Since the beginning of the year 2008, more than one thousand Pakistanis have lost their lives to suicide bombings. A large number amongst them were personnel from the security forces the people who defend our country against external aggression and internal chaos.
Compared with this large number of deaths inflicted by terrorists, reported US military incursions into Pakistani territory over the last few months have resulted in the death of 64 Pakistanis. But the legitimate outrage expressed over US violation of Pakistani sovereignty far outweighs the anger among Pakistanis against al-Qaeda or Taliban.
Some sections of Pakistan’s political leadership find it easy to earn a few good headlines and tickers on the news hungry electronic media by shoring up anti -US sentiments. This might make sense for the politicians, particularly those who have a rare chance to make any impact on national politics and are unlikely to ever be in the position of making policies because of their lack of ability of being elected. But the real worry for Pakistanis should be those academics, columnists and so-called researchers who indulge in rhetoric that has little relationship with reality.
Pakistan’s reality has always been that it needs international counterweights to the growing influence of a much larger and hostile neighbour. The country needs an effective military deterrent though here too it must avoid the “Crush India” rhetoric that got us into wars we could not win in 1965 and 1971. The national need is for a strong military backed by the civilian leadership and a stable economy. Any rhetoric, particularly of the “Crush America” variety is counterproductive in terms of fulfilling that national requirement.
Pakistanis justifiably have concerns about US foreign policy and the perception that the outgoing Bush administration has been negative in its approach to the Muslim world is widespread. But should anti-US sentiments be further emboldened in Pakistan by purveying inaccuracies and painting the US as Pakistan’s main enemy? Should this tactic of virtually favouring militants be used to pressure the government to make major policy changes? We must examine who would benefit from policy changes that corner Pakistan by isolating us into the category of nations that live on anti-US rhetoric. I bet that it is not the people of Pakistan.
It is interesting that right now traditional anti-Americans like Libya and North Korea are busy normalizing relations with the United States. But our own anti-US propagandists want us to slip into the role that Libya and North Korea have chosen to give up.
Anti-American propagandists of the left and right have created an atmosphere where any attempt to have an informed debate is usually countered with labelling proponents of an argument in one way or the other instead of responding to the argument. Thus the debate degenerates into personal attacks. Only a few days back this writer was attacked through a letter to the editor. One of the Media Militants (I am soon going to file proprietary rights over the term) sent a letter to the editor in her teenage daughter’s name talking of my personal ties to officials in the present Pakistani government. Surely it is only militants of one kind or the other who send children to the battlefronts. But in the battle of ideas it is the argument that wins not innuendos. No writer should be denied the right to present an argument because of his or her personal friendship with policy makers and rebuttal should be against the argument, not the person making it.
Pakistan’s foreign policy should benefit its people and should not end up creating more trouble for the people of Pakistan. A policy based on confrontation and conflict for 61 years of our independence has already cost us dearly in terms of economic and social development. Sometimes this policy is concealed in the words “national pride” and “honour” but the truth is that the security state model has neither helped create pride nor brought us the honour that comes from socio-economic development.
I wonder how many of the Media Militants would like to surrender their privileges if Pakistan ends up on the wrong side of the world community. Will they stop having their evening scotch, or will they stop driving cars and taking vacation in fancy foreign lands?
No, nothing of that sort will happen to the elite of Pakistan. But there will be hundreds of thousands of poor kids who won’t be able to attend schools, millions who won’t be immunized against deadly diseases. The unemployment rates will hit the roof and the middle class will evaporate.
Let us go back to the late 1990s when we had invited sanctions from the US because of the nuclear tests. The few years we were under those sanctions resulted in very low investment in the social sector and an economy that was growing merely at the rate with which our population grows. In fact we were almost into a negative growth situation in most sectors of the economy. This was the period when our neighbours were globalising and attracting foreign investment. India was fast integrating with the world economies while we were suffering the cost of the conflict-based approach to foreign policy. First the nuclear tests and then our adventure into Kargil only strengthened the world’s perception that we had the capacity to be impulsive and believed in nuclear chest-thumping instead of rational policy making.
Since then India has fast developed its relationship with the United States and benefited immensely from creating an economic and now strategic partnership with the US. After 9/11 we also entered into closer military cooperation with the US but somehow or the other we have tried to sell it to our masses as something forced upon us. Even General Musharraf who was known to be close to the US, always said that he was threatened by the US that is why he opted to side with it. In fact he quite cleverly used anti-US sentiment to prop the religious alliance MMA in 2002 to counter the secular and liberal political parties.
On the other hand, in India there are critics of the Indian engagement with US but there is lesser degree of public resentment against the US. This helps India’s political leaders in engaging with the US without worrying about political consequences.
In the case of Pakistan the reverse is true. Pakistani media and sometimes even the leadership create an impression that Pakistan is a reluctant partner of the United States and consequently it is treated the same way by the US administration. This strengthens India’s hand in being seen as the “good boy” in the region while Pakistan becomes the “bad boy.”
No one is arguing that all American policies are good for our region or the world. There are many flaws in the US policy but these should be pointed out through a process of engagement and dialogue not through jingoistic jargon that paints the US as Pakistan’s enemy.
Pakistan’s sovereignty has been projected as an issue by the Media Militants in the context of the Pakistan-US relationship. The classical concept of sovereignty hardly exists in a globalised world where supra national institutions have an over riding influence. Even the limited sovereignty that may be available to a nation state like Pakistan is threatened by multiple factors. In the current circumstances these threats are emerging from within instead of without. The greatest threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty is being posed by the terrorist groups that are openly defying the state and it is known that many of these elements are not Pakistani nationals.
After the Marriott blast in Islamabad there was some attempt by another Media Militant to create the impression that the presence of US Marines at the hotel was the cause of the attack. The blast only managed to take out two US marines and besides that there were three Germans, three British, two Saudis and two Chinese nationals who got killed. Add to that more than 40 poor Pakistanis and the Czech Ambassador. These Media Militants somehow try to create an impression that attacking the hotel was somehow justified because of the US presence. This indeed is a dangerous game and only encourages the terrorists and extremists.
Pakistan’s stability and integrity is under threat because we are failing to create enough public anger and outrage against terrorism and some of our media persons have become apologists for terrorists. As long as terrorists kill Pakistanis, they are our enemies. Any attempt to justify their actions, by claiming that this is not our war, would only benefit the non-state actors threatening the state and the nation’s traditional adversaries.