By Ayaz Amir
November 26, 2013
The world moves on even as Pakistan pays fitful attention to the heroic performance of its three stooges: the Jamaat chief, Munawar Hasan, the PTI chief, Imran Khan, and the PML-N’s loose cannon, Interior Minister Ch Nisar. These characters live in a world of their own.
They are always angry but their current anger is against the US drone strike in a remote village of Hangu which killed some Haqqani network commanders, big shots in that outfit. Our knights have gone into a fit over this, veins popping out as they shout about sovereignty violated once more – sovereignty a nebulous concept along our north-western marches where the Taliban are in control rather than the state.
Striking a high patriotic note Nisar says it is time to choose between honour and dollars. There is a fine line between honour and foolishness. Who is to tell Nisar that with jihad and proxy wars we made our choice long ago? Hoarded in our kitty are honour and foolishness. It is dollars we are short of, and it’s this shortage which accounts for one of the more enduring symbols of Pakistani sovereignty, our iron begging bowl.
This is really funny. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is hewing to a more pragmatic and sensible line, whether on drones or our American connection. He says one thing in public, especially at home, because like any politician he has to keep looking at his support base, but it is another pitch when he is talking to foreign leaders. The interior minister, who often seems to appropriate the role of foreign minister as well, champions an altogether different line.
Either this is cleverness of the highest order, Sharif setting Nisar loose to score points at home, or confusion of the worst kind. How are foreign ambassadors supposed to make sense of this conundrum? The shine from this government has already worn off, as it faces mounting criticism for being rudderless and without a sense of direction. Nisar’s capers reinforce this perception.
And Imran Khan, now in undisputed command of Pakistan’s loony battalions, is trying to block NATO supply routes. If anyone has punctured his own balloon it is him, but he won’t stop, one misstep after another.
None from the indignant brigade answers a simple question: what were the Haqqani commanders doing in that seminary in Hangu? Just as what was Naseeruddin Haqqani, son to the Haqqani supremo Jalalludin Haqqani, doing in Islamabad where a few days ago in a drive-by shooting he was killed? If such elements are holed up in Pakistan, with what face can we protest to the Americans when they go looking for them?
After all, an assault on virtue can be alleged, and becomes plausible, only if virtue is intact in the first place. A known lady of the night…who takes her protestations of innocence seriously? So too with sovereignty. A Bin Laden in Abbottabad, and Haqqanis here and there, scarcely add up to a picture of intact sovereignty.
To give him his due, Nawaz Sharif fully understands the logic of this situation. That is why beyond perfunctory verbal statements he is fairly cool about the whole drone debate. Shahbaz Sharif thinks differently. For all his outward polish, his take on drones is similar to Imran Khan’s, reducing our entire terrorism/extremism problem to this one issue. As for Nisar, anyone would take him for a closet fundo. Apart from these different shades, even otherwise this doesn’t seem to be a very coherent or organised government.
This is becoming more evident by the day. In which other government would an interior minister publicly question the foreign policy adviser (Sartaj Aziz) for saying just a day before the Hangu drone attack that the US had given assurances that if talks with the Taliban got underway there would be no drone attacks? The Hangu attack made the adviser look silly. But for a cabinet colleague to mock him in public….this doesn’t usually happen.
So look at our predicament. While the stooges are in full cry on the domestic stage – and TV channels, it must now be said, are adding to the sum of national incoherence and even insanity – the world, as I began this piece by saying, is moving on. The Iran deal while still only the first step and therefore tentative is already causing shockwaves across the region, Israel incensed, Saudi Arabia almost livid, and the Gulf sheikhdoms, with their history of distrust of Shia Iran, very perturbed.
What’s relevant to us? The circumstance that in coming to terms with the great powers Iran has come to terms with reality. The UN-mandated sanctions were hurting its economy, Iranian oil sales down by almost a half, and the Iranian currency losing much of its value. Iran hasn’t thrown away the right to uranium enrichment but it has had to make compromises, the Iranian nuclear programme effectively capped for the next six months, during which time an effort will be made to seal a final agreement. Both sides have met each other half-way. This is the real world.
The world in which our ideologues and stooges are living is not the real world. If their prescriptions were followed we would be in a worse plight than we are. Iran withstood sanctions and stood alone for a long time. It has pursued its own interests in Iraq, it continues to support Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and it is the prime backer of Hezbollah, which Israel and the US hate, and it has now come to a sensible agreement with the great powers. This you can say is akin to something like national honour.
We can’t do without our begging bowl and yet the rhetoric of our leaders, especially the loonies now hogging public space, would suggest that we are some kind of champions on the world stage. The Iranians may have all other problems under the sun. They don’t have a leadership problem. Until recently theirs was a hard line on the nuclear issue. Under their new president, and with the blessings of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, they have adopted a new tack.
But whether it was the hard-line or this new line, they moved with one step and spoke with one voice. Here what we have is babble, a veritable chaos, and therefore confusion. And despite our democracy and elections we don’t have the kind of leadership Iran has.
As noted above, PM Sharif has sound foreign policy instincts. In his mellow years he no longer believes in the siren calls of ‘jihad’ or proxy war adventurism. But he lacks leadership and drive. And Pakistan lacks the experience of the Iranian revolution. It is that revolution and the subsequent war with Iraq which made it tough. We have the bomb and we have missile capability. But national resolve and a national sense of direction we are without, and at the end of the day these count for more than the bomb and missile capability.
There’s no doubt that the American intervention in Afghanistan has been a massive screw-up (no other word to describe it). But it was the US, with its lack of foresight and imagination, messing up Afghanistan. We have messed up not any foreign country but Pakistan. And we still can’t manage our affairs and the extremist threat within has grown – to the point where it is independent of the situation in Afghanistan. Extremism is on the march and even when the Americans leave our extremist problem will remain.
But who is mapping out the intellectual terrain? The loony brigade with assorted stooges in command, and both civilian government and the army seem paralysed as if, as the native expression goes, they have smelt a snake, robbing them of the power of thought and action.