As the Osama bin Laden story unfolded, it became the staple of the news, television talk shows, social media, dinner party conversation — in fact it was the only thing that everyone, everywhere was talking about. Amazed but largely not disbelieving, the conversation rapidly moved from Osama — there was a sigh of relief that he was gone — to how the radar (and take that to read the military) had failed us. In the middle, we debated the issues of competence and complicity and concluded both were in play. Competence or complicity, or both, the net result was an overwhelming sense of shame. How could we have let this slip through the radar?
That sense of shame has to get you wondering. What is it that we are so ashamed of? Are we ashamed of the fact that the Americans, in true Steven Segal movie mode, flew in the dead of night, got their man with minimum fuss, left a calling card so there would be no uncertainty as to what had happened and left without so much as getting anyone in Islamabad or Rawalpindi out of bed? “Yes” said everyone I spoke to. “It is shameful what has happened, as a Pakistani I am ashamed that my territory and sovereignty has been violated.”
This is serious stuff. So where do we pin the blame? What will make us feel better? How do we deal with this terrible blow to our national pride and, even more terrible, to our national psyche? It’s all the radars fault, it didn’t alert our armed forces to the fact that helicopters were flying in and were about to steal our honour and leave us emasculated and ashamed.
It has got to be the radar. But then, we have never stopped to wonder why it is that the radar has never caught anything over the last 63 years. We have never paused to think about how so much has slipped in under the radar. Our radar has not caught the fact that we are one of the most illiterate nations in the world. It has not caught abject poverty where, according to any standard, close to half our population lives at below the poverty line. It has not caught the fact that we cannot provide our citizens with the most basic of rights and facilities. There is no healthcare, access to clean drinking water is far from universal, tens of millions of Pakistani children will never see the inside of a school, and good law and order sounds like an ideal, gone Awol. Our radar has not caught the fact that women are raped and murdered in the name of honour. It has not caught the fact that we murder under the guise of religion and so leave whole segments of our population vulnerable and in constant fear for their lives. Nor has it caught the fact that we trade children for sex. It has not been able to detect the massive misappropriations of public funds by corrupt generals and politicians.
The radar is and has been non-functional from the very beginning. The question is why aren’t we ashamed of all that it has let slip through? Why don’t we feel the same huge sense of shame for an illiterate population as we do for two helicopters flying in undetected? Is it because we do not have our priorities right?
We have spent all of our existence blaming others for our woes. The reality is that it is what it is and now what are we going to do about it? We have muddled along and managed to survive thus far on foreign aid and debt. In all this time we have done little or nothing to deal with all the problems that have slipped by the radar. It is time we took stock of Pakistan, its problems, its resources and then prioritised the use of those resources to achieve optimal results. We need to understand that until you build a nation that is capable of standing on its feet and being a functional important contributing member of the comity of nations there really isn’t anything you can do when your radar doesn’t work.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2011.
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