In the democratic cyber world a debate has been started when Farhat Taj and some other progressive friends moved an appeal for the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi, who is being held reportedly by ISI for helping the CIA in confirming that the Osama bin Laden family is hiding under the wings of our establishment in the mysterious compound of Abbottabad.
The appeal has been moved on the grounds that Osama was the head of an international terrorist organization which has killed innocent people around the world; hence Dr. Afridi should have been rewarded for blowing the whistle and not held on charges of ‘treason.’ This is just a jist of the appeal in my own words. To this appeal for signatures, a question was raised by Ghayur Ayub asking wasn’t Afridi working for the Americans?
Responding to what Mr. Ayub calls a “simple question” many progressive friends have counter-posed many questions. Some of them are: Wasn’t Pakistan Army and its intelligence working for the Americans by fighting a war against Al Qaeda? To this Mr. Ayub said that he had asked ‘a simple question’ and he is getting an indirect reply. Then he posed another question that if what the Pakistan army was doing was wrong, then what Dr. Afridi did was wrong also, implying to the famous dictum that two wrongs do not make a right. Legally it may be right that Afridi had crossed the boundaries by working as a foreign intelligence agency’s operator. But morally and politically he did the world a favour. Suppose any other Pakistani would have found that his neighbour in a cantonment area was an international terrorist leader, what was he supposed to do? Should he have trusted the Pakistani authorities and informed them? We all know that even if a person would have taken such an initiative the agencies would have picked him up to hide the fact that Osama was in the neighbourhood.
Now these are not simple questions. As Jainism founder Mahaveer Had maintained that there are always many shades between the black and white, this so-called question leads to many other questions. Did Afridi help CIA because of his conviction that Osama was dangerous for the world community and peace? Or, he did it for money? Now circumstantial evidence as reported in the media is that he did launch a fake vaccination campaign prompted by the CIA. If that is true, we will have to answer another question that is it right to be an agent of any intelligence agency? Are we not agitated when we think that somebody is an intelligence agent among ourselves, may it be the left democratic movement or the journalists?
Many nationalists would argue that working for any national intelligence agency in the national interest is right, but for a foreign agency is ‘treason.’ Then the basic question arises who would define ‘the National Interest?’
This question has always been there, but is usually not discussed on the intellectual plain in Pakistan. ‘National Interest’ is different to the nationalists and to international humanists. Thus it is not ‘a simple question’ as Mr. Ayub purposes. The so-called ‘national interest’ as proselytized by the nationalists and their intelligence agencies is to protect the status quo in the interest of the ruling establishment. It is not synonym of people’s interest, as they manage to propagate, which I must admit, to a significant success.
On the other hand the humanists’ litmus test for all policies and actions of an establishment or a person is that wether they are in people’s interest or not. Humanists’ outlook transcends ethnic, national and religious boundaries. Because they do not buy the ruling establishments’ definition of national interest, they cannot be dubbed as traitors as it has been done in many countries. Treason to the people’s interest cannot be condoned in the name of narrow jingoistic nationalism.
Having laid this proposition, let’s review the role of Dr. Afridi and the Pakistani establishment. When General Pervez Musharraf agreed to support the US government after 9/11, he did it because it was in the interest of the ruling elite which couldn’t have saved its skin if Pakistan would have continued to support the fascist Taliban government and its guest Al Qaeda. So by default he had to support ouster of Taliban government which was in the interest of the Afghan people. However, as we know Musharraf and the present establishment continues to support the Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani supporters covertly. Again it is being done in the ‘national interest’ which should be better termed as ‘ruling establishment’s interest.’
But Pakistani establishment went for weakening Al Qaeda because; it is anti-establishment of all Muslim countries and their Western allies. But the permanent international Islamic militant revolution preached by Al Qaeda and its franchisees is reactionary in nature and should not be idealized as pro-people at any stage. Al Qaeda franchisees have turned against Pakistani establishment. That’s the reason they are fighting only selected rebel terrorists, while still patronising those organisation which they use to further their vested interest. So if something good is done by the establishment it is primarily in their own interest and by default in people’s interest.
The same analogy fits Dr. Afridi’s case. From the available information it seems what he did was to collect the $25 million or a part of the head money. By default what he did was also in people’s interest. Remember many right things happen in the world for wrong reasons. But as what he did exposed the culpability of our intelligence agencies or their inefficiency, in the ruling establishment’s book it is treason to them and therefore to the nation. Thus as a humanist we have Farhat Taj’s campaign in favor of Dr. Afridi. Mr. Taj and Mr. Ayub belong to two different sets of values and that’s why the communication gap. However, if it starts a debate on the question of national interest as defined by our establishment and their co-evolutionists and the humanist outlook among the intellectuals, it would be timely. (firstname.lastname@example.org)