Local Actors, Foreign Scripts
By Dr Shireen M Mazari

With another September 11 approaching, there was a thought that one should examine the disastrous US strategy for the war on terror, which has only succeeded in creating a continually increasing space for terrorists. Then, there was also the new Osama tape, which showed a man barely resembling Osama bin Laden. This led many to really wonder whether Osama was actually alive or whether he was now a creation of Langley, USA, given how the CIA almost immediately asserts the authenticity of such tapes, which also tend to come at interesting and troubling times for Mr Bush. Our domestic absurdities, however, have a more powerful pull –-- dwarfing all other critical issues.
And they truly are absurdities that are draining our energies and destroying our domestic fabric. At a time when we are facing some serious substantive threats, the whole nation has been made hostage to the political shenanigans of deals, deportations and bizarre interventions from external actors. All this, because the people of this country have shown their commitment to a democratic dispensation and rule of law. In the nation's pursuit of the democratic and rule of law ideal, some crucial and debilitating factors are coming into play. The first is to find that despite sixty years as a sovereign nation, external players continue to write our political scripts for us -- because we allow them to. Hence, our path to democracy is littered with deals and political engineering.
As we watched the Sharif versus the State drama unfold at the Islamabad airport, one wondered whether anyone really was interested in even hearing the voice of the people. If Sharif was using the Supreme Court to escape his deal with the Saudis, why was there such an excessive response from the State? Would it not have bolstered the government's image of tolerance and accommodation to have allowed Sharif a populist homecoming, before he faced charges of wrongdoing/corruption filed by the State? After all, the State's accommodation of the massive but peaceful processions of the Chief Justice during the judicial crisis was reflective of the confidence of the State, just as the mayhem of May 12 in Karachi was reflective of a hasty intolerance and perhaps, of a level of political insecurity. After sixty years, we must learn to trust our own people -- certainly more than outsiders who, no matter how friendly, do have their own agendas.
Indeed, we Pakistanis were embarrassed into seeing the image of the visit by the Saudi intelligence chief and Saad Hariri a few days earlier, laying bare the deal brokered by Saudi leaders and Hariri, which allowed the Sharifs to escape incarceration, while their party people stayed on to face the music. Of course, it seems this was not the first time that the Saudis have been brought into the internal machinations of our national politics -- remember Mr Bhutto, the PNA and a Saudi interlocutor, Ambassador Riazul Khateeb? It is not without its irony that Hariri should be visiting us at a time when he would do better to deal with the multiple issues confronting his own country, Lebanon.
Nevertheless, it was sad to see denials to the contrary. There was a deal made by the Sharifs to exit Pakistan. Equally, at the end of the day, as the Supreme Court asserted, all Pakistanis have the right to return to their country and they must face the consequences of their deeds, according to the laws of this country rather than be denied this opportunity -- deals notwithstanding. That is why it was so disheartening to witness the whole September 10 episode at the Islamabad airport. And why must officialdom always resort to the abuse and humiliation of their target?
It seems as though deals brokered from outside are going to be our fate, unless the people show their rejection of this – but for that, a new leadership is needed and that does not seem to be emerging on the horizon. Perhaps, that is part of our tragedy – that we cannot find anyone beyond the tested and failed leaders of the past, whenever we move towards unhindered democracy. Or is it because the democratic trail must perforce recommence from where it was truncated?
So, we now face the truth of one leader being made to pay the price for a deal, which allowed for an exit from the country, while another one makes a deal to ensure her return to the country in a position of power. This is surely the worst of all motivations, and to seek a hostile power's intervention makes it even worse. After all, no one in Pakistan is blind to the negative Pakistan agenda of the US; but those who ostensibly seek to lead the people of this country through a democratic process are, it seems, unwilling to put their faith in the same people. Instead, the wooing of Washington takes primacy and so the US now is attempting to engineer the future democratic dispensation within Pakistan, aided and abetted by its faithful ally, Britain. After all, the US has had a foretaste of what results democracy will bring within Muslim political entities in the form of the Hamas victory, and it cannot live with the results. Hence, democracy must be tailor-made in terms of the "correct" leaders coming to power!
What a farce. Is this what the people's struggle for their democratic rights has been reduced to -- deals and still more deals? This is not to say that political forces do not form alliances for elections -- but the deals we are seeing, involve external players and are intended to pre-empt the form of the political dispensation even before the elections have been held. Already, the US has damaged our body politic immeasurably with its eventual goal to target our national strategic assets. Must we now endure their machinations in our domestic politics? Incidentally, it is a trifle ironic that our lawyers who want to lead a movement for democracy are not prepared to allow democratic dissent within their own ranks. Such dissenters are given a sound beating.
Meanwhile, as we remain so mesmerized by the shenanigans of our political elites, issues that should be focused on are getting lost. For instance, the fact that no head has rolled over the bridge collapse in Karachi and there is no public outcry, which would compel the authorities to pinpoint responsibility and punish the guilty, has taken place. In addition to this, mobs are impeding the judicial process in Karachi and a senior lawyer has become a victim of political terror. Then, we have the growing targeting of our security personnel by terrorists, and the disturbing question of how twenty men could take over a hundred (the exact number being unclear) security personnel hostage. Are our fears of the external forces wishing to undermine the institution of the military, coming true? And should the State not be giving more serious attention to US statements, following the Osama tape, which implied that Osama was in Chitral? Is the US building a rationale for a more excessive military foray into Pakistan than the air violations of our sovereignty?
There are so many issues that require our national focus right now, including some critical external developments. We, however, are almost mesmerized by one political drama after another unfolding on a daily basis to impact our right of free choice – and in all of which, civil society is a mere bystander. The pride and hope that subsumed us with the assertion of the judiciary as a strong and independent pillar of the State is fast being replaced by a cynical weariness. This is a great, generous and forgiving nation, which does not deserve the elite it has to contend with. The question is: will it always continue to be the same or can we make it different this time around?
The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)



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