Vassal Mindsets
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

What happened to our independence we got in 1947? Watching the US officials and diplomats holding forth over the last few weeks on their grand political design for Pakistan gives one a terrible sense of déjà vu -- a harking back to the colonial days of the Viceroy going from one political leader to another discussing a smooth transition to independence.
Clearly, the US has now decided to carry the White Man's burden and tell the Pakistani ruling elites what is expected of them. Seeing a junior diplomat from the US Consulate in Lahore telling reporters what the US expects from the Pakistani leadership and Ms Bhutto, if ever there was a case for declaring someone persona non grata this was it. But our 'moderate' elites seem to have lost even the façade of a sovereign independent stance. So Hunt continues to attract the political glitterati of Lahore and the US ambassadress sits next to Ms Bhutto and declares that the US is trying to bring together the disparate (read 'moderate') political forces together with the present leadership to resolve Pakistan's ongoing political crisis.
Meanwhile Negroponte, a middle rank US official, is given viceregal treatment and unfettered access to all those who matter -- before he also holds a press conference to inform the Pakistani nation what he expects from its leadership. Have we retreated into a vassal-like mindset after 60 years of being a sovereign state of no mean standing?
The extent to which the US is treating us like a vassal state is the new demand by some extremist American political leaders that the US should prepare to send in their military to intervene in Pakistan -- no doubt seeking a takeover of our nuclear assets. Much is being made about the US working with Pakistan on nuclear safety -- as if this is something unique. The fact is that nuclear safety issues are also discussed between the US and India and undoubtedly between the US and its NATO allies and Israel. After all, technological sharing on nuclear safety is a global societal interest but frankly it is the US that seems to be having problems in this regard. After all, it was a US Air Force plane that took off with active nuclear warheads recently, without authorization! So there is much the US can learn from other countries' more secure command and control systems. It is not simply a matter of technological sophistication, but of cohesion and centralization of command and control. It is at the level of strategic cohesion that the US seems to be failing, so let them look to their own problems with nuclear safety for the time being.
Coming back to Pakistan, the real tragedy is that while civil society, lawyers, journalists and students are fighting for their rights against all odds and many are suffering beatings and incarceration, the main political leaders are looking to the US instead of giving succor and strength to this spirited and freedom-loving nation and its struggle. First it was Ms Bhutto riding on the coattails of the US, but now even Mr. Sharif has pleaded with the US that the Pakistani nation is looking to the Americans! As part of this nation and its civil society, we are certainly not looking to the US to come to our salvation. No indeed! We are looking to our own people to rise up and be counted and they are.
This is not to say that external support for a people's struggle for fundamental rights and justice is not welcome. But there is a difference between support and interventionist diktat and the US is guilty of the latter. That is why it would be an insult to the nation if such diktat found success. Clearly the main political leadership has not found confidence in the strength of its own people. But there are some who are still looking inwards to the people and they are suffering far greater punishment in terms of their mode of incarceration and in terms of the charges they are being threatened with. Clearly, the darlings of the West are incarcerated temporarily in the comfort of 'house arrest' while national heroes are cast away in the worst prisons possible. Double standards prevail even in modes of incarceration with nationalists bearing the brunt of the punishment.
One may not agree with Imran Khan's politics, but his stature as a sporting hero and a leading philanthropist cannot be denied. That such a man should have faced the wrath of hooligans on a university campus and been abused, manhandled and then handed over to the police like a criminal is a national shame. Similarly, the lawyers still being incarcerated in physically debilitating conditions, hardly enhances our image as a civilized and moderate polity.
The distance between civil society at large and those who are still looking to the US to alter the situation in Pakistan and bring about substantive democracy seems to be growing by the day as the former's protests against the emergency gain momentum drawing in a cross section of the population, including segments of the elite who were regarded as largely apolitical. Equally exciting is the new political awareness amongst the younger generation still in high school. Discussions abound, there is an inquiring curiosity about various political scenarios and Internet sites are filled with young people voicing their concerns for the country and fully prepared to demonstrate this commitment. The media curbs and political repression have ignited a new vibrancy in civil society and there are doctors, retired bureaucrats, housewives, bankers and all manner of people expressing their support for the media and lawyers. The apathy amongst the university students has also been replaced by a new activism. It was heartening to note the large-scale protests, which brought in women students in large numbers also, in the Punjab University against the Jamiat students' mistreatment of Imran Khan. Clearly, the terror of these hooligans and the mafia-like hold they have on that campus will not have the same relevancy anymore.
The dynamics of the political discourse are altering and at many levels the traditional political leaders have been left far behind and wanting. They seem to have little to offer beyond the old rhetoric and seeking external godfathers. They still seem to lack faith in their own people's ability to fight for democracy, freedom and justice. The irony is that while these leaders still do not realize that it is the internal struggle that will bring about the change, civil society is fast realizing it. That is why instead of waiting for the US to intervene with their political engineering, they are fighting back for their lost rights. This is a defining moment for the Pakistani nation and it must not be allowed to be hijacked by those who are seeking external interventions.
We are Pakistani; our struggle for our basic freedoms, for strong and independent institutions; for a free and robust media; and a sensitized and responsive state is a Pakistani struggle which we must wage and win on our terms, not on diktat from the US. The leaders need to rise to the national aspirations and the revitalized civil society, not remain stuck in a servile groove of looking to external advice and leads. Let us maintain an ability to distinguish between moral support and political meddling. After sixty years of nationhood, the nation has a sovereign mindset; it is the leaders who need to rid themselves of their vassal mindsets and rejoice in their Pakistani-ness.
The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)




Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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