The other evening, I watched our unflappable information minister, Qamar Zaman Kaira, being grilled on an Urdu channel about the Kerry-Lugar bill by a popular young anchor. Judging from her shrill tones, one would have thought the Americans were holding a gun to Pakistan’s head, forcing the country to accept their economic assistance. Words like ‘ghairat’ (honour) and ‘waqar’ (dignity) were casually tossed into the discussion. Conspicuous by their absence were ‘poverty,’ ‘illiteracy’ and ‘disease.’
To his credit, Kaira repeatedly and gently pointed out that the bill in question was a piece of American legislation, and Pakistan had no control over its text or terms. Although both the minister and his inquisitor had texts of the bill before them, it seemed they were reading from different hymn sheets.
What the young lady was getting so hysterical about were certain conditions in the bill that could trigger a clampdown on military assistance. Apparently, these same provisions have caused our generals to express their reservations at the recent corps commanders meeting. And they have reverberated loudly in parliament where the controversial bill is being currently debated.
Having gone through these conditions twice, I am still mystified over what the fuss is about. Briefly, arms transfers and military assistance have been tied to an annual certification by the American secretary of state that Pakistan is not supporting terrorist groups attacking targets in neighbouring countries; that we are fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and will act against their leaders when intelligence is provided; that Pakistan will disrupt nuclear proliferation networks; and that our armed forces are not undermining democratic and judicial institutions.
What is fuelling the debate is the perception that these conditions imply that in the past, Pakistan was responsible for nuclear proliferation; did support jihadi outfits that carried out attacks in Afghanistan and India; failed to fight the Taliban effectively; and our army did indeed subvert the democratic process.
Surely the Pakistani opponents of the Kerry-Lugar bill are not pretending that we are innocent on all counts? Or has the state of denial penetrated so deeply into their collective psyche that they have erased all memory of the recent past? The same media that not long ago accused the Americans of bolstering Musharraf by writing him a blank cheque are now going ballistic over the army being held accountable.
I can understand our generals having reservations about these conditions, but why should political parties object to the proviso that military aid could be suspended in case the army meddles in civilian affairs? And for Chaudhry Shujaat, of all people, to complain that the government is selling the country’s honour is pretty rich. Under him, the PML-Q supported Musharraf in all his actions, including his famous U-turn on Afghanistan under American pressure.
No doubt what many in Pakistan would like is a cheque for $1.5bn every year without any questions asked, much as it happened under Musharraf. But the result of this lack of accountability was that there is little to show for the billions that flowed into Pakistan’s coffers after 9/11. Now, American legislators want to monitor where their money goes.
The ongoing debate in Pakistan is mirrored in the blogs and emails zipping through cyber space, with many of them popping up in my inbox. One of them forwarded a recent article by Dr A.Q. Khan, the infamous serial proliferator who confessed publicly to transferring nuclear technology and equipment to Libya, Iran and North Korea.
Freed from house arrest by the courts, he had the gall to write a column about ‘ghairat,’ and how Pakistan sadly lacks this great virtue. I wonder if he sees the irony in somebody who has done so much to besmirch Pakistan’s reputation waxing lyrical about national honour.
What is missing in this entire confused babble is a realisation of where we really stand. By every indicator of economic and social development, Pakistan figures near the bottom of the pile. Violence and population increase are the only two areas we seem to excel at. And yet to hear many in our parliament and media, one would think we are sitting on vast treasures that allow us to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to Washington.
Another hard reality we do not appear to have grasped yet is that everything required under the military conditions is something we would have to do whether the Kerry Lugar bill becomes operative or not. Should we not be cracking down on the Taliban and sundry jihadi groups? Do we really want to re-open A.Q. Khan’s nuclear bazaar? Do we want terrorist camps to operate in Quetta and Muridke? Do we wish our soil to be used as a launching pad for attacks on our neighbours? Is this really what our ‘ghairat’ is all about?
Barely a year ago, we were scrambling for a cash infusion to pay for essential imports and shore up a collapsing economy. Both Saudi Arabia and China were unwilling to provide the kind of bailout we were so desperate for. Finally, the IMF threw us a lifeline, attached to its usual tough conditionalities. Now that the Americans have come up with a long-term assistance package to an elected government, critics — silent under Musharraf — are raising all kinds of objections. Seldom has a gift horse’s mouth been examined so closely.
Many Pakistanis are suspicious of American intentions towards our nuclear programme. The reality is that while they have a legitimate concern about proliferation, as well as our atomic weapons falling into the wrong hands, Americans have come to terms with Pakistan being a nuclear state.
These same people are concerned that the Kerry-Lugar bill’s certification process would be used as a carrot and stick to ensure that we do not promote cross-border attacks on our neighbours by non-state actors. Finally, those itching for the army to destabilise the elected government resent the possibility of being thwarted in their ambitions by this law.
