From the beginning of the Raymond Davis story that started with the killing of two Pakistani youth, about two months ago, to the acceptance of blood money by their relatives and his release and departure, the media and opposition parties, particularly those that boycotted the last general elections, have hysterically whipped up public emotions. This tragic incident in Lahore had all the ingredients to incite public anger — an American working for the CIA, his controversial background and seven bullets shot into the bodies of two young Pakistanis. A third man, riding a motorbike, was crushed by another vehicle following the one Mr Davis was riding, adding more sentiment to the debate.
Regarding the involvement of an American with a controversial status, too many stories and narratives about what kind of job he was doing in Pakistan have dominated the television screens of Pakistan and the social spaces. Mr Davis has left the country, but the shadow of what he did, the controversy of the bloody money affair and the role of the government are not leaving us anytime soon. Let us see what has been and continues to be the focus of debate — Pakistan is no longer a sovereign state, the ruling parties both in Punjab and in the centre have compromised national sovereignty, we have no national honour and dignity, our elected leaders are working for foreign powers, notably the United States, and Washington has too many spooks and agents to create trouble in Pakistan and influence our national politics and security.
It is not for the first time, though, that we are transfixed on these themes. With the beginning of the war on terror, or whatever it is, and even going back to the earlier decades in Pakistan’s history, we have devoted too much of our time cribbing about national honour and sovereignty. It is not to deny the fact that national honour, sovereignty and patriotism are not important issues; they are. And I will be the last person to say that our rulers, both military and civilian, haven’t compromised on them.
The question is, how can we best redeem our national honour and protect our sovereignty? First of all, sovereignty and national honour are subjective terms. We know what we mean by them and understand that they have social and political significance, but it is hard to practically measure when they have been lost and when they have been protected. They are also relative, not absolute. The rulers work in a different world of information than laypersons and interpret decisions and actions of those in power from the outside. Those in power have a different ranking of the priorities and pressures that they face, and of the choices that they have to make in a very constraining environment. No matter how powerful a state is, its rulers don’t have the luxury of unlimited choices; they must choose the least painful, but even then, things may not turn out the way they wish to.
The people understand these dilemmas when the perceptual gap between the rulers and the populations they rule is narrow or non-existent. In our case, it is too wide. Every right or wrong step of the government is seen as misdirected, a bad choice and in conflict with public interest. Never can the world of politics be seen in black and white.
We may discover the positive energy of national honour in two overlapping commitments — dependence on our national resources and rational ranking of our national and foreign priorities. Emotionalism will only make us delusional, misdirect us and keep us fighting among ourselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2011.