Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Shireen M Mazari
Watching events over the holidays from Dubai makes one acutely aware of the sorry state Pakistanis are in, in particular, and the Arab world is in, in general -- and inevitably the cause comes to rest with the ruling elites. In the case of Pakistan, much has always been made of the Islam factor, but when one sees the inhumanity of the terrorist attack at Eid prayers in Charsadda one has to question whether any sense of the essence of Islam and its humanism has touched any of us at all. From rape to murder to terrorism to so-called "honour" killings to karo-kari to the pervasive corruption, we have been singularly devoid of any sense of humanity whatsoever.
As for the Arab world in general, the sheer abuse of the migrant labourers, the lack of free expression and the inhumane treatment of women shows a clear void of the spirit of Islam. Only recently, we saw mass labour protests in some of the Gulf Sheikhdoms by workers demanding better working and living conditions. Saudi Arabia has also chosen to send back drivers from Pakistan because they dared to protest the working conditions. While everyone gapes in wonder at the architectural sights of Dubai, does anyone spare a thought for the migrant workers who have paid with their blood, sweat and often lives, for these architectural dreams to have been realised? Ironically, the plight of these poor people has been highlighted by the west rather than by countries from where the migrants have come; and equally ironic, if one talks to some of the foreign labourers in the Gulf, it seems it is the Arab-owned companies that exploit cheap labour while European and American companies in these states provide good working conditions and health benefits to their labour. Clearly, there is a major human dignity deficit prevalent amongst all of us Muslims.
Nor is it just a case of being devoid of the spirit and essence of Islam that has become so haunting within the Muslim Ummah. Politically also there is a strange psyche that still pervades us despite decades of being nominally sovereign. In the Gulf the colonial social structures have resurfaced in a stark fashion with the menial tasks being performed by Asians and the white man at the helm of business affairs! This is not to say that no Asian has made it to that level -- many have but certainly no white man is seen within the migrant labour force. Also, despite constant criticisms and political pressures from the US and Europe, why is the Arab mindset so unable to de-link itself financially from these entities? The investments made by the Arab world in the west could have done so much for the development of the Muslim world and certainly with no political strings attached. Arab finances have played a major role in bolstering western economies but this financial strength has not translated into any political leverage -- in fact, to the contrary, Arab investments in the west are under constant threat and have become a source of political leverage for the US and Europe. And, yes, it is the elites who make all the decisions. No wonder Muslim causes lack a strong bargaining lever.
Coming back to the case of Pakistan, in particular, statements emanating from some of our political leaders presently highlight once again how desperate these elites are to play to the western gallery, particularly the US. Ms Bhutto has made it clear she will go all the way to do US bidding -- be it access to US troops in Pakistan or Dr Khan. Yet in the case of Pakistani civil society's basic demands in terms of press freedom and an independent judiciary, the same leader has been less than sensitive -- even casting aspersions on the independence of the pre-November 3 Supreme Court judges.
Worse still, Ms Bhutto, it seems, wants to appease all those external players who are not well-wishers of Pakistan, not just the US. Just look at her recent pronouncements in response to Indian national security adviser Narayan's comments on her credibility vis-à-vis India. To prove her "Indian" credentials, she declared that it was her government that stopped the Sikh insurgency. Was she implying that before her time it was Pakistan rather than the Sikhs themselves who were masterminding this insurgency? Is this the responsible statement of a Pakistani leader? As for her declaring that there were no Mumbai blasts during her time, again she seems to be quite reckless in implicating the Pakistani state despite the fact that Pakistan has consistently stated its condemnation of these acts of terror and India has provided no evidence to connect us to them. So if Pakistan has no linkage to acts of terror in India, why should Ms Bhutto feel the need to state that during her tenure in power there were no "Mumbai blasts"? Of course she may just as well have stated that there was no 9/11 during her tenure! The point is that it is highly irresponsible for an ex-PM to make these statements merely to establish her credentials with India or the US or any other external power. As for her claim of having quashed a Kargil operation, perhaps she is unaware of the fact that General Karamat has categorically stated, in an interview with this scribe, that there never was a Kargil plan at that time so none was presented to her during her premiership.
At the end of the day, Ms Bhutto should realise that what is required of her is more sensitivity to Pakistani aspirations and goals, and less sensitivity to US and Indian aspirations or goals -- except where they coincide with Pakistan's. So far, the US is simply targeting Pakistan on one count after another. If it is not our nuclear programme, if we are not the most "dangerous state", then it is the US money we are squandering and many other criticisms that come so readily to the American mindset. When will we realise that the US goals and Pakistani goals are simply irreconcilable at the strategic level despite having some niches for tactical issue-specific cooperation. But that cooperation has to be based on equitable quid pro quos and transparency -- neither of which seems to have happened in our becoming the frontline state in the US-led war on terror. The result: a tremendous domestic and external price that Pakistan continues to pay.
Damaging our own domestic polity, we have offered the US unprecedented access and logistical support and now they have the gall to question the financial charges they have paid for use of certain services. Surely the time has come to reassess the US-led war on terror in terms of Pakistan's priorities so that we can fight the terrorist menace more holistically. But will our ruling elites ever get out of their neo-colonial mindsets? Some like Ms Bhutto clearly seem unable to do so.
Perhaps when we have developed strong independent state institutions and have come to rely less on individual leaders, our state policies will be more responsive to domestic compulsions and aspirations than external demands. After all, when we want we can do what we as a nation are determined to do, despite all manner of pressures. That is how Jinnah, the Quaid, founded Pakistan; and that is how leaders like Z A Bhutto and scientists like Munir Ahmed Khan and Dr A Q Khan defied all odds and developed the nuclear capability for the nation. So the national spirit is present, but it is being destroyed by unresponsive leaders and a morally bankrupt state edifice. And that is also the story of the Muslim elites in general.