Being a Pakistani is difficult – whether you live in the country or you live abroad. Given our chequered political, economic and social history; it has always been difficult for Pakistanis living in the country either by choice or because of lack of option to migrate. The trouble is that there are far too many dark squares in the check and we seem to be walking from one to another.
Today I would like to first talk about how embarrassed as a Pakistani I felt over the Lal Masjid dark patch on our image abroad. Unfortunately, I was in Hanoi when May 12 carnage happened in the most industrialized city of Pakistan and I had to face the burst of questions from the people I met there. And once again I was in Munich last week when the inevitable bloody drop scene of Lal Masjid was played in the otherwise quite capital of Pakistan. Ironically, it was code named ‘Operation silence’ though its grenades’ bang and rattling guns were heard across the globe on 24/7 television channels. Loss of human life in the Lal Masjid operation is sad, but the onus lies on an extremist clergy and poor intelligence by omission or commission.
Again it was embarrassing for me to explain to the friends and people I came in contact in Munich that majority of Pakistanis are peace loving and moderate people. My defence was that the very fact the government has moved in cautiously after allowing around six month negotiations with the fanatic Ghazi brothers shows that we are not trigger happy and we do care for human life.
But to the questions why such a build up was allowed in Islamabad — the so-called high security zone — I had no answer for the foreign friends. I could have attempted to give my views on this but that wouldn’t have done any good to the country’s image. A poor attempt to evade the question was better, as most intelligent people have a fairly good understanding of the collusion of Pakistani establishment with the extremists. Their main source of information is of-course the media. It is hard for me and the people to believe that our ace intelligence agencies failed to detect arms ammunition and Islamic militants build up under their nose. Will some heads roll on this crucial intelligence failure in Islamabad? Will some lessons be learnt by our establishment? Most probably not. As I have mentioned in my other columns on this subject, the sympathy for the Islamic militants is quite deep rooted in the establishment.
When I traveled out of the country the local media was by and large supporting the government delayed action. But now I heard Geo’s Hamid Mir on CNN saying that media is turning against President Musharraf for not giving a chance to negotiated settlement. He mentioned how Ghazi Rashid used the media skillfully to convey that the issue can be settled by detaining him in a rest house and not arresting him. What about his goons who were wanted in many other terrorism cases? And then Dr. Akbar Ahmed came on CNN saying that public opinion would turn against Musharraf for attacking the mosque, which is considered sacred by the Muslims. Partly true. He forgot that military action was taken against those who took over a portion of Khana-e-Kaaba in Makkah and the Muslims of the world accepted it. In Pakistan a number of mosques have been attacked in the sectarian frenzy and no heaven fell.
It is true that a military’s interference in politics is one of the major causes of all the problems. It is also true that in Pakistan militant Islam was promoted by the establishment from the very beginning as a tool of India-centric policy. It is also true that Musharraf of pre 9/11 subscribed to the Jihadi outlook. Having said that I would say we should also see that Pakistan army policy makers like most of the modern organisations are pragmatic. They know that the days of Jihadi adventure are over. Islamic Jihad was tolerated by the world powers till it was needed in the cold war era. It is now a global threat to the West. To their way of living. To their democratic and modern values. To their economy. But the fact of the matter is that whether you want it or not Jihadists outfits have to be closed. What we are witnessing in the Islamic world is the resistance among the political and militant Islamic forces. They have vested economic interest in keeping the Jihadi business going, not to speak of lower cadre commitment with their cause. But all said and done it is their last battle cry. I must add here hurriedly that winding up of this business may take at least a decade. Be prepared for the echo.
So in this situation Pakistan’s democratic forces, including the media should not get confused on how to deal with the extremists. Pressing President General Musharraf to withdraw military from country’s politics and restore full-fledge democracy is a just call. But this does not mean that if at all he does something right we should jump to the other side. Problem with most democracy loving Pakistanis is that we do not take position on policies; we take position for and against a person or an institution. It seems that Chairman Mao’s frivolous saying — Support what the enemy opposes and oppose what the enemy supports — still rules our politics. The good sign is that Ms. Bhutto has taken a right stand on this Lal Masjid episode. The country needs mature opinion makers whether they are in politics, media or civil society. Remember real democracy and progressive view of life has been always our cause. We have struggled for it for the last 60 years. Anybody who wants to join this struggle now for reasons of pragmatism or commitment (even temporarily) is welcome. President is not excluded. (firstname.lastname@example.org)