By Ayaz Amir
May 27, 2011
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the joint sitting of the US Congress should be compulsory viewing for Pakistan’s political and military class, even at gunpoint should that be necessary.
For the one overwhelming thing it will tell us is that you don’t have to be strident to be patriotic and being civilised does not amount to surrendering what we in our jungle of myth and emotion label as national dignity.
Netanyahu was standing before the assembled Congress only a few days after President Barack Obama’s declaration that for a viable peace in the Middle East, Israel should return to its 1967 borders, with minor adjustments. The task before Netanyahu was to rubbish this proposal.
He did it with such extraordinary beauty and finesse that he had the joint session eating from his hands. I have never watched a spectacle like this, the US legislators standing up time and again – I think no less than 20 times – to give him standing ovations.
I had no idea Netanyahu was such an orator. He was using words and images and symbolism attuned not to an Israeli audience but the crowd before him and his audience loved it. Obama’s proposal is all but dead, for the time being at least, and Netanyahu performed the funeral rites with an aplomb that has to be admired.
In Pakistan we have a problem. We either give the impression of sucking up to the Americans or nursing some kind of terminal hostility towards them. If we have to spread a carpet for them we go all the way. But if we mount the high horse of super-nationalism we start sputtering inanities about national honour and dignity.
Israeli leaders don’t go red in the face talking about national sovereignty. They just stand up for what they consider to be their national interest even in the face of the strongest American pressure. Netanyahu has embarrassed the present US administration by not retreating an inch on the question of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. But addressing the US Congress he was all sugar and honey, giving an impression as if there was not the slightest problem with the administration.
Agreed Pakistan is not Israel and there is nothing like the Jewish lobby scouting and defending for Pakistan. Still, there is a way of doing business with the US, as indeed with any other power. And that is by speaking in a language the other side understands and, in the case of the US, by pitching Pakistani interests and concerns in a manner persuasive to American ears.
There is an elementary lesson in international relations to be imbibed here. The world has to be taken as it is, not as we would like it to be. Love or hate the US, you can’t ignore it. No country in the world can afford this luxury.
We have had a strong relationship with the US dating back to the 1950s. This should have enabled us to play American sensibilities, if not with Israeli virtuosity, at least with something comparable. Instead we seem to have acquired an expertise in something quite the opposite: feeding the mills of a needless anti-Americanism.
We can’t do without the US...our armed forces certainly can’t. But because of an inner craving, yet to be properly analysed, we can’t do without mounting the housetops and denouncing the US, for some sins real and some quite imaginary. The louder we perform this feat the more energised we feel.
This gets us nowhere. When Americans listen to us and juxtapose images of jihad and Al Qaeda with what they hear, they can be forgiven for thinking this is some kind of a crazy country. There was a time when this craziness suited them, as in the first Afghan ‘jihad’. They exploited our capacity for sentry duty and the loudest of our current patriots – like my friend Gen Hamid Gul – were the foremost in flowing with the current. Just as the military patriots of today showed few signs of rebellion when Musharraf allied himself to the US a bit too hurriedly post Sep 2001.
Mercifully, there is a growing feeling that we made mistakes in the past. But this recognition should not mean swinging to the other extreme and seeking solace in anti-Americanism...and pinning the blame for all our failures on American shoulders. Between toadying up to a superpower and fanning the flames of hostility against it, there should be some middle ground.
The myth being promoted by the religious parties and Imran Khan that the terrorism stalking Pakistan is a product of American policies could do with a reality check. The American presence in Afghanistan has fuelled the fires of holy war. This I think would be granted on all sides. But Al Qaeda’s presence in Pakistan, Fata as a haven for foreign fighters allied to Al Qaeda, and the growth of religious extremism in Pakistan – helped by the explosive growth of religious madressahs across the length and breadth of the country – predate America’s Afghan adventure.
Even if the Americans hadn’t come into this region our problem with religious extremism would have remained. And it is wishful to think our military establishment would have easily discarded the notion of ‘jihad’ as an instrument of strategy and foreign policy. While those theories still survive – fallacies such as those cultivated over the years by our military minds not easily uprooted – the freedom to pursue them was severely curtailed by our US alliance post-2001. We could no longer do as we pleased. The situation had changed.
But since old habits die hard, we continued to play our favourite double games, being one with the Americans and at the same time not wholly cutting our various ‘jihadi’ connections. After Osama bin Laden’s discovery and death this has become a difficult act to keep up. Beyond the embarrassment he has caused us, the Sheikh at least has done us this small favour.
So maybe, just maybe, the US invasion of Afghanistan saved us from the destiny towards which we seemed bent on hurtling: the Somalisation of Pakistan, Pakistan becoming another Somalia. Our tragedy was not that we were helpless before the forces of extremism. We were quite capable of crushing them. It was that the most powerful elements of the Pakistani state – and you get my meaning – were themselves getting imbued with the flavour and ideology of extremism. This link between extremism and the state has been sundered, or at least it has come under pressure, because of the American presence in and around us. This is the larger picture, I think. The rest are details.
We keep saying the Pakistani state should change. Our wish-list is long but on its own it won’t come true. Left to its own devices our state and its military machine are incapable of changing, incapable of discarding their most cherished beliefs. The military cannot give up its India-centrism or its expectations of Afghan glory. It will not easily relax its stranglehold on national resources. Moving decisively against the forces of internal religious extremism may be a challenge our governing class may have little stomach to undertake.
So let us thank the furies for Pakistan no longer being wholly its own master. This may be the best thing to have happened to it in recent years, for it opens up a new range of possibilities.
Just as Germany on its own was incapable of de-Nazification, we on our own may be incapable of detoxification. Let us not forget that the subversion of Jinnah’s Pakistan has been our most successful endeavour over the last 63 years. To reclaim that idea, to salvage something from the wreckage of our dreams, we could do with all the help from the stars that we can get. So much for national sovereignty.
Source: The News, Pakistan