Ads that subtract

Published: September 15, 2011

The writer’s first book, Looking for America, has been published by Harper Collins India. He is a former editor of the Hindustan Times’s Mumbai edition avirook.sen@tribune.com.pk

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.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • antony
    Sep 15, 2011 - 10:18PM

    good one Sen ..Finally you are talking right approach after leaning left in previous articles.

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  • ashok sai
    Sep 15, 2011 - 10:22PM

    Spot on, kudos to the author.

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  • Bangash
    Sep 15, 2011 - 10:49PM

    Its amazing the sheer hatred that exists in Indian hearts. Even an ad that correctly points to Pakistani sacrifices and suffering in this war on terror, is attacked by these Indians.

    Another insult is reading Indian one-sided story in Pakistani newspapers now.Recommend

  • Nadir Khan (Pakistan)
    Sep 15, 2011 - 10:57PM

    Posted it (Facebook, Twitter, +1). Job well done!

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Sep 15, 2011 - 11:04PM

    @ Sen
    Tell us some thing new man these Ram kahani got old all ready.

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  • Cautious
    Sep 15, 2011 - 11:16PM

    Pakistan leaders are no better than Saddam at understanding how the USA will respond to something — you definitely need to bring in some non Muslim foreigners to advise you on public relations with the West. What you have now is pathetic.

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  • MD
    Sep 16, 2011 - 12:55AM

    Good writing Mr.Sen, I was expecting some Pakistani writer to point out at this Pak officials’ foolish PR disaster. But, no one seems to bother about how the foolish Ad further damaged Pakistan’s already badly tarnished image on world arena. I wonder which Ad Agency might have represented Pakistan, because, even a third rated Ad Agency based in Mumbai would have done a much better job. First, the very thought of publishing an Ad on 10th anniversary of 9/11 itself was a stupid idea and as if that was not enough, the caption and the words chosen for the Ad were not just ridiculous, but, outrageous as well.
    No wonder, the Ad invited ridicule and derision..

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  • faraz
    Sep 16, 2011 - 1:12AM

    The idea of using private militias to wage proxy wars is the root cause of disaster

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  • Ramis
    Sep 16, 2011 - 1:14AM

    Tsk tsk tsk … Oh how venomous and vitriolic are you my enemy. The ad has certainly not gone well with the Indian diaspora and the Indian lobby in America. So Mr. Sen you should have gotten your facts corrected. Sweeping overstatements like “The ad has been roundly ridiculed in the West” does not make good writing. The fact is that if one Googles the words “Which country can do more for you peace” almost all of the write-ups criticizing this ad are posted on Indian websites.

    I am also amazed at your ignorance when you call a nation of 180 million a small country. Moreover, what do you mean by “The Wall Street Journal … had no qualms about dissing it on the internet” dismissing it? Perhaps a typo but The Wall Street Journal has clearly stated that it does not comment on its advertisements – please correct your information here as well. And yes, another misconception (misinformation rather) … The New York Times has not rejected this ad, they simply needed a more detailed end credit – which is fairly understandable.

    And then Joe Biden is hardly a person who will advocate Pakistan’s cause – no use of quoting him – if he says that “Pakistan has chosen al Qaeda over the US on occasion” then the US has chosen India over Pakistan on every occasion – cheer up!

    Again, what is the most commonly asked question on the web regarding this ad? You come up with another one of your favorite anti-Pakistan fantasy – I mean I’m amazed how can a writer come up with so many absurdities in a single article. Even if we believe that everyone “on the web” is curious about OBL’s presence in Pakistan for 10 years then the answer to this stupid question is that why would Pakistan hide a criminal like Osama Bin Laden who was responsible for the killing of so many innocent Pakistani men women and children in addition to the personnel of its Armed Forces.

    “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” … oh what a revelation … you must start your own wikileaks type of website – – Oh bhai … do you think an Afghan intelligence official has any more credibility than that of an Indian intelligence official (over Pakistani matters)? … c’mon yar.

    So you don’t like the old familiar story beginning in 1979 … of the Afghan Jihad and then the Kashmir Jihad … of course both Jihads did and still do enjoy the sympathies of Pakistani people – but what naïve people like you fail to understand is that those Jihadis are different from Al Qaeda’s militants – and when you attack them on the behest of a super power then they have no choice but to attack you in retaliation. You cannot disown them, kill them and wipe them all out – had it been so easy then the mighty Soviet Union would not have been defeated.

    Mr. Sen, don’t lose your sleep over one ad. It will not sway American opinion in Pakistan’s favor overnight … because they too have many simpletons like you out there.Recommend

  • Shock Horror
    Sep 16, 2011 - 2:29AM

    As usual Deep State with its strategic depth policy was trying its best to be too clever by half. What else does one expect?

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  • Adeel Ahmed
    Sep 16, 2011 - 10:17AM

    @Ramis: This is exactly the kind of misinformation India spreads… they want the world to see Afghan jihad and Kashmir jihad at par with Al Qaeda terrorism, etc…
    They want the world to see their freedom struggle as a terror campaign.
    But no matter what they try, their own (well some at least) intellectuals are voicing their discontent, and a campaign is being built, against the blatant human rights violations, mass graves, rape, etc in Indian-held Kashmir.

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  • Feroz
    Sep 16, 2011 - 10:22AM

    Why does an Indian have to write this critical review of the Ad ? Are there not enough rational citizens in Pakistan who can debate the issue ?

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  • Beta
    Sep 16, 2011 - 11:03AM

    @Ramis:

    No need for such a lengthy comment, just say ‘denial’, we can understand :)

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  • from india
    Sep 16, 2011 - 12:26PM

    pakistan is not fighting any war on terror on behalf of the world, its only facing the wrath of terror it once supported for years !!

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  • Dee Cee
    Sep 16, 2011 - 2:01PM

    As an Indian, I can say that this is not a very solid article, and lacks in grace. There is no denying that Pakistan has lost many, many people, and even though they have suffered for their own mistakes. The tone of the article could have been respectful towards the suffering, and point out the mistakes in a calmer manner. Also, it could point out that USA was also responsible for the Afghan Jehad and the moral culpability doesn’t lie with Pakistan alone. India is responsible for Kashmir jehad as well, and we cannot blame only Pakistan for fomenting trouble across the border. Yes, I think that Pakistan can do more, and it can be a terror-free, prosperous state, but I would not recommend sarcasm and patroniozing as tools for convincing our brothers across the border. Even in their mistakes, they deserve respect and sympathy for their suffering!

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  • John B
    Sep 16, 2011 - 7:04PM

    The ad was ill timed, poorly written, cheesy, and a major blunder in foreign policy propaganda. Worse than used car sales man’s ad.

    How about We stand shoulder to shouder at this time with you-Pakistan.

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  • Eesa
    Sep 17, 2011 - 10:17PM

    I am Indian, but I do not believe this type of analysis. The writer proves much biased. India has played no role in this war-on-terror and it is just waiting for better conditions in Afghanistan for its businesses. People say India always goes for its economy then it thinks for any benifit to the world population. Firsyt we are businessmen then we are humans.
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