Wanted: Men not Boys
By Cyril Almeida
Boys will be boys, but grown men need to stop acting like brats. Nawaz Sharif and Dr A.Q. Khan can’t believe they aren’t getting their way, so they are chucking all their toys out of their prams.
The trouble for the rest of us is that they have grown-up toys such as governments and nuclear secrets.
Take a peek inside Nawaz’s pram. His idea of supporting the coalition from the outside is to disown everything the government does. The N-League has become the political wife from hell, nagging the government on every issue it can think of, micro and macro.
Militancy, rather than doing something to stop the militants, is the League’s biggest peeve. Nawaz and company tell us that the militants should be engaged in dialogue. Yes, if dialogue was the name of a new weapon. It’s absurd. There exists in this country of ours a Tehrik Taliban-i-Pakistan, Swat chapter. As if it’s an international philanthropic organization or a sports club. But the N-League wants us to hug and kiss the militants. And talk politely. The tough talk is reserved for its coalition partner, the PPP.
On a late night political talk show, I tired of the PML-N’s dissembling and vague talk of dialogue. Siddiqul Farooq, mouthpiece of the League, was a phone-in guest and was spouting his party’s usual line of wanting peace and lambasting the government for not consulting his party on the Khyber operation. When Farooq repeated ad nauseum that dialogue was the way ahead, I asked him an elementary question: what do Mangal Bagh, Ansarul Islam and Haji Naamdaar want? Surely if the N-League knows how to deal with this issue, they must know something about these men. The Leaguers wouldn’t suggest a solution without knowing the problem, would they?
They would. Or at least that’s what they are saying publicly. Farooq couldn’t tell me what Khyber’s bad boys wanted because, well, the record hadn’t been placed before parliament. Here’s an idea for the N-League: read a newspaper. Or pick up a phone and dial Bara. What they will find is that the government is trying to pass the appearance of doing something against militancy for actually doing something against militancy.
The Khyber war that the paramilitary forces have gone in to stamp out is a festering Deobandi-Barelvi dispute. In the black corner are the Deobandi, Mufti Munir Shakir, and his Lashkar-i-Islam. In the green corner stand Barelvi, Pir Saifur Rehman, and his Ansarul Islam. The two are amongst the original crop of Mullah FMs who used their illegal radio broadcasts to spew venom against each other.
Predictably, violence erupted in Khyber. Equally predictably, the state was tardy in asserting its authority. The dueling preachers were finally forced out of Khyber in 2006, but not before passing on the torch of bigotry and intolerance to their followers. Enter Mangal Bagh, a little man with big aspirations, who donned Mufti Shakir’s mantle of the self-proclaimed defender of the local Deobandi population against foreign, mystical Barelvi preachers. To anyone familiar with Mr Bagh, the man is a thug. But since he has wrapped himself up in the cloak of Islam, the N-League thinks we must hold his hand and listen to him.
There is a third character up in Khyber. Sitting pretty is one Haji Naamdaar. He is one of the promotion-of-virtue-and-prevention-of-vice groups. Of the three groups, the only one which is genuinely believed to have connections with the Taliban is Mr Naamdaar’s. But Naamdaar has made himself useful by lately turning on the Taliban and Baitullah Mehsud, making him a state favorite for now.
So, yes, the farcical operation in Bara should be criticized. The N-League though has grabbed the hind legs of reason. While it’s well and good to put down thugs and stamp out religious wars, it’s dangerously disingenuous to foist it off as a battle against the Taliban. However, Nawaz has cynically calculated that he needs to distance himself from everything unpopular the government does, so that he isn’t tarred with the same brush in case things go wrong. Tough times call for statesmen, but Pakistan is blessed with snivelers.
Over in the other pram, Dr Khan is choking on his spittle. When the ersatz scientist confessed to crimes high and low, he thought he would be let off for taking a hit for the team. But Musharraf threw Khan under the bus, locking him up and hoping the world would forget about him. Khan has been stewing in his home ever since, fantasizing about taking revenge against the generals who have wronged him.
There is no real reason to doubt the bit about the generals knowing of and facilitating Khan’s nuclear shenanigans. From the cunning Beg to the urbane Karamat to the duplicitous Musharraf, fingers have been pointed at army chiefs for a while now. It probably isn’t much of a comfort to the generals, but it’s a good thing that no one believes their denials. For if the generals were believed on this count it would mean that everyone thinks that the army is so incompetent, so easily duped, so staggeringly clueless that its most prized assets — nuclear paraphernalia — could be merrily shipped around the world without its knowledge. You can’t exactly shove a P-1 centrifuge down your trousers and saunter out of Khan Research Laboratories (KRL) whistling a Bollywood ditty. So the grim faces in GHQ, Strategic Planning Division and KRL should soften a little — at least the people don’t think they are stupid.
But Khan ought to know better than to prattle to the media on proliferation. He has been known to drop bombshells ever since hubris got the better of him when he talked to eminent journalist Kuldip Nayar two decades ago. This time though it isn’t about sending any signals to India or the US, it’s just a caged, old man lashing out recklessly against his tormentor. Such are our heroes today. A young foreign minister once swore that Pakistan would eat grass or leaves, even go hungry, to get the bomb. Khan can’t even swallow his pride for the bomb.
And what has our political godfather been up to as Pakistan goes to hell? Well, Asif racked up frequent flier miles on a trip to sunny Athens for the International Socialist Conference. Because, you know, Mr Ten Per Cent is a socialist. The socialists must be in dire trouble: inviting Zardari to address a gathering of socialists is bit like asking Madonna to perform at a nun’s retreat.
A thought exercise for the week: if an alien landed in Pakistan from the skies above today, what would he think? Good night and good luck.