Ayesha Ijaz Khan: Between imperialism and extremism

On the one hand, Pakistan is the subject of a vicious and malicious international smear campaign, emanating from Washington and Delhi alike. On the other hand, internally we face out-of-control militant and misogynist groups whose aim is to terrorize their own population to a point such that no state institution can check their ever growing power and brutality. Unfortunately, in spite of the gravity of the situation, neither government representatives nor the opposition leaders are able to argue the case for Pakistan effectively in international media, and nor are they able to implement cohesive and effective policy with respect to troubled areas like Swat where the local population is overwhelmed by the cruelty it faces.

There is a belief in some quarters, and indeed has been perpetuated by certain writers within Pakistan, that “India is not the enemy; terror is.” Wrong. On the other hand, there are those who claim that all of Pakistan’s troubles can be fixed if Pakistan were to distance itself from the American “war on terror.” Wrong again! The truth is somewhere in between these two extremes.

Pakistan finds itself in the unenviable position of having to formulate policy such that it is at once anti-imperialist and anti-extremist. This is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it is extremely difficult. It is like fighting a war on two fronts. But it is the only way forward if Pakistan is to survive the mounting crises.

That not all publicity is good publicity is a fact perhaps lost on our military and civilian elites. And thus the latest casualty of the Indian propaganda campaign was Mr. Imran Khan. Appearing on Barkha Dutt’s show, “We the People,” Mr. Khan answered the first question posed to him rather well, identifying the lapse in security at the Taj Hotel during the Mumbai attacks, but shortly thereafter his responses descended into chaos. “We have no government. We don’t know who is in charge. It is a complete hodgepodge here,” Mr. Khan told Barkha. Her ensuing smile said it all.

“Thank you very much Mr. Imran Khan,” she beamed. He had just given her guests the ammunition to make the case for “India’s Pakistan Problem,” as the topic of the show was called. Did Mr. Khan not realize that he was on Indian television and not on Aaj Tv or Geo Tv. That his response must answer to the discussion that is ongoing in India, which incidentally, was arguing for extreme economic and military sanctions for Pakistan on just the grounds that Mr. Khan presented, i.e., that Pakistan is anarchic and nobody is really in charge of a nuclear-armed extremist country.

If Mr. Khan is unequipped in matters of foreign policy, then perhaps it would be better for him to decline such interviews to NDTV in future. Alternatively, he should send the newly-recruited Shireen Mazari out to bat for him in such instances, as I am sure she would have done a far better job of challenging the Indian misinformation. Similarly, the government and military men should not agree to interviews without at least a serious debriefing from some of Pakistan’s seasoned foreign office veterans, the likes of Mr. Riaz Khokhar or Mr. Tareq Fatemi.

On the other side of the equation, cries of help from our fellow traumatized citizens in Swat are entirely unheeded. With the inaccessibility of the media in the area, most Pakistanis are unaware of the dire situation in Pakistan’s most picturesque of valleys. The emails I receive from Swat are deeply depressing and resentful of both the military and civilian administration. The myriad of letters pouring into this newspaper from the people of Swat and the recent insightful pieces by Hamid Mir and Nasim Zehra underscore the fact that what is going on in Swat is unique and does not fit into the standard explanation that this is merely a response to American drone attacks and intervention.

There have been no American attacks in Swat. And even if there had been, how does turning against your own population counteract the malicious designs of the Americans? It was terribly disappointing for me to hear Mr. Ayaz Amir on “Siyasi Log,” as he attempted to draw an analogy between the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria and what is going on in Swat. The ISF was voted into power by the Algerians. The people of Swat, on the other hand, are being held hostage by this armed monstrosity, and are pleading for help and emancipation from this heinous force.

It was even more disappointing to hear Samia Raheel Qazi of the Jamaat-e-Islami argue on “Live with Talat” that men who are torching girls’ schools are not Muslims. After all, how can a Muslim do such a thing? There are one billion Muslims. Is Ms. Qazi suggesting that none of them are criminals? Several months ago, a newspaper report revealed that the imam of a mosque in Gowalmandi (Lahore) had raped a girl of ten. Is Ms. Qazi suggesting that he too was not Muslim? What will we possibly gain by being in such denial? Isn’t it far better to accept the bitter truth that there is a force of Muslims in our country who have transgressed all bounds and perverted the religion such that it is closer to “jahilya” than it is to Islam and thus this “fitna” must be dealt with severely.

But when ironically Haji Adeel of the secular ANP claims that most people in Swat want “nifase sharia,” one must ask him why then would they vote for his party? And can Haji Adeel give some explanation as to what this vague term means? Can he guarantee that it will not result in the end of female education? Will he guarantee that it will not mean mutilation of dead bodies? Or is he just too scared to say otherwise?

With the notable exception of Senator Mandokhel of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party no politician appearing on television has told the people the truth about the aspirations and troubles of the people in Swat.

The writer is a London-based lawyer turned political commentator. Website: www.ayeshaijazkhan.com

Friday, January 16, 2009 (The News)