What a Shame!
By Shireen M Mazari

Every crisis in Pakistan becomes an occasion for targeting our nuclear assets. That the US does so is to be expected since our nuclear capability, as a Muslim state, has never sat easily with them. That is why their so-called analysts and their media, aided and abetted by the ever-loyal British media, launch an offensive against this capability at every possible opportunity. And the present scenario in Pakistan seems to be presenting an ideal opportunity once again. So we have histrionics emerging from the US and British media about the vulnerability of our nuclear assets which is rather farcical, given that it is the US weapons that seem to be having a problem of secure command and control.
This was reflected most starkly in the August 2007 incident of a US air force plane taking off with live nuclear-armed cruise missiles and seemingly no clarity as to who had ordered the same! The US Air Force had actually lost track of its own nuclear weapons! But the regular periodic attacks on our nuclear assets safety should not be treated lightly by Pakistan since we now have reports of the US military actually trying to put in place plans to take out these assets. We may simply shrug off such absurdities, but the US has a tendency of operationalising the bizarre and absurd with no consideration for the consequences and chaos that will follow. Post-9/11, US actions reflect this in a most tragic fashion -- especially for the Muslim World.
However, Pakistan's tragedy is that its own elite also use the nuclear issue to try and prop themselves politically with foreign masters. So we have had Ms Bhutto declaring her intent of handing over Dr Khan to the IAEA (read the US!) and most recently her dire warning that our major nuclear facility at Kahuta could fall into “extremist" hands. All this of course is being done to play to the US gallery. Not that our other politicians are far behind in playing this scare card for the US, including those who till recently were part of the official ruling elite. Now a delegation of them is busy informing the US how, if they are not sustained in power, our nuclear assets will fall into "extremist" hands! In fact, our pre-November 3 Supreme Court is also being maligned within the context of releasing "terrorists".
This whole syndrome of playing to foreign galleries on the basis of either "après" or "sans moi le deluge" is perhaps our greatest tragedy. As if to say that, after 60 years of being, our nation is still so fragile that it will simply fall apart if true political change and democracy come about! Shame on all amongst us who propagate themselves on such wickets when they should know that this is a resilient and vibrant nation with a newly-rebolstered civil society. It is also tragic to see how after decades of struggling against all odds to acquire our nuclear capability, our elite are ever ready to undermine our nuclear assets credibility for their own political ends. Have they nothing else to offer besides scare mongering to retain them in, or come to power?
Clearly, our fast descent into ever increasing absurdities seems to have no brakes. The elections are degenerating into a major political farce with some threatening boycotts and others being removed through rejection of electoral papers. If anyone had any doubts about the specificity of the National Reconciliation Order, the rejection of the Sharifs' electoral papers should be an eye opener. Only Ms Bhutto has been absolved of all her corruption and legal lapses while in power -- whereas others like the Sharifs' will not be allowed a level playing field in the political arena. While critical of Nawaz Sharif on some major issues in the past, I still feel he has a more indigenous feel for this nation than Ms Bhutto who looks first to Washington and the West before casting a condescending eye on her own nation. Incidentally, talking to the few Americans who want to talk to critical Pakistanis, it also appears that they are now hedging their bets and so Maulana Fazlul Rehman has become the acceptable "Mullah" for the US.
Which brings me to a major irritant, for some of us at least: That is the unfettered US intrusion into our domestic political domain. US diplomats are in high gear giving out unwarranted advice on how we should conduct ourselves. Now we have US human rights activists holding vigils outside Aitzaz Ahsan's home -- as if Pakistani protestors vigils were not as effective. What an insult to our civil society. Do we really need US crutches? Given that the US has its own human rights abuses' issue, would it not be more suitable for the Code Pink reps to be outside Guantanamo Bay right now since we can look after our own -- and we should. For God’s sake, let us keep our protests powered by our own people -- especially when there is a new momentum and force awakening amongst our civil society.
Given the farcical political environment that is emerging here, perhaps a grave error has been committed by civil society. As the protest has focused so much on boycott of elections, little thought was given to a third option -- that if the boycott was unsuccessful, there would have been the option of trying to bring new and untainted blood into the electoral mainstream through elections. Why could one not have fielded lawyers and other professionals by the dozens in as many constituencies as possible?
As things stand now, the list of candidates reads like a Who's Who from past elections -- the same tried, tested and failed politicians who will bring nothing new with them. To change things, we need the people who can effect this change; and in a democratic setup that can be done through the participatory process. So while in an uneven playing field and an emergency situation, boycott may have seemed the most feasible option, leaving the field open to the same old faces from the past is going to be a most undesirable future.
In fact, if one goes to the rural areas beyond Central Punjab, old faces are all ready to battle each other as they have done so often in the past. In my own area, -- Rajanpur -- we have the dismal choice of voting in a candidate whose only visible achievement while in the Punjab Assembly has been to ensconce his hoodlum nephews into local government and now is allied to an ex-caretaker prime minister whose only claim to fame was total neglect of his backward area; or voting in a failed politician who is allied to an MNA who ensured that control of the district government meant no funds to any part of the district beyond his own familial constituency! Ironically, PPP and PML-N candidates, at different levels, are allied to PML-Q candidates. So much for party politics!
The tragic irony is that while civil society is closing ranks on the common platform of an independent judiciary and media freedom, the political elites remain fractured and divided, torn between the lures of power and the need to respond to the call for responsive leadership of a galvanized nation.
(Dr Shireen Mazari  is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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