VIEW: Where we are —Yasser Latif Hamdani - Monday, November 15, 2010

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As a long-term ally of both the US and China and having a shared past with India, Pakistan can either be doomed by history or use it wisely to create a state that exists for the benefit of its people

Obama’s warming up to India has not gone down well with our super patriots, and rightly so. Despite 40 odd years of service to the US and now a decade-long alliance that has cost Pakistan many a life and limb, the US has now established a long-term strategic paradigm in South Asia, which sees India as a close ally and Pakistan as a nuisance at best.

Instead of going back to the drawing board and trying to understand why it is that we are increasingly unable to compete with our eastern neighbour, our super patriots have invented another self-defeating narrative. They want us to engage another 50 years in another mini-cold war around an imagined zero-sum game that pits Pakistan and China against the US and India. Even if the Americans were naïve enough to hold such ‘strategic’ hogwash as a legitimate view, neither the Indians nor the Chinese are going to buy into it. Contrary to what a naïve New York Times columnist recently wrote, the Indians know that the big truck their friend in Washington owns has a flat tyre and no spare.

This is the Asian century and enough people in India realise it, which is why there will be no confrontation between China and India — at least any confrontation that mirrors the Soviet-US clash. China is rising and the US is, at best, a fading power, in a position very similar to the British Empire after the Second World War. It will continue to be an important power like Britain but its sole superpower status has irrevocably been shaken. As it grows more multicultural, the melting pot will become less effective and consequently a more fractured polity is likely to hold the US back in the future. India therefore is more likely to play both sides instead of blindly jumping into bed with the Americans. Our response therefore should be similarly cautious.

That we have not thought things through is apparent even from our approach to China. There is little or no recognition in Pakistan that China’s might is derived not from its military but its economic might. Yet how many of our institutions of higher learning have programmes in Chinese language, culture and law? None. It is not enough that Pakistan will become a conduit of energy for western China and, subsequently, an international trade route. Pakistan must realise that it will be important to China only if it remains internally stable, united and moderate. For this to happen, Pakistan must choose a pragmatic path to international geo-politics. It can no longer fool itself with some Pan-Islamic ambition and pursue a policy of Muslim interests. Our military establishment’s cynical flirtation with Islamist groups is dangerous given the Islamist rebellion in some parts of China.

Pakistan faced the full force of Chinese pressure on the Lal Masjid issue where Chinese citizens were attacked by a band of brigands who were, for the most part, seen as a ‘strategic asset’ by our establishment.

Pakistan must realign itself internally to face external challenges and seize opportunities. The reason Pakistan was respected and sought after by the Americans in the 1950s, 1960s and some part of the 1970s was because we were ideologically soft but economically and socially a strong state. By the 1980s onwards, Pakistan has been ideologically hard but economically and socially a very weak state. In doing so we have not only alienated the Americans but our trusted friends such as the Chinese and the Turks. If things continue as they are, even the Saudis will leave us in the lurch.

If — and this is an almost impossible task — Pakistan can roll back project Islam of the Ziaist variety, which requires a major overhaul of our laws, education and media, and can present itself as a moderate, democratic and internally stable state, Pakistan is ideally placed to profit from the changing global economic and political scenario. As a long-term ally of both the US and China and having a shared past with India, Pakistan can either be doomed by history or use it wisely to create a state that exists for the benefit of its people. The latter course will not only keep Pakistan united but will allow it to become one of the most prosperous nations of this century.

However, none of this can be done if ‘independent’ courts in Pakistan sentence to death a mother of five for alleged blasphemy. In the coming days, brace yourself as the entire world condemns us for our barbaric treatment of women, and rightly so. We must make up our minds. Are we going to be a medieval dystopia that is a pariah country like the Islamic Republic of Iran — which is absolutely the worst place to live in, I can assure you — or are we going to be a normal state that the world can do business with? Those of you who question the abolition of the Blasphemy Law on religious grounds must be reminded of what a wise man once said, “Is this the first time in the history of legislation in this country that this council has been called upon to override Musalman Law or modify it to suit the time? The council has overridden and modified the Musalman Law in many respects.” The wise man in question was our founding father, Mr Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He had also cautioned against the misuse of the original Blasphemy Law — Section 295 of the Penal Code — by saying, “We must also secure this very important and fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in the ascertainment of truth and those who are engaged in bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected.”

The critical factor missing in Pakistan right now is a leader — democratically elected and popular — who can play the role of a Mao or an Ataturk or a Lee Kuan Yew today. Orphaned soon after birth with Jinnah’s early demise, Pakistan has missed a legitimate strongman that India found in Nehru. I say a legitimate strongman because attempts by illegitimate tin-pots, such as Ayub, Zia and Musharraf, have only worsened our situation. That it has to be a strongman willing to put his foot down is also clear because nothing else will compose the differences of our fractured national identity or have the courage to take on the naysayers, the Islamists and the ethno-fascists who today pose a clear and present danger to this state and its writ. Abraham Lincoln played that role in the US. He was ready to go the extra mile to preserve the union because his integrity was unquestionable and that allowed him to take decisions that were necessary but unpopular such as the emancipation of slaves. Do we have such a leader in our midst, someone who is ready to take on the forces that seek to tear us asunder and then make us relevant in the new era of prosperity that is about to dawn?

Unfortunately, instead of seizing the moment, all our leaders are more concerned with the dictates of petty politics, which is neither democratic nor people-oriented. One had imagined that Zardari would — much like Hercules — make a surprising turnaround and show concern for the country, if for nothing else then his own legacy. Instead, sadly, he has failed to rein in opportunist elements within his own party and has persecuted instead those genuine people within the party like Sherry Rehman and Aitzaz Ahsan who could help him rewrite history. May he still find it in him to finally lead like a leader. May he roll back General Zia and his criminal assault on Pakistan decisively and not just by paying lip service to that very important goal. What is at stake is not just the future of Pakistani non-Muslims; it is the prosperity and progress of this nation.

The writer is a lawyer. He also blogs at and can be reached at

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