Dangerous External Designs
By Shireen M. Mazari

We have witnessed a strange "invasion" of Islamabad by members of the US Administration. For anyone who thought it is all related to the war on terror and Afghanistan, the itinerary of the first of these Americans, Mr Boucher, made it clear that the war on terror was not the main concern for this visit. After all, Boucher not only met with all shades of political opinions but also with the Chief Election Commissioner. Now honestly, what business did he have to undertake the last of these meetings -- apart from a clear intent to meddle in our internal affairs? Why do we continue to allow these external players this right to meddle?
As for Mr. Negroponte, only a few months earlier he was assailing the Pakistani state and government on the war on terror and other "related" issues (related in the minds of the Yanks, that is). Yet here he was in Islamabad, at a time when the country is confronting and working out its political crises, quite oblivious to our sentiments after his earlier ranting against us! What exactly was he seeking? And, to add to our chagrin, we had the CENTCOM gentleman over as well -- thrown in for good measure no doubt! Can all this be a mere coincidence?
Certainly not, given the dire forecasts in the US media about the state of affairs in Pakistan, especially the crises confronting the state. Also, for some time now rumors have been rife about the US seeking to bring in their all-weather favorite politician, Ms Bhutto, in a political alliance with the present powers that be. And we know how the US is seeking to impact all the Muslim states of what it refers to as the "Broader or Greater Middle East" -- West Asia to us Asians. Just when the Muslim civil societies are asserting their right to unfettered democracy and social justice, the US has developed an aversion to the same in the wake of the Hamas electoral victory. The results have been an unmitigated disaster for us all.
Look at what the US has helped engineer or engineer itself: The end game amongst the Palestinians with Fatah and Hamas killing each other instead of fighting Israel and with the US now promising to restart all the held-up aid in the wake of Mahmoud Abbas's dismissal of Hamas from government. In addition, arms are flowing in to Fatah from the US and Israel. Nor is this all. The civil war in Iraq continues to kill Muslims in ever increasing numbers as that country nosedives into anarchy. After the success of Hizbollah in Lebanon, that country seems to be heading once more into factional violence and chaos with the US announcing greater arms' supplies to the Lebanese government -- but arms that can only be used internally, not externally against aggressive neighbors like Israel. And, of course, US efforts to use the terrorist group Jundullah to destabilize Iran through its Sistan province continue.
Given this negative US agenda and its rather apparent dislike of true democracy for the Muslim World, the visits of Boucher and company can only be viewed negatively. Nothing good can possibly come from this US intrusion into our domestic affairs. But it is not just the US that is on a confrontationist course with populist Muslim forces. Look at events in Britain. First, there is the issue of British support for its citizens who preach hatred and violence abroad. Then there is the recent declaration by the UN's rapporteur, Ms Jehangir about the discriminatory and democracy-threatening anti-terror laws of Britain. According to her report, which will be presented to the new UN Human Rights body in Geneva, British Muslims are being discriminated against as a result of these laws.
Is it a mere coincidence, that at this time when the British Muslims are being discriminated against, we have the Queen of England, Elizabeth Windsor, putting writer Salman Rushdie on her Honors List? If his literary genius was to be given recognition should it not have immediately happened after the publication of what are regarded as his main literary works some decades earlier? Why reward him now when his recent products are being seen as mediocre if not downright poor? Simply to spite the Muslim World in general and British Muslims in particular? Is there something to the feeling that Elizabeth Windsor's Honors List, which has come around the time Diana's boys are publicly celebrating her life, also reflects the House of Windsor's personal antipathy for Muslims like Dodi Fayed and Dr Hasnat? Whatever the real reason, there is something rotten in the Honors List and one wonders how the British or indeed the Europeans would have reacted if the OIC or a Muslim state would have given a national award for historic scholarship to historian Irving who was incarcerated for his views on the holocaust? But there you have it -- curbs on freedom of expression, double standards, hypocrisy and, of course, important linkages and patterns must all be taken note of.
Which brings me back once again to the continuing pattern of tolerance by the Pakistani state of the lawbreakers of the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid combine. Slowly but surely, they are spreading their terror into mainstream Pakistan. The Christians have already begun to be targeted, with the PIMS nurses' case. The government has done nothing to curb this growing spread of the extremists' tentacles and civil society is focused on other critical issues. So now more daring fatwas are coming against publications. Where will all this end? Will bookshops be pillaged next -- especially if they happen to have art books? What will it take for the state to finally end the reign of terror by the Jamia Hafsa-Lal Masjid combine? When will the law be enforced?
With all these domestic concerns still being center-stage in our lives right now, it is no wonder we are not reacting as strongly as we should to the ever more dangerous US design for our part of the world that is now becoming increasingly overt. Nor have we shown concern over recent pronouncements coming out of New Delhi. Yet there is ample ground for concern. India is clearly becoming more emboldened to gear up for greater intrusiveness in its neighborhood once again. Why else would India's national security adviser, Narayan, caution Sri Lanka against buying weapons from China and Pakistan? Instead, he asserts that whatever Sri Lanka needs it should turn to India which is the regional power! Yet India has also declared that it will not provide offensive capability weapons. In any event, what right does India have to dictate to Sri Lanka the source of the latter's weapons purchases?
It may not sound threatening but given India's record this could be a first stage preparation for something akin to an intervention or even invasion -- euphemistically always termed as an invitation to intercede! Only recently, the Indian Defense Minister, in the Lok Sabha, accused the Sri Lankan Navy of killing 77 Indian fishermen during a 16-year period -- but furnishing no proof to substantiate this accusation. So there we are -- focused on internal crises but facing a destabilized external environment, even without taking into account the mess that is Afghanistan. Within this milieu, to have external players become ever more intrusive in our internal dynamics bodes ill for the nation.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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