By Dr Tariq Rahman
June 19, 2012
The signals given by the state of Pakistan constitute a language — a system of conveying meanings — for the whole international community. And these we mess up every time we open our mouths (so to speak). For instance, the most recent message to the world is that we did not really want Osama bin Laden to be found and that, by implication, we were hiding him a mile or so away from our military academy. What else can the rest of the world conclude by the fact that the man who helped track him down, Dr Shakeel Afridi, was given 33 years in jail. It doesn’t matter what the actual charges were on paper or the fact that the sentence is concurrent (so he will be out in about five years or so), but look at the signal conveyed to the world.
Now you can get hair-splitting legal and say Afridi was sentenced for things other than Osama. But this is not the signal conveyed no matter how hard our ambassadors get red in the face arguing like this. Or you can get on to the high horse of national honour and claim that no country can excuse a man who collaborates with a foreign intelligence agency as Afridi admittedly did. This is correct in principle. But now consider the particulars of the case. Here was a man who was wanted by the world and Pakistan had pledged that he would be treated like the most wanted person he was. This State had no qualms about handing over people without a trial to the United States (indeed Musharraf boasted about it) but no sooner was Osama caught, did the state go into utter confusion and then denial. The military chose to be accused of incompetence rather than complicity and one year later, the message going out to the world is that the establishment was not really happy about the whole thing. Now can we afford to give this message? Forget the particulars of the case — that he was associated with Mangal Bagh and a tribal administrative order is not a judicial judgment from the courts — and come to the gist of the matter which is that the world feels that somewhere deep down, someone in real power (guess who?) is unhappy over the whole thing and would like to see Afridi punished.
Now, look at the other signals being sent out by our society. A few boys move in dance-like steps and women clap to keep them company and Lo And Behold! They are killed. Killed — no less for a dance and clapping at a marriage. Of course, the place is Kohistan and Bapsi Sidhwa wrote a novel called The Bride about the hunting down of a girl. But in all this quarter-century why is there no change? Perhaps because the state never promoted the discourse of women’s rights. Indeed the idea that these western innovations have taken hold of the rightwing so much that, despite Tahira Abdullah’s fiery dynamism and Fouzia Saeed’s lobbying, the law against domestic violence has not been passed yet. And this, in a country where husbands do not have the sole monopoly over violence — though rape is another story—but all the in-laws have the right to torture an unfortunate girl who lands among sadists. After all, did we not hear of a married woman’s leg being actually amputated and buried by the in-laws while her husband was away. If we had passed this law, like we did pass some women-friendly laws earlier (Ayub Khan’s family laws come to mind), we would have given a soft signal. But our language gets tougher and tougher all the time and the world condemns us.
One point to ponder for those who lament the loss of our sovereignty to the Americans
Does it not occur to them that they cannot visit Fata and even parts of Karachi? That the writ of the state never ran in some of these areas anyway but there was indirect rule which is no longer there. If there is an uprising like the Lal Masjid episode of 2007, the state may well be helpless against it. And, at a micro level, our judiciary does not settle disputes which are settled by jirgas and panchayats. We know of some similar judgments such as that of Mukhtaran Mai and the helpless women of Kohistan but how many more cases are there? Anybody’s guess. So, are we sovereign even in our own villages?
Actually, strange though it may sound to most people, Pakistan has been more sovereign vis-a-vis America than it has been vis-a-vis some of our home grown armed groups. We defied the US to make friends with China and then the Americans actually made friends with them through us. We then went on to defy them to make the nuclear bomb. As for the policies of Musharraf after 2001, these were the choice of the government of the day. Moreover, we took American money for fighting the Taliban but again defied them whenever we wanted. That is why North Waziristan was never attacked despite American bribes or threats. And now we are defying the Americans again to get gas from Iran. And this particular defiance seems correct to me. We need energy and for this we need not compromise with anyone. But as for lamenting about our sovereignty, we have it compromised by our self-created problems not the Americans.