As a Pakistani, I, for one, would be happy if this bill helps to shore up democratic institutions, and to focus minds in Islamabad and GHQ.
|Over the top|
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I have rejected the Kerry-Packer Sugar-Daddy Bill. I don’t know why, but I have rejected it. I never liked Kerry Packer. He taught our cricketers how to count money and now that is all they do. Now and then, they play cricket. Packer made greedy pigs into greedy hogs. I suspect all bills. Electricity bills, gas bills and oil bills. My uncle said that this is not that bill but the name of another person. That is very strange. What is he doing in a place where there are already so many names?
My uncle is a slave trader. He exports Pakistanis to Nigeria. Allah has been kind to him. He has twenty two billion in the bank, five Hajjs and a dozen Umrahs. He told me never to trust anything that had two names except Mercedes-Benz. Another uncle who is a sugar hoarder said that it was below our dignity to accept this bill. I asked him if he could name three things that were above our dignity but he couldn’t. As a Pakistani my dignity level is already very high. My hero, Dr A Q Khan, aka Dr No, said that it is a question of ‘ghaiarat’ or deep, centrifugal honour, which Americans can’t understand as they have no honour. Dr No said we are a proud and honourable people who would rather kill ourselves than take a handout which is why we have always lived within our means.
My Prime Minister for example, a fiercely proud Pakistani has been saying for over a year under the programme ‘Democracy’s Revenge’ that we will not tolerate any more drone attacks. For some strange reason the more he says this the more the drones attack us. There must be an explanation. He is a brilliant statesman and has successfully pitched the country into two camps, the names of which temporarily escape me. My President who has taken to wearing Armani homespun cotton suits taking the lead from the Polyester King of Asia, Rehman Malik has also condemned the drones. ‘I condemn the drones,’ he said reading from a speech that was carried in a file by three ADCs. Drone matters can be heavy. While he has travelled far and wide and asked many questions, one thing we are all proud of is that he has not asked for any financial aid, because in case I haven’t already told you, we are very honourable people. I am told that accepting this sugar bill or whatever they keep calling it is like taking dictation but frankly that has not impressed me because as a nation we do not know the first thing about taking dictation. We are not supposed to because steno-typists take dictation and they are all dead or fled to Canada. I remember that one of our prime ministers also refused to take dictation but the president sacked him anyway.
The main reason I have rejected the bill is that I have not read it and anchorpersons, the new prophets are playing roles that leave the devil in a cold sweat. I have now heard forty nine programmes on TV channels all talking wisely and angrily about this handout but no one wants to read what it says. Hillary Clinton asked Pakistanis to read it but she forgot that we don’t listen to women and in any case, we can’t read. Why couldn’t the Americans send us an illustrated version? What I do know is that this bill has something to do with money. The moment someone mentions money this government like its honourable predecessors breaks out into a happy rash. Frankly we don’t need any money because money is only required when you want to do something for the common folk and the latest government census has informed us that Pakistan no longer has common folk who have all been terminated and those that survived, electrocuted. This also explains why there is such a shortage of electricity. You need quite a bit of it to electrocute so many million people.
The bill is a plot against the people of Pakistan and undoubtedly another plan launched by Mossad which to refresh your memory was behind (and in front) of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers. Only they whisked away so many Jews before the attacks that the faithful got suspicious and the lid was blown as indeed were the towers. This bill is – and I have this on good authority, designed to cover the gap between what our government earns and what it spends. When the last luxury jet was counted, this stood at a small sum of Rs500b. Not bad in just a year. If we do not accept the bill, there will be no bulbs in the chandeliers at the Presidency, the prime minister’s palace and the mansions of the country’s viceroys. Neither will we be able to serve luxury gourmet meals on gold crested crockery, cutlery and emblazoned linen. Just painting the gold gilded chairs without which no VIP can now lower his posterior would cost us millions and we cannot have gold gilded chairs that don’t shine and dazzle. Of course the Americans are a very suspicious country and are insisting that the chairs and chandeliers can be put to one side and the money spent on other things, but when the government was told what these were – education, health, law and order, drinking water, sanitation etc, there was unanimous thumping of desks and shouts of ‘Yankee Go Home.’ We are known for our pride but the Americans don’t understand it. The army is also dead set against the bill because they will have to share with the people the amount of money they spend on brasso to keep their pots gleaming. Next thing is, India will know it too. Security lapse cannot be tolerated.
The Obama administration is in a bit of a fix. It knows that every dollar that it sends here disappears as if David Blane was carrying it personally. The commando president who wore so many hats that they had to build spare heads for him, ensured that the funds that flew in went to all the ‘right’ causes, like propping up his tottering regime of money sucking cockroaches. We now learn that in the fight against terrorism we had only one helicopter in the FATA area, whereas the general in his great vision bought up an entire arsenal he could think of to fight evil India. The commando is long gone and will remain secure and safe because to bring people to justice is against our credo but the country is still crawling along, still hostage to a virulent variety of Piranha fish that seems to have an insatiable energy for devouring everything in sight. A debate rages as any one with his two bits of lopsided and dopey vision has to stand up and take notice of this ‘insult’ to our nationhood. Where all will it lead up to?
