Emotive nationalism

Published: March 21, 2011
The writer is professor of political science at LUMS

The writer is professor of political science at LUMS rasul.rais@tribune.com.pk

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.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • andrea
    Mar 21, 2011 - 8:56AM

    Well written analysis of a very difficult scenario. I am sure a lot of Pakistanis, myself included are happy to see the affair concluded as uneventfully as possible. Politics is the skill of compromise and the nation has to do what is in its best interests- however painful it may seem.
    In the end, the family accepted the compensation. Recommend

  • Ahmad Salman Zafar
    Mar 21, 2011 - 12:35PM

    A comprehensive analysis of a controversial and much debated issue. Why is a there perception that every step of our leaders-both military and civilian- is against the sovereignty and dignity of the state without knowing pros and cons of politics especially policy making? Dr. Rais has rightly pointed out the role of those political and religio-political parties which boycotted last general elections in inciting public anger. Before drawing a conclusion based on emotions about a a decision or a policy, we must take into account various factors. Politics is art of compromise; you have to do the best after analyzing the whole situation and keeping in view the external pressures as well.Recommend

  • NRR
    Mar 21, 2011 - 1:09PM

    Pakistan is paying for the best interest of it since its inception.
    Common people are suffering, who cares them.Keep up the national interest high
    even the state is lost…Recommend

  • Rana
    Mar 21, 2011 - 1:21PM

    Grapes are sure ” and beggars are never chooser” comes fit to Pakistani-policy makers.
    The nation should curse to the worst rulers instead of the stooges.Recommend

  • Ali
    Mar 21, 2011 - 3:06PM

    The title of your article is perfect description of the fruits of democracy!Recommend

  • Akhtarrao
    Mar 21, 2011 - 8:10PM

    Balanced,exclusive and intelligently written piece.
    But, what would you advise to our incompetent policymakers?Recommend

  • Cautious
    Mar 21, 2011 - 10:35PM

    When you put chronically inept and corrupt people into places of power – what do you really expect. They don’t change there stripes. Pakistani govt is considered two faced – both by it’s allies and the people they are suppose to represent.Recommend

  • Mar 21, 2011 - 11:07PM

    Its well written article. I wish we get such articles translated into Urdu to reach real Audiences.

    Shah Nawaz
    Seattle USARecommend

  • Mar 21, 2011 - 11:12PM

    @Rasul Bakhsh Rais

    the media and opposition parties, particularly those that boycotted the last general elections, have hysterically whipped up public emotions.

    Sir, some of the hysterical whipping up of public opinion was done by players other than those who boycotted last general elections. For example,

    a. Someone insisted that Davis did not have ‘blanket immunity’ and ‘sacrificed’ his ministerial post to uphold ‘national honour’.
    b. This minster also quoted ‘sensitive organisations’ being in agreement.
    c. The sensitive organisations put out stories about ‘thousands of Davis visas’ given by the civilians keeping the agency in the dark.
    d. Some investigating agencies even circulated stories about Davis running TTP terrorists against Pakistani interests at the bidding of ‘hostile agencies’.
    e. The ‘hissas idarey’ even hinted at parting of ways with America to save ‘national honour’ which apparently the civilians of the Federal government were bent on compromising.
    f. In the whole process nothing was heard about the victims being armed and dangerous to the public at large. Eyewitness accounts were pulled off air.

    It appears the boycotting parties and the thundering anchors were only puppets and the real puppeteers were elsewhere.Recommend

  • Arindom
    Mar 22, 2011 - 5:44AM

    The problem is that the whole concept of national honour in Pakistan biols down to – anti-India, anti-US and anti-Israel. Hence we have such diabolical policies like “strategic assets” and “strategic depth” – basically translates to harbouring terrorists and sending them abroad.

    can’t Pakistan have a different theme of national honour based on honesty, love for neighbours and hard work?Recommend

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