Condemned Either Way
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

The Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian elections was a rare spark of hope that a civil society can collectively impede the will and diktat of the powerful. Perhaps Mr. Bush is having second thoughts to his democracy agenda now! He wanted democracy to spread to the Middle East and that is what the Hamas victory has signaled. It also reflects an honesty and courage of commitment and tenacity on the part of the Palestinian people -- a people without a state but with a tremendous sense of nationhood.
Meanwhile, the US continues its arrogant approach to foreign policy -- both at the official and non-official levels. While the US Administration has not so much as even whimpered a hint of regret at the killing of innocent Pakistani citizens in Bajaur, the US media along with its British counterparts has continued to rant against the Pakistani state in what they see as its lack of effort in helping nab the al-Qaeda leaders. However, what is more ominous is that a pattern seems to be emerging in the US Administration's viceregal abuse of Pakistan's sovereignty and the US-British media tirades against the Government of Pakistan, especially the military.
The pattern suggests a deliberate effort to destabilize the state of Pakistan by undermining its domestic credibility and support in particular. So, despite the protests over Bajaur, we continue to see the US military carrying out military action on Pakistani soil against Pakistani citizens -- the latest being the violation of Pakistani air space by a US helicopter on 29th January and the harassment of Pakistani citizens in the tribal belt by the release of flares by US helicopters which have hit children and terrorized the locals. Alongside, the US and British media at regular intervals come up with editorials and stories that try to establish the reluctance of the Pakistani leadership towards capture of al-Qaeda leaders. Never mind that the arrest of most of the members of this group so far could not have been possible without the help of Pakistan -- that little fact is conveniently forgotten.
That is why we saw the Washington Post, an obsessively anti-Pakistan newspaper, write a diatribe against Pakistan and its President (January 25th). There was nothing new in the content of this diatribe. Once again it bemoaned what it saw as an avoidance by President Musharraf of an "all-out campaign against the Islamic extremists in his country". Presumably the paper would want to see the Pakistani state kill all and sundry with any affiliation to religious parties in the country. It talks of the continuing economic aid coming from the US, but it fails to mention the economic costs Pakistan has incurred as a frontline state in the war against terrorism.
Nor does it accept that the manner in which the US is conducting this war has resulted in the creation of more space for the terrorists when the strategy should have been of denying political space to them. But then it is difficult for an arrogant superpower and its civil society to accept their strategic errors. Much easier to make countries like Pakistan the punching bag for the continuing survival of al-Qaeda and its leaders! And while A. Q. Khan continues to be maligned as the "greatest criminal proliferator," the Post has forgotten its own proliferator, Oppenheimer, and its own government's proliferation role still continuing within the context of Israel. And there is also a memory lapse regarding India's nuclear cooperation with Iran and the Saddam regime. Even in the context of Khan, there is a convenient amnesia regarding his "network" comprising Europeans!
As believers in democracy we, of course, continue to accept all the insults and abuse meted out to us by the US Administration and its "free" media. But in its haste to abuse President Musharraf, the Washington Post definitely crossed all bounds of rationality and decency when it referred to the President of Pakistan as "this meretricious military ruler." Assuming that they are well-versed in the English language, one assumes that they knew the meaning of the word, "meretricious", so they knew the word is normally used in a feminine context and they knew the abuse they were hurling. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word means "showily attractive but cheap and is derived from the Latin word, "meretrix" meaning "prostitute". Need one say anything more? But it is incumbent upon the country's representative in Washington to take up this issue since it is all very well to criticize a head of state but there must surely be some sense of decency in the language used.
A few days after this Washington Post hysteria, we saw the British press have another go at the Government of Pakistan. This time it was the Sunday Telegraph which indirectly justified the US abuse of Pakistani sovereignty and its attack against Pakistani civilians in Bajaur, without prior notification to the Pakistani government. It stated that the US would have nabbed Osama bin Laden two years earlier when they had information that he was in Zhob in Balochistan, had Pakistan not delayed giving consent for a US attack. By the time the permission came, it was too late. Clearly such stories not only undermine Pakistan generally, but also specifically target the Pakistan military as an institution, raising unsubstantiated suspicions on its intent. The Pakistan government has denied this story and it seems a little absurd that it took two years for this damning information to come to light. But it fits neatly into US efforts to counter the accusations of violation of Pakistani sovereignty and the killing of innocent Pakistani citizens!
Nor is it just Pakistan that is the subject of a concerted vilification campaign in the Western media. Islam itself is being ridiculed in the name of freedom of the press -- especially in Europe. The recent example is the scandal of the blasphemous cartoons in the Danish press which the Europeans have justified in the name of freedom of speech! Saudi civil society, along with some Arab states, has done well to counter this European stance by boycotting Danish products and recalling their envoys. After all, freedom of choice is everyone's right -- and Muslims must have the freedom to exercise this choice of economic and diplomatic boycott of Denmark.
Nor is this all. The Indian media has also been capitalizing on the anti-Islam sentiment dominant in the West post-9/11. For instance, Karan Thapar, writing in the Hindustan Times last week on "Number Crunching" refers to his friend pointing out the importance of the number 11. The effort is to link the acts of 9/11 to an alleged passage in the Qur’an -- thereby trying to show that terrorists who happen to be Muslims will justify 9/11 with reference to their Holy Book! The reference given for the passage quoted is 9:11. Having gone back to the Qu’ran, I discovered this to be a total fabrication because the verse cited is not there. Perhaps Thapar and his friend were so obsessed by linking terrorist events to the Holy Book of Islam that they forgot others may actually check the source cited.
Clearly, we cannot please our habitual detractors, so let us go the way of our national interests.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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