for when the same crooks are on the ballot, and the same crooks may get one of their relatives become a burden on national treasury as the permanent employee of one of the state’s failing institutions? What are the economic alternatives?

On May 2, the same league was in power. Power is the correct word to describe their current stints inPakistan. In a civilized country, a president or prime minister would have come out immediately and addressed the citizens. ButPakistan is not a civilized country yet, and to expect even the mere basics from the rulers seem naïve. For them it is just another one of those hiccups that needs to be managed to stay in power. The President of the United States, on whose doorsteps petty dictators and, sadly, some elected rulers line up like a bunch of beggars for arms and cash, addresses the American people immediately at a time of peril or triumph.

The failures of Pakistani rulers are plenty, least of all the dismal performance on the security and economic fronts. But these failures point to a deeper decay of the Pakistani society. The current incident is certainly being blown out of proportion. Sovereignty is not really the problem for the ultra-nationalists of Pakistan; that has been violated many times over by the jihadis, Generals, Politicians and Americans alike for decades. The issue is a deep felt belief that something has gone terribly wrong with Pakistan. A country that had so much potential, so much promise, is now widely considered a failing state. There are constant stings of conscience that remind them the sins of their pasts. Why didn’t we think long-term since partition? Why didn’t we get to the bottom of Liaqat Ali Khan’s murder? Why did we tolerate, and even celebrate the first military takeover in 1958? Why didn’t we chart out a long-term economic policy and stick to it? Why didn’t we end the extravagant spending on toys and perks the Generals wanted? Why did we spend a shameful amount on the education of our kids? Why did we segregate and humiliate citizens of own country (Bengalis), and force them to free themselves from the masters? Why did we embark on an uneven and unwise foreign policy in the late 50’s? Why didn’t we do more to settle the issues between us and India?   etc etc etc…

America is a nation perfected by more than 200 years of sustained democracy and a marvelous system of checks and balances. Its hubris foreign adventures are certainly not what America’s founders would approve of and are not always acts of self-defense. But it is important to note that wars inAfghanistanorIraqare not as high an economic burden as some would like to think. The real costs for a war of choice, such as theIraqwar, may not be monitary in the end, significant as they seem, but a loss of respect globally and more security challenges ahead. America overcame the Vietnam trauma (that divided the country) but a few more of these would wound it from within.

Pakistan was always a proxy for the United States to fight wars. Americans may call Pakistanis their partners but proxies or tools they ultimately are. Why should it concern the U.S if a dictator is in charge in Pakistan? That’s not their problem, it is Pakistan’s. America uses these tools to achieve its objectives and the rulers keep power through thefriendship they enjoy with the Americans. Along the way, America drops a few cents and some gadgets in the beggar’s bowl. The sad part of this symbiotic relationship is that Pakistani rulers spit in the same bowl they eat from. They encourage anti-Americanism amongst the masses and rally them against India, the eternal enemy. This suits the rulers just fine. As long as the herds are kept pumped up against a foreign hand, the failures and decay of the state and society from within is ignored. Rulers of various Arab countries mastered this art of deception long ago, replacing India (in Pakistan’s case) with Israel.

That is not to say that anti-Americanism is not championed by the public at large. The reasons are many, from a sense of falling behind to an absence of much else to treasure. A glorious, real or perceived, Islamic past is all they have to treasure. That is why they tend to be overly sensitive and defensive of anything associated with Islam. Islam has also become the drug many have come to rely on to escape the decay in society. Words like ‘Allah karay gaa’ (God will do), ‘Allah ki marzi hai (it is God’s will)’, ‘Allah Emaan walo ka imtihaan laita hai’ (God tests the faithful), ‘Allah maalik hai’ (God, being the master will take care) etc have been substituted for taking an honest, clear-headed stock of our situation today. ‘When memories exceed dreams, the end is near’ (Thomas Friedman).

Thus, Pakistanis hate and/or dislike and/or object to the United States not because the U.S is the enemy, but because they are angry at their own failures. United States does not treat its enemies with much love, as is evident by its comprehensive defeats of Japan, Germany, Soviet Union and now the spectacular operation that killed Osama bin Laden. A Pakistani journalist who interviewed Mr. Bin Laden in November 2001 claims that OBL told him that if the United States were to use nuclear weapons in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda will retaliate with a nuclear strike of its own. It is clear that Bin Laden understood the significance of killing 3000 Americans. The last time that many Americans were killed in a surprise attack, the U.S nuked the enemy, twice, after it had destroyed much of its industrial centers. In that sense, America has been forgiving.

