One of the worst things successive governments in Pakistan have done is to deny their people the truth. Although this has been more common during dictatorships, democratic dispensations have not been far behind in deceiving the public. The recent brutal and seemingly senseless attack by Nato force at Salala, once again raises several questions about the US-Pakistan relationship. In retaliation, among other things, Pakistan has asked the US to vacate the Shamsi airbase. It has also been brought to our attention that the airbase was leased to the UAE back in 1992, under the watch of a PML-N government. What were the terms of this lease? Did the lease allow the UAE to sublet the airbase to a third party without the consent of the host country? Is it appropriate to lease an airbase to a foreign country regardless of whether it is being used to fly drones or hunt birds? Did the elected parliament ever debate such questions? Or was the base leased in a secret deal?
A lack of transparency plagued the war on terror during Musharraf’s time. Instead of taking people into confidence on the nature of the threat from both the Taliban and the Americans, the Musharraf government played a double game. As a result, neither the Americans, nor the Taliban, nor the Pakistani people were satisfied. When the PPP government took over in 2008, it was a rough position for them to be in, but while one hoped that a democratic government would work towards building that much needed public consensus, Zardari instead reneged on promises to restore the judges wrongly deposed off by Musharraf. As a result, he alienated both the PML-N, a large opposition party that could have helped build the required public opinion, as well as large sections of the intelligentsia and civil society. The crucial time lost by dilly-dallying on the judges’ issue strengthened extremist forces and Pakistan lost valuable time in correcting the wrongs of a dictator.
With the public in the dark, a lack of consolidated opinion and extremist forces on the advantage, the Zardari coalition government hobbled along lopsided. Somewhere along the line, however, the Americans decided that they were being deceived and that it was payback time. Americans do, after all, have a vindictive streak. A number of incidents followed in which the primary American objective was to humiliate Pakistan. Raymond Davis, the May 2 OBL raid, memogate (planting Mansoor Ijaz to create further divisions between Pakistan’s civilian and military apparatus could be a potential American ploy) and now Salala. Barring Salala, in all three of the other three cases, our establishment, assisted by sections of the media and opposition, played right into the hands of the Americans.
In the meantime, middle-class urban Pakistanis, accustomed to being deceived and hence prone to thinking the worst of their own government, take the humiliation personally. With rising anti-Americanism, the arena is open to demagogues looking to exploit that sentiment. Enter Imran Khan. He offers easy solutions that appeal to a people on the edge and humiliated by a supposed ally. Ironically, however, if his policies are ever implemented, the very middle class that supports Imran would be the hardest hit economically. Iran stood up to America, goes the argument and it does not dare attack Iran. But is that really true?
Twice in November, Iranian nuclear facilities were targeted. The Iranian government’s response has been worse than that of the Pakistani government. Fearing humiliation among its people, Iran denied that the Isfahan attack took place, but satellite imagery confirmed that a blast rocked Isfahan’s uranium enrichment facility. A few weeks ago, in Tehran, a blast killed 30 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, including General Hassan Moghadam, the head of the Iranian missile defence programme. Iran claimed that the explosion occurred as a result of testing new weapons, but Israeli sources say otherwise. To top it off, already reeling under economic sanctions, a new set of measures targeting Iran’s oil industry have been taken by the US and the European Union, banning foreign firms from doing business with the Iranian central bank. Perusing a large sampling of the WikiLeaks cables, it was instructive that 75 per cent of them revolved around how the US could make Iran economically unviable.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2011.