By Rabia Ahmed
03 October 2017
Last month, Khwaja Asif made a speech at the Asia Society Forum. The Foreign Minister said, “Don’t blame us for the Haqqanis, and don’t blame us for the Hakim Saeeds. These were the people who were your darlings just twenty to thirty years ago. They were being wined and dined in the White House.” And now, said Khwaja sahib, Pakistan is being blamed by the US for nurturing these people.
Good thing Khwaja Asif is not a retired army officer, because that would have been a bit rich coming from him.
Also, the chief of the banned Jamat ud Dawa/Lashkar e Taiba/Milli Muslim League, Hafiz Saeed has now sued the Foreign Minister for his words. Being a good little man, and a literal one whatever else he condones, he cannot condone that reference to a glass of the tut-tut, even though alcohol is not relevant to what his organisation does or does not do, violence is.
Why did so many people pump their fists into the air, and say: “Yes!!” when the Foreign Minister said what he did? Was it because finally a politician said what should have been said a long time ago?
One of the most significant tragedies to hit Pakistan was a moustachioed dictator with peaked eyebrows. Mangoes were of service to the country then, not that one would have wished any service to take such a shape, but the fact remains that most of the problems that beset the country today were fostered at that time. Then is a good place to start if we wish to study the now, although before those roots came the seed, and before the seed the soil was prepared, religious extremism being a plant that requires careful fostering over time.
It’s an old story, one that we have all heard, but it has been so painted over and put aside, and those involved posture as such heroes, that when finally someone speaks of it, it creates waves as if it were something new. After all, politics is all about information, or the lack of it.
At a time when the world was gripped by the much exaggerated threats of the Cold War the US needed access to Afghanistan and support against the Russians. They were not picky where they got it from, to be honest, and they got it by keeping Pakistan on their side and doing what had to be done via that country’s leaders, one of whom was el-generalissimo. These leaders, like Dickens’ Barkis, were more than willing, because they had their own axe to grind, details of which are given in Ayesha Siddiqa’s ‘Military Inc.’
It was okay, then, to put aside a democracy (however flawed) and support a military dictatorship. It was also okay to foster and support ‘jihadist’ groups. Here is what the New Yorker in 2011 has to say about what happened when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan: ‘President Jimmy Carter, in a panic, offered Zia four hundred million dollars in economic and military aid. Zia rejected the offer, calling it “peanuts”—the term often arises in Pakistani critiques of American aid, but it must have rankled the peanut farmer in the White House. Zia was smart to hold out. Under Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, U.S. aid nearly quintupled: about three billion dollars in economic assistance and two billion in military aid. The Reagan Administration also provided three billion dollars to Afghan jihadis. These funds went through the sticky hands of the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the spy branch of the Pakistani Army. Starting in 1987, the I.S.I. was headed by General Hamid Gul, a cunning and bitterly anti-American figure. The I.S.I. became so glutted with power and money that it formed a “state within a state,” in the words of Benazir Bhutto.’
Aldous Huxley did predict that ‘There will be in the next generation or so a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing.’
He could have been talking about the Zia who used religion to create mental concentration camps in which people if they thought for themselves or disagreed with his policies were Anti-Mard-e-Momin Mard-Haq and all that that implied. If something that issues from a seriously limited understanding and a wily brain can be called brilliant, it was brilliant the way in which religion was positioned in the national arena by this man who pushed aside all laws, all constitutional provisions to put himself in power and to stay there longer than anyone else in the country has been able to before or since.
The point is what can be done now to change the way things are?
Little has changed in the way power is sought by certain groups, that create states within states, and threats where there are none. Instead the real threats, of poverty and illiteracy are hidden behind several curtains. They are in fact used to create more little radicals.
One of the powers that must be contained is military inc. It is unclear how that can be done unless the public itself recognises just how many Punch and Judy shows are being conducted right in front of its eyes. Unfortunately the public does not realise this.
Khwaja Asif’s speech was important because it enabled this debate to take place. You wish that he or other leaders the world over had the courage to follow up, rationally, peacefully, on all that his words implied.