Them and Us
By Shireen M. Mazari

These are intense times. We are besieged from within our own and from our external detractors. So it was not surprising to find 14th August an exceptionally emotive occasion and amid the forebodings and bleakness of the macro environment, it was the little events that provided the joy and gave hope that our nation will move on and ride out the storms it seems destined to face. But first to the major developments that threaten us and astonishingly seem to elicit no appropriate and determined response from us.
The threat of the extremists as they move increasingly towards violence and terrorism continues to become ever more exacerbated and central to the lives of all citizens. Worse still, we are again seeing the rising tide of violent sectarianism -- and that too in public institutions. Punjab University seems to always take a lead in such affairs and so we find a bizarre issue now being created over Shia students not being allowed by officialdom, to pray as they wish on the campus. Even more tragic is the fact that we have allowed sectarianism legitimacy within the educational system by acknowledging the sectarian-based Wafaqul Madaris to formulate exams and so on. This is a first for the public education sector. So, from a time in the sixties when your sect was never an issue for conflict or even identity, we are now creating yet another divisive identity-definer. Given the heterogeneous nature of our Muslim population, it was Jinnah's wisdom that led him to decree that religion was to be a matter of personal faith and not a "business of the state". Certainly Pakistan was created for the Muslims of India and no law repugnant to Islam was to be formulated in this new state -- and this was the defining parameter of this new state. Beyond this, Jinnah and his supporters, who fought for and created Pakistan were very clear that after August 14, 1947 all Pakistanis would be equal regardless of cast, creed or sect -- so no separate electorates and certainly no sectarian creeds within the state structures.
Yet, in these dark times of sectarian divides, religious bigotry and extremist violence, there are those attempting to reassert the predominance of the national green and white and the spirit of Jinnah's Pakistan. When the younger generation makes an effort, it is all the more heartening because it gives hope for a rejuvenated nation. For instance, this 14th August I was privileged to be part of a young group's celebration, which centered on deghs for the poor (especially the Christian population living in the slums amid the privileged sectors of Islamabad) and a distribution of food/sweet packages to the local police on duty. The initiative and exuberance, as well as the savings used were all theirs, and it moved one beyond the mere superficiality of "celebrating" Independence Day.
But the feelings had been building up much earlier, especially with the viewing of the remarkable film, Khuda Key Liye. The hypocrisy and cruelty of the zealots on both sides has been brought out with a clarity and realism that one has not seen post-9/11 -- certainly not from Hollywood or Bollywood. If the religious extremist's evil is there, we are also made to see the evil of the US state post-9/11 and how it can destroy an innocent Muslim. For those who have found all manner of excuses for the way Muslims have been targeted in the US, this film is a must-see.
Which brings me to our main external detractor -- that supposed ally of ours, the US. Some of us have been seeing and highlighting the negative approach of the US towards Pakistan for some time now and also warning that at the end of the day their strategic target is the nuclear capability of Pakistan since their end goal is to see a weakened and submissive client state here. That is why when Ms Bhutto, in an effort to please the US media, declares to the Wall Street Journal that Pakistan needs to cooperate more with the US military and NATO in the war on terror, one begins to wonder whether our ruling elites will ever rid themselves of the American yoke.
For all our troubles post-9/11, when we became a frontline state for a US-led war for the second time in this region, what have we gained? Certainly some economic sops at the tactical level but look at the costs within our own domestic polity. But dealing only with the US approach to Pakistan as a result of our cooperation, what do we have now?
First: A law that makes all aid to Pakistan conditional on US presidential certification on a number of issues mentioned in detail in previous columns.
Second: US presidential candidates suggesting that the US military attack Pakistan (that will certainly awaken even the most loyal American supporters in this country to the deeply-embedded US hostility towards a nuclear Pakistan).
Third: US think-tanks and the media creating deliberately conjectured scare stories about Pakistan's nuclear assets falling into the hands of extremists in case an anti-US dispensation comes to power in the country.
Fourth: America letting it be known that it knows where our nuclear assets are placed and therefore the logic that follows is they can access these assets and, if they so desire, can destroy them. That is meant to scare us into appropriate submission. Of course, given the disastrous US intelligence over Iraq -- although the general assumption is that that was a deliberate lie -- our fear is of a similar disaster the US may commit here too. After all, rationality and respect for non-US, non-European lives is not a priority within the prevailing American mindset.
In between these developments, we have had the US administration deliberately undermine the Pakistani leadership by trying to show that it was their interventions rather than any logic or rationality on the part of the Pakistani leaders that prevented the imposition of the emergency and led the president to participate in the joint jirga. Certainly such public positioning does little to bolster the credibility of the state within the country -- and it seems that is the US endgame. Perhaps it is time to show some backbone and limit the access of Mr Boucher when he arrives here yet again. After all, the American government has just given India a carte blanche for the development of its nuclear arsenal and nuclear testing in the final form of the India-US nuclear deal and where are we for all the support we have been giving? Of course we have to fight terrorism for our own interest, but we must fight it within our own ground realities, not in the blundering fashion of the US.
Finally, to further add to the negativity of the external detractors, our domestic polity is being agitated also by the growing hysteria against Islam. We have seen a Dutch MP calling for a ban on the Holy Qur’an and a US legislator demanding that the US attack Islam's holy cities of Makkah and Madina. Imagine the outcry in Europe and the US if any Muslim politician had demanded that the Bible be banned in his country? Yet hardly anyone has raised his voice against the latest Dutch Islamophobia -- barring a small statement rejecting this call from the Dutch government.
These are the deepening fault lines between Them and Us externally; and they play into the domestic fault lines between Them and Us within our own polity. Intense passions are invoked all around. The challenge for us is whether we can chanellise them positively.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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