News from Pakistan remains negative. Anything related to the national economy reads like calamity. People agree that this is the toughest period in its history. Anywhere else in the world, the economy would be priority number one, but not in Pakistan. Alas, all the demands of the economy are pragmatic and non-ideological, requiring flexibility of conduct instead of toughness. But Pakistan will not behave like Thailand.
Describing Pakistan’s internal scene is like an exercise in cultivating despair. Is spreading despair the right thing to do? Normally no, but a dose of realism is probably necessary to ignite awareness and remould state behaviour. Calamity should concentrate the mind and recommend pragmatism mixed liberally with flexibility. Since inside Pakistan most remedies have receded from national grasp, suppleness in foreign policy is possible and should be adopted. That’s what Sri Lanka did while facing terrorism and is now growing at a nice clip.
On the contrary, we are getting tough in foreign policy. Our honour dictates challenge rather than pliancy. We should have celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden and thanked the US for killing him, but we got offended instead. We should have taken the ‘memo case’ as an effort on the part of an elected government to throw off the yoke of military dominance; instead, we brought a case of treason against it. Treason in Pakistan is treason against the army. The army is equated with the state.
We should have done the above on the basis of the political consensus reflected in the thinking of the PML-N and the PPP about the misfortunes of a national security state. Instead, the politicians decided to destroy the consensus. Now anger is policy. And anger is outwardly directed, in a kind of externalisation of internal malaise. The al Qaeda and Taliban dominate our ungoverned spaces as well as the governed ones. Worse, they govern our minds. Their strength is in the penetration of their ideology of terror into our military institutions.
The common man must live. We know from history that persuasion and terror are equally balanced as moulders of the mind — with terror weighing a little heavier. When we handed over Swat to the Taliban, we actually showcased the persuasive power of terror. It is not right to say that the Swat template is wrong simply because the army has driven Mullah Fazlullah out. This ‘victory’ has not proved that al Qaeda and Taliban can never take over in Pakistan. On the road that goes from Peshawar to Kohat and then onward to Hangu and Kurram, the takeover is visible in a kind of diarchy with terrorists calling the shots.
Niccolo Machiavelli used the term ‘unarmed prophet’ for Girolamo Savonarola in Renaissance Florence and recommended that for success, the raging anti-fahashi Dominican priest should have armed himself. Savonarola was cut to pieces in the city centre. Isaac Deutscher wrote his famous book The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921 (1954), borrowing Machiavelli’s term. Today, Hafiz Saeed leads the 40-party Defence of Pakistan Council — many banned and semi-banned — and he is the ‘prophet armed’ guaranteed to win in tandem with al Qaeda. Machiavelli would nod vigorously at what is going on.
The al Qaeda did not lose in Swat. If it hadn’t been for the drones, the al Qaeda could have made bigger inroads into the army. By being anti-US — which means internationally isolated — we are making its job easier. You want to win the next election? Push two buttons: anti-US and pro-Taliban. After that, you should know who will really win.
If you want cure, first you must diagnose. But adopting misdiagnosis as a policy will ensure defeat by terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2012.