It is sufficiently clear that Mr. Bin Laden died a sad man. He and his followers are nowhere near evicting the U.S from Arabian Lands (indeed Americans invaded Iraq and have huge bases there), and the royals they so despised were only strengthened by presenting themselves as pro-west, moderate Muslims opposed to the radical takeover. Al Qaeda’s most significant achievement is the forcing of American and European societies to close a little. A whole new generation of Americans will grow up not knowing how open and free America used to be before 9/11. The airport security lines, full body scans, extra background checks, etc is all Al Qaeda can be proud of.  They can also take pride in tens of thousands of Muslim deaths.

As for Pakistan, Americans have exposed its people and it’s military for they are: a third world nation. The military has grown so much extra fat off the regular billions it receives that it has turned into an inefficient, obese entity with little or no capability to do its real job. Its economic tentacles and interests are so deeply entrenched in the general economy that it cannot possibly to counted on to defend the nation’s frontiers from enemies, foreign and domestic. The dismal performance of our larger than life military was evident in almost all the wars it fought. It may have achieved tactical victories but have almost always lost the strategic objectives. And like an obese person who can intimidate but does not have the stomach for a fight, our military men run for a civilian cover for rescue once a misguided adventure goes south. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave the military a lifeline after the 1971 War, and Nawaz Sharif was rushed to Washington to end the Kargil War. The same military stabbed the prime ministers in the back, killing one and sending the other (who won a two-thirds majority in the parliament) into exile. The military seems busy securing a public bailout again, in the garb of national unity. History shows that once they have managed this current episode, it will revert back to its old ways (blatant coups or pulling political strings behind the scenes).

Although our patience with the politicians always runs thin, Democracy must be given a chance to mature. Democracy is not just a word in fashion, used by every Tom, Dick and Harry to further their malicious goals; it is a cleansing process. Given a chance, the fruits of democracy are tasted by everyone, not just the top few. India stuck to democratic principles despite having problems many times Pakistan’s and the results are obvious. Those who think an honest and patriotic dictatorship (whatever that means!) can deliver quickly and efficiently conveniently ignore the price. China is often cited as an example of an authoritarian regime that has delivered for their people. But millions died in China in several experiments by their dictators till Deng Xiaoping gained prominence in late seventies (About 40 million died during Mao’s rule in China). Moreover, economic development is key but social development and progress must go hand in hand with economic growth. Democracy may be chaotic but its impact is grounded in all societal structures.

Samuel P. Huntington wrote about a cycle of violence nations go through on their way to modernity. But the cycle plaguingPakistantoday is not merely institutions fighting each other for supremacy. Pakistan is facing security threats far more severe and consequential than the predictable violence Mr. Huntington talked about. Ethnic and sectarian divisions, weak institutions and a corrupt elite (civil and military) is making Pakistan’s struggle against extremism harder still, especially given a hostile neighborhood (of our own making) and involvement of a super power.

The way forward for Pakistan is clear. The democratic dispensation, however incompetent and corrupt, must be allowed to sort itself out. There are glimmers of hope for the future but the short term will be painful. The pressure Pakistan is under is well deserved. Whether incompetent or complicit, Pakistan cannot expect a different response from the U.S and the world when Mr. Bin Laden is found just a mile from Pakistan Military Academy. The military must be shown its proper place as the gatekeepers-not masters. Politicians must respect the sacredness of the vote. They must become the guardians of the parliament, not blind followers of their party’s short-term interests. We must evaluate our status in the world today, end the useless conflict with India and allow a multi-ethnic set up in Afghanistan.

This is an opportunity for Pakistanis to correct the mistakes of the past. Religion must be gradually separated from the State and some form of secularism encouraged. We must start loving our children more than we hate others. What Thomas Friedman wrote about Arabs apply to us too, “In an age when others are making microchips, you are making potato chips”.

….Let Freedom Reign (MLK)

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