By Ayaz Amir
November 05, 2013
Why isn’t the national flag flying at half-mast? And why hasn’t a ten-day mourning period been declared for Hakeemullah Mehsud? To hear the tearful reaction from some of our politicos and television pundits it would seem it was the Grand Mufti of Palestine killed in a drone attack and not the chief of the Pakistani Taliban, an outfit at war with the state of Pakistan.
When Osama bin Laden was killed the army went into mourning, citing breach of national sovereignty. Hakeemullah Mehsud’s killing has plunged much of the political class into mourning, Imran Khan and Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, the two mourners-in-chief. The Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Munawar Hasan, has dubbed him a Shaheed (martyr).
When Hazara Shiites were massacred in Quetta Nisar spoke in a roundabout manner, taking good care not to say anything about the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which had claimed responsibility. When the Peshawar church was attacked and Qissa Khawani bazaar bombed there was not a word about the Taliban, and no blame on them for sabotaging peace prospects. Three PTI MPAs have been killed in Taliban attacks. There has not been a word of anger about the Taliban from Imran Khan.
But Hakeemullah’s death has unhinged both our champions, Imran promising to block the Nato supply route through the Khyber Pass. Imran and Nisar were contemporaries at Aitchison College, both in the college cricket team. If Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow – a typical bit of British exaggeration, for without Marshal Blucher’s Prussians the battle would have been lost – can some of the confusion being spread in Pakistani minds on the drone issue be traced to the playing fields of Aitchison?
These are not double standards. This is just the way Imran and people like Nisar really are. They can see only one side of the picture and for them the spread of terrorism is only because of one source: drone attacks. There may be every variety of jihadist fighters in North Waziristan: Chechen, Uzbek, and Arab. The Taliban aim may be to impose their version of Islam on the whole of Pakistan. These factors are lost on our super-nationalists.
Nawaz Sharif, to give him his due, is not of this uni-dimensional tribe. His take on the terrorism issue is more pragmatic than that of the single-issue Nisar (although Nisar too is pragmatic in a way, his family holding American citizenship). But Nawaz Sharif thinks he has to play to the gallery. So he says one thing in public, going into contortions before the media, and another when he sits across President Obama in the Oval Office.
But because the public ranting can get out of hand, and even the Foreign Office adopts a posture that is pure hypocrisy, people tend to get confused by the crocodile tears shed and all the high talk of wounded sovereignty. So what is meant strictly for public consumption they take as the real thing, when it is not.
We have to get one thing straight. Pakistan is capable of huge mistakes. We are all agreed on that. To a large extent we are the authors of our own misfortunes, Afghan policy and the entire business of jihad not the least of them. But when we have really wanted to do something we have done it.
Against the world’s opposition we built the bomb. It was a move started by Bhutto and kept alive under Zia. We didn’t want to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to date we haven’t signed it. North Korea may be a problem state for the US but we’ve had strong defence ties with it for a long time. Pakistan is the only country in the world – this bears repeating – opposed to the Fissile Material Control Treaty and only because of our opposition the treaty has not been concluded (the terms of it requiring unanimity for conclusion).
We wanted the Chinese in Gwadar and we have got them. Our hearts are really not in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, which is why conflicting signals emanate from us…now for it, now against it. If all sections of the establishment were convinced of its utility we would race ahead with it, regardless of what the Americans or the Saudis think.
To repeat, we are capable of great folly. But mostly it has been self-inflicted folly. No one held a pistol to our heads to force us down those paths. Take our American alliances, from the 1950s to Musharraf’s time: none of them was forced on us. We accepted them willingly, often ecstatically.
Even the myth of Musharraf prostrating himself before a single phone call from Washington…Musharraf and his generals really thought they were on to a smart thing and would be swept up in America’s embrace. We have to recall how Musharraf was feted and even lionised in those early days. And there was also the danger, real or exaggerated, that if we showed hesitation the Americans would go ahead and use India, specifically Rajasthan, for the impending attack on Afghanistan.
Of course Musharraf could have held out for better terms. Gen Zia in 1979-80 could have concluded a better deal than he did. When Gen Yahya became a bridge between Beijing and Washington he could have asked for so much and did not. If we are bad bargainers, we should improve our negotiating skills.
But we should keep the lackey thing in perspective: we are nobody’s yokels, snapping to attention at somebody’s click of the fingers. We can argue that we should be devoting our energies to other things, more to stuff like science and learning rather than bombs and missiles. But that’s another story.
God in heaven, not so long ago, in the person of the one and only Dr AQ Khan, we were being accused of nuclear proliferation, there being no sin greater in the international calendar than that. When the Americans got wind of the whole thing, and it took them a while before they did so, Dr Khan was trotted out before the cameras and made to confess his sins. But much as the Americans wanted, they were given no direct access to Dr Khan.
Why this lengthy explanation? Only to drive home the point that if we were really serious about drone attacks, we wouldn’t be saying one thing in public and another in private. The Americans are only able to launch them, and retain ties with the army at the same time, because we are in on this issue with them. If people here don’t get this it’s just too bad.
The army is not confused, the politicians are. The Taliban have been waging a war against the state of Pakistan. Their havens, their rear bases, are located amongst some of the toughest terrain on earth. Google the geography and you’ll get an idea. Now the one thing able to beat this terrain is drone technology. The Taliban are not afraid of our tanks and helicopters. Only drones cause them sleepless nights.
It was said of Hakeemullah that he never spent two nights in one location. On that eventful day he spent too long at his newly-constructed house near Miranshah and the drones got him. After claiming involvement in the deaths of several CIA agents in the Khost suicide bombing (the perpetrator a Jordanian) in Dec 2009, Hakeemullah was high on the list of the CIA’s wanted men. Only a fool would think that if the CIA had him in its sights it would let him go.
To reduce terrorism and extremism to drone strikes is the greatest lie of all. Terrorism has other causes, going right down to the beginnings of our Afghan involvement. Yes, drones are a convenient alibi, freeing us of the responsibility of taking tough decisions.
But let’s be careful what we wish for. Soon the Americans will be gone and with them will go, in all probability, their drone technology. Then we’ll be there and the mountains, and of course the Taliban, and we may just come to miss what we are denouncing so furiously today.