Troubling Issues and the War within
By Shireen M Mazari

The sun has finally come out after days of a wet bleakness that shrouded everything. Developments within the country seemed to match this dreary woefulness. However, there is little to be cheerful about even with the emergence of the sun. Issues troubling us presently have been declared sub judice, and since one is condemnatory of judgments being passed before due process, one cannot do the same oneself.
However, in the few instances when some of us had the chance to witness hearings before Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, it was clear that the police and bureaucracy were brought down to earth and civil society was the better for it — especially in terms of public interest judgments. In the aftermath of that terrible low point in our brief democratic political history, the storming of the Supreme Court, hope of legal redress for the ordinary person was gradually beginning to revive again.
As for what happens now and in the future, we will have to simply wait and see — but there is a heaviness that abounds. There is also an irony in hearing the same voices supporting the independence of the judiciary that had instigated the storming of the Supreme Court in an earlier democratic dispensation.
When genuine commitment gets entangled with opportunism, cynicism tends to win the day.
Meanwhile, what one is seeing only too clearly is the sheer violence and abuse ingrained in our police. The ugliness of police violence once again reared its head in Lahore when a lawyers' procession was charged upon by baton wielding police. Lawyers had taken out processions in other cities also and the law enforcers had managed to keep the peace without violence. Lahore was another story altogether and the sight, on television, of policemen not only using their legally-allotted (one assumes) and threatening batons, but also pelting the processionists with stones which they picked up as they advanced menacingly towards the crowd. Once again the law enforcers, and protectors of civil society, were breaking the law — for that is what pelting with stones is — and lashing out at protesting but unarmed members of civil society. What message does this send out about our society — surely not one of a positive soft image?
It is not as if we do not have enough enemies outside seeking to harm us. We have the continuing efforts by the US Congress to tie aid with conditionalities that impinge on our internal functioning. We have the continuing diatribes from Afghanistan and NATO about us not doing enough in the war on terror — although what they mean by enough is inexplicable. We also have growing proof of Indian involvement in acts of terrorism in Balochistan. If all this was not enough, we now face a looming indirect threat as a result of US covert efforts to destabilize the Iranian regime through Iranian Balochistan and a threat of US/Israeli military adventurism against Iran.
The massive array of striking forces in the Gulf in itself poses a threat — especially of accidental war or an accidental mishap. It has happened before — specifically in the case of Iran Air flight 655 which was shot down on July 3, 1988, by a US naval warship. A National Geographic documentary on this event showed how the US warship had been four miles inside of Iranian territorial waters when it shot down the Iran Air civilian airplane, resulting in 290 deaths. Nor did the US take to task those responsible for this criminal act. With such a reckless approach to human life and scant regard for international law, the chances of another accident waiting to happen now cannot be ruled out.
Added to all this, we also have to face an irrationally hostile Western media aided and abetted by our own disgruntled/hostile elements. The latest salvo fired in this context is the case of the CNN airing "Divide Pakistan" advertisements — and then having aired them long enough, denying any culpability! The fact is that someone calling himself Syed Jamaluddin is hawking his book "Divide Pakistan to Eliminate Terrorism" on Amazon.com and has been buying time on CNN — 15 minute spots — to advertise the book by charging Pakistan with global terrorism and suggesting the only solution is to split the country into four parts!
It may sound too farfetched to be taken seriously, but given the lack of knowledge about the world amongst the US political elite, such nonsense could be believable and add to the damage already being done to Pakistan in the US Congress. After all, it was not too long ago that the US Armed Forces Journal printed an article by Ralph Peters, where it was recommended that all powerful Muslim states be divided — including Pakistan. Interestingly, the division suggested by this so-called Jamaluddin is not dissimilar to the one suggested by the Ralph Peters article, "Blood Borders"! Another interesting point to ponder over is the money available to this Jamaluddin since a 30-second prime time spot on CNN costs at least $20,000. So who is providing the funding for these damaging anti-Pakistan ads on CNN and why did CNN allow itself to be used in this fashion?
The point is that we have enough enemies outside and we need to develop consensus and move towards a national resurgence from within to deal with these external challenges and threats. Instead, we are unable to affect the compromises necessary for national reconciliation and national healing. It is no wonder civil society is becoming increasingly despairing and cynical. It seems we are destined to move in an ever-repetitive cycle of repetitive events at the national level.
After all, before the country was immersed in the judicial issue, it was being confronted with the PIA tragedy — for that is what the EU ban is. After all, here was an airline that was a leader in the field and built up airlines like Singapore, Alia and Emirates, and look to where it has sunk decades later. Much as one would like to accuse the EU of discrimination, the fact is that PIA's old fleet of 737s and Airbuses are in a shabby condition and no attention is paid to safety or cleanliness. How many times have we experienced broken seats and seat belts, gaps in the light sidings and dirty floors?
Whatever the issue — no matter how big or small — we are certainly proving to be our own worst enemies. Our faith in ourselves is eroding even as we wait for someone else to turn the tide for us. This will not happen and this is certainly no way to nurture our future generations in. It is time for each one of us to restore our faith in ourselves and our nation — no one can simply stand by and watch cynically anymore.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

 


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