Walking on both sides - Ghazi Salahuddin - Sunday, February 20, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=32096&Cat=9&dt=2/20/2011

Though the World Cup has come as a welcome diversion, whipping up our passion for cricket, the gravity of our political circumstances is bound to keep us on edge. The Raymond Davis affair, with its elements of a spy thriller, has the potential of generating unexpected outcomes. There is this ominous surge in anger and frustration at the popular level in Pakistan. One wonders if our present rulers have the ability to defuse a highly volatile situation.

In a larger perspective, there are continuing worries about the future of Pakistan’s polity and its sense of direction. Already, in the wake of Salmaan Taseer’s murder, the moderates were made to lose considerable ground to the extremists. As a consequence, the room for a rational debate on ideological issues that have polarised Pakistan is drastically restricted.

It is in this environment that the Davis case caused an eruption in an emotional context. True to its form, the PPP-led government has not been sensible in handling a situation that is surely very tricky. It is intriguing that no official position on the question of immunity has yet been taken, though the Mozang incident had occurred on January 27. Instead, the federal government has sought three more weeks to submit its report to the Lahore High Court.

Meanwhile, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not retained as the foreign minister when the new, abridged cabinet was sworn in on February 11, has dropped a minor bombshell by addressing a press conference on Wednesday in which he disclosed the finding of the foreign office that Davis did not enjoy “blanket immunity”, as demanded by the United States. He also defended his performance as the foreign minister in a manner that seemed like the launching of a campaign for leadership in a party that has demonstrated a knack for disregarding the old guard.

Though he was profuse in his protestations of loyalty to the party, invoking the legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir, his move was plainly an act of rebellion against the Zardari clique. There is bound to be some speculation about the timing of Shah Mehmood’s press conference shown live on news channels. Is something cooking, somewhere? Would this have some bearing on how the Davis affair is finally resolved?

Be that as it may, Shah Mehmood’s performance was very impressive. It would be hard for any of the Zardari partisans to match his articulation and his intellectual stature. More significantly, his reputation is not tainted by any moral or financial scandal. Besides, he appears to have consciously cultivated prime ministerial attributes. In that sense, it would be interesting to watch his moves in the near future.

If this means that there may be some plans in the works that are not presently visible in the blinding dust that is raised by the Davis affair. There is, for instance, the deadline given by the Nawaz league to the PPP to execute a 10-point agenda. It is expiring next week and Nawaz Sharif said on Friday that “keeping in view the national interest”, no more time would be given for its implementation.

With all this, the most crucial aspect of the crisis of Pakistan at this time is the country’s relationship with the United States. That it has taken a nosedive is apparent. On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in New York that Pakistan risked major instability if it did not implement reforms and stop fomenting anti-American sentiment.

Earlier in the week, a sense of frustration on Pakistan’s stance was expressed in a hearing at the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in Washington. CIA Director Leon Panetta described the US-Pakistan relationship as “very complicated”. And the Committee’s Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein remarked that the ISI “walks both sides of the street”, helping the United States at times and hesitating to send forces to fight the Taliban in North Waziristan.

Now, this ability to walk both sides of the street would appear to be a particular trait of Pakistan. Contradictions are generally integral to the making of every individual and, also, every nation. America raises high the banner of democracy and has traditionally supported dictators across the world. But we have a way of nurturing our contradictions with a certain passion. Take the case of our love-hate relationship with the United States.

I have sometime quoted George Orwell’s expression of “doublethink” that he had used in Nineteen Eighty Four in a specific context. It means “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them”. I think that this tendency of the Pakistani mind to delude itself into believing what may not be true is best reflected in the wide gulf that exists between our motives and our actions.

A recent finding of our Gallup poll said that eighty-two per cent of Pakistanis go to the mosque at least once a week. Though it does seem to be a very high percentage, it is based on what people told the pollsters. And how does it reflect in the collective moral and social behaviour of the people? I need not dwell on this. The overall state of our society, ranging from the quality of our governance to the extent of corruption in all sectors, is simply revolting. One newspaper headline on Saturday: Robber beaten to death in Karachi.

I am also puzzled by how we sometimes flex our nuclear muscle and try to cover our empty stomach, metaphorically speaking. We become extremely self-righteous in some matters and shy away from accepting the reality that is certified by our human development indicators. The state of education in Pakistan may be too heartbreaking to contemplate. The extent of social injustice that exists in our feudal and tribal domains is as disturbing as the degree of poverty in our urban centres.

In a recent article, Stephen Cohen noted that Pakistan’s ranking in the UNDP’s Human Development Index slipped from 120 in 1991 to 138 in 2002 to 141 in 2009. It is worse than Congo and Myanmar and only just above Swaziland and Angola, all countries with much weaker economies. We may look at Stephen Cohen as an expert who does not wish Pakistan well. But we have to check if the figures he is quoting are all concocted. We also have the option of making our own assessment of the situation that exists on the ground.

Considering the reality of our existence in all its dimensions, we need to seriously think about how we can change all this so that we are able to set our house in order and make Pakistan a nation we will rightly be proud of. Can we even begin to do that in the midst of all this extremism, emotionalism and intolerance?

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail. com

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