Well, we can reject all aid, handouts, dole, and alms, break all our begging bowls and learn to make do with what we have. Maybe Dr No can bring back some of the lolly he parked in ye olde Brunei, but being the great saint that he is, why should he? Or we can take the offer and hope for once some of it actually develops this country. However chances of that are slim because no one is really interested in that boring task. Being the professional beggars we are, we will cut our noses to spite our faces and using the hot air that we have in plenty, tell the world what we think of this assault on our sovereignty. Pity, no one is listening.
The writer is a Lahore-based columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (The News)
True, one does not expect any better from those who only oppose and criticise for the sake of doing so, but to hear saner voices in the mad din is distressing.
In Shakespeare’s words,
[They] have no spur
To prick the sides of [their] intent, but only
Vaulting [patriotism] ambition, which o’erleaps itself,
And falls on th’other….
In his soliloquy, Macbeth argued with himself against the murder of King Duncan, who was not only his relative but also a pious and good king. In recognising that he had “no spur to prick the sides of his intent, but only vaulting ambition” he admitted that his only justification for contemplating the murder of his cousin, the king, was his ambition, and he describes it in terms of a rider who jumps too high and as a consequence ‘o’erleaps’ to fall on the other side of the steed.
I cannot help seeing slow-motion images of these rider-critics, once again, in their shining suits of patriotism o’erleaping and falling on th’other (the last time was after the Mumbai carnage). These otherwise reasonable, intelligent and sensible persons all admit to the factual nature of Pakistan’s transgressions in the past, based on which the bill places restrictions upon the country.
None deny Pakistan’s past role in nuclear proliferation; none deny Pakistan’s past misuse of American aid towards aiding and consolidating Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives; none now deny the involvement of Pakistanis in the Mumbai attack; and none deny the presence of the Taliban in south Punjab. Moreover, none disagree that today Pakistan is on a precipice, gazing down into a void due to these very reasons.
Yet an unreasonable emotion, which they probably identify as patriotism, prompts these detractors to aggressively attack every ‘string’ attached to the proposed non-military aid bill that aims to shoot down the very causes they themselves recognise as being at the root of many of Pakistan’s troubles. So hateful are the ‘strings’ to them that they would rather have no aid than have their state be forced to quit fomenting extremism and terrorism. Admirable patriotism!
I ask them to sincerely examine their emotions and try to discern whether it is truly patriotism they feel, or pain, humiliation and anger at a spade being called a spade, and being told to become a proper cudgel. Love for one’s country should not plunge one into blind denial and a fit of tantrums. ‘Yes! These may be valid concerns, but who is the US to tell us so? We would rather eat grass….’ To those who speak these words, it has become an issue of preserving sovereignty.
First, critics of the bill must answer a humiliating question: the preservation of whose sovereignty are they referring to? Is it of the same country whose armed forces were forced to fight the Taliban in Swat because of American threats of on-the-ground forces and aerial attacks, Afghan-occupation style? Or is it of a country that has accepted drone attacks in the tribal areas, launched by foreign forces to take out entrenched Al Qaeda and Taliban elements?
With mixed feelings of pain and relief, I must remind all that had the country in question actually been sovereign, and had the US not successfully arm-twisted Islamabad and GHQ into action this year, we would quite possibly have been the proud citizens of the Islamic Emirate of Pakistan, ruled by the benevolent Emir Mullah Omar today.
Second, how are American attempts to stop nuclear proliferation by a state that demonstrated rogue behaviour in the past a sovereignty issue? The bill is clear in its aims of stopping Pakistan from pursuing self-destruction. Is there anyone who denies that our adventures in Kashmir and Afghanistan have landed us in the fine mess we are in today? Or that the world is a safer place with countries like Iran on the brink of going nuclear?
Sensible patriotism might have entailed insistence on the insertion of clauses of transparency in the processes involved, not throwing tantrums at the principles contained within the bill. The objectives and principles contained in it are actually constructive from the Pakistani people’s point of view. But if a cool-minded analysis of the bill reveals any modalities that might put the national interest at risk, then those ought to be negotiated.
For example, opinion-makers might want to ask our parliament to negotiate provisions in the bill whereby, for example, a transparent legal process within Pakistan would precede any decision on the fate of suspected nuclear proliferators, to safeguard against any perceived threats from unjustified future demands from the US.
Should the US whimsically decide to accuse Pakistan of atrocities carried out in neighbouring countries at some future date, instead of raising spurious objections like those of a PML-N parliamentarian pertaining to the possibility of sudden stoppage of the construction of hospitals from aid funds, a more honest and wise approach would be required.
It would be infinitely more mature for our politicians to be appreciative of the US making aid contingent on a stop to the military’s extra-curricular activities, as
well as the state’s refraining from promoting extremism and terrorism. They can then set about proposing safeguards against potential threats to national interests contained within the bill.
Can anyone disagree that much of the extremism in Pakistan today was sponsored by the state for a long time?