After years of hearing the US say that it hasn’t done enough to fight terrorism, the Pakistan government spoke out on the anniversary of 9/11, through an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. And it asked a somewhat unfortunately framed question: “Which country can do more for your Peace?”
The answer is simple: Pakistan. It could do a lot more.
This isn’t the response the people who paid for the ad would have liked. The copy was naively written with the expectation that all the statistics provided, and the picture of a slain leader inserted, would somehow give Pakistan martyr status. A small country (180 million), fighting valiantly for the greater good of the world (seven billion) at great cost to its citizens surely deserves more credit — and less blame.
Not so fast. The ad has been roundly ridiculed in the West. The Wall Street Journal, which got paid to print it (under the story “When the towers came down”), had no qualms about dissing it on the internet. The New York Times reportedly refused to print it, saying it needed clarity on exactly who was placing the ad.
The ad provides yet another anniversary talking point for the theme of the war on terror, which for some time now has been: Pakistan could do more. As the Pakistan government tried to put its propaganda out, US Vice-President Joe Biden told CNN that Pakistan has chosen al Qaeda over the US on occasion. On the web, the most commonly asked question in response to the ad was: “So how do they explain hiding Osama for 10 years?”
The latest issue of The New Yorker quotes an Afghan intelligence official as saying an ISI operative helped Osama escape from Tora Bora in 2001. None of this sits very well with anyone who cannot separate the actions of the Pakistani state from the intentions of its people. To them, ‘Pakistan’ (all-inclusive) is the villain; a victim, if at all, of its own deviousness.
Those who have led Pakistan have done their deceitful best to suggest they are merely reflecting the will of the people. Or, as in the case of the ill-conceived advertisement, relating their suffering. And while every story has several sides, the one that the Pakistani state chooses to tell is consistently the least credible.
In July, shortly after Osama bin Laden was eliminated, Pervez Musharraf spoke at Rice University’s Baker Institute. With candour — one of the compensations for the loss of power — he outlined how Islamic militancy was born and bred.
The basic story is a familiar one, beginning in 1979. Pakistan, said Musharraf, now faced a two-front threat: India to the east and the Russo-Afghan forces to the west. It was in US’s interest to check soviet expansion.
“We called it a holy war. When I say we, I mean United States and Pakistan also…. We wanted to draw holy warriors from all over the Muslim world. And we did so… we got about 25-30,000 mujahideen…. Armed them and pumped them into Afghanistan.” He further said: “We also trained the Taliban from the tribal agencies of Pakistan and sent them into Afghanistan.”
Even if we disregard the medieval thinking behind starting a ‘holy war’ in the late 20th century, we are still left with the problem of what to do at the end of it. According to Musharraf, 10 years of jihad ended in victory for the holy warriors. The cold war was over.
But why didn’t the warriors go back home — or retire? Because they found employment. According to Musharraf, at exactly this time the “freedom struggle” in Kashmir had begun, “for which there was great public sympathy in Pakistan. And therefore dozens of mujahideen groups erupted.”
Two things jump out from this quote. First, is the claim that there was great (and militant) public sympathy for the cause. And second, that the Pakistani state was only following the will of the people when arming civilian groups. I had to ask the question: have Pakistanis become so delusional since 1979 that they must hop from one holy war to another? Or is the state turning thousands of them into terrorists? And then putting out stupid newspaper advertisements.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2011.