by Farrukh Rehan
Every morning I roll out of bed and scan the papers on the net. Today, like most days, I find something distressing about Pakistan. As part of my new routine I call my younger brother in Lahore. The exchange is familiar to both of us: No, he wasn’t near the suicide bombing/commando attack/ mammoth demonstration/drone fired missile. Yes he will be careful and will not visit fancy restaurants where he may be targeted in an attack against “Western” establishments, and yes, he agreed, he will not go to pray at mosques either, which perplexingly also seem to be a favoured target of the radical Islamic extremists who send the suicide bombers.
It is a devastating failure of state for any country when its citizens have to think twice before going to their place of worship. But the biggest failure of all is the utter inability of the leadership of Pakistan, both civilian and military, to unite the Pakistani people against this grave and imminent threat, and to explain to them what is going on, who is attacking the very core of the republic and what needs to be done to defeat this threat.
In the absence of national leadership or even basic coherence at the top, rumours and ideological punditry masquerade as reason. A television anchor insists that all the attacks are the handiwork of Indian intelligence agents. A talking head on another channel claims that the Taliban are misunderstood – all they want to do is to bring swift justice in the country. Another strategic expert assures viewers that everything happening in Pakistan is the US’s fault. Drone attacks are creating anti-Americanism, and its only natural that those attacked will retaliate wherever they can. If the US were to simply stop the drone attacks on Pakistan, everything would be just fine. The fact that Pakistan was spinning out of control well before anyone had heard the term drone hamla, is left out of the conversation.
Some though, have a more sinister explanation for Pakistan’s rapid descent into chaos. They whisper that the Pakistani army is orchestrating the bombings and ceding territory in Swat to ensure continued US attention and funding. How else can you explain the total capitulation of the vaunted 500,000 strong Pak army, which can’t seem to battle a rag tag force of a few thousand militants? But a counter theory gaining currency is that it’s actually the United States that is simultaneously supporting extremists on the one hand, and launching drone attacks with the other. The purpose of such dastardly duplicity? Well duh, to break up Pakistan into pieces so that the US could take over its precious nuclear weapons.
The net result of this mass confusion is that the people of Pakistan can’t seem to diagnose what is apparent to any objective observer:
A. – that the process of acceding to Islamist demands that started in the 70’s has reached its logical conclusion, where the Islamists are now simply demanding that the whole country be handed over to them.
B. – the cancer of extremism, once foolishly used by the State for its own purposes, has metastized and is now spreading through the body of the nation.
But admitting this would be tantamount to admitting that we have been on the wrong path for a very long time. It would mean admitting that we have been wrong in our blind pursuit of Kashmir to the detriment of Pakistan, that we have been wrong in our meddling in Afghanistan for the sake of strategic depth, wrong in neglecting our people’s education and development in favour of purchasing F-16s. And most of all, it would mean admitting that we have been wrong in changing ourselves from our founder’s vision of a progressive, muslim majority but pluralistic Pakistan to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. No one has the courage to face these bitter truths. It is far easier to be in denial than to examine the core beliefs that form our national mythology. It is far easier to be indignant about the infringement of our sovereignty by US drones than to wonder how a nation could claim to be sovereign and yet be largely dependent on the generosity of other nations for paying its bills. It is far easier to keep blaming the USA for a thirty year old Afghan policy, rather than to ask why we chose to continue that policy once the Soviets had gone back.
And so it continues, every horrific incident, every injustice, every new low is justified and explained away. Mumbai attacks that trace back to Pakistan? Can’t be Pakistanis because the attackers seemed to know their way around Mumbai too well. What about the daily bombings across Pakistan? Of course it’s the work of India, perhaps the US, and maybe even Israel. What about the killings and beheadings in FATA areas? Well, those are unsettled areas, so what happens there doesn’t really affect the rest of the country. And the handing over of Swat valley to the Taliban? Its what the people of Swat wanted – the Taliban will bring peace in exchange for territory. What about the flogging of a 17 year old girl in Swat captured on video? The first response: That was shameful, no ifs and buts. A few hours later: Maybe the video was a hoax to defame Pakistan? A further few hours later: Its definitely a hoax. How could the girl take 34 lashes and then be able to walk home? A few days later: People have forgotten about it and moved on.
As the body of the patient convulses on the operating table, and the doctors squabble over both the diagnosis and the treatment, the seeds sowed in past decades – seeds of extremism, seeds of disenfranchisement, seeds of misgovernance – have come to bear their deadly fruit. I can only surmise that this fruit is so bitter, the picture in the mirror so ghastly, the fate so clearly written on walls, that our minds cannot accept it and denial is the only refuge for us. After all, if Amerindia is responsible for all this, we are responsible for nothing. Neither for creating it, nor for fixing it.
I place another call, this time to my sister in law. She laughs at my concerns. “My dear brother, the media exaggerates everything” she tells me. “You people living abroad become paranoid. We’re used to it. This is Pakistan. This is how its always been. People are going about their business and life goes on. It will all blow over in time.”
“I gotta go now, we’re going out to dinner” she tells me, and hangs up.
If our leaders and our people continue to keep their eyes wide shut, I’m afraid no amount of aid or drone strikes can prevent the coming calamity that will likely dwarf Iraq and Afghanistan.