Sunday, March 15, 2009

Our skewed world view won't let us see the real Pakistan

"We face a related problem in Afghanistan where we are still hoping to build the
state we want the Afghans to want, rather than the state that they actually
want. Ask many Afghans which state they hope their own will resemble in a few
decades and the answer is "Iran". "

Editorial Comment

The author wants us to re examine the whole notion of Pakistan being a failed state. He characterizes it as a state who has learnt the art of damsel in distress. This is a kinder version of my view which is that of a Pakistan as a whore or a kept woman who constantly raises the spectre of being chased by the Mullah and then secretly meets with the Mullah in the darkness of night. Pakistan's future seems to lie between being raped by the Mullah or the West.

Is there a real possibility that Pakistan could become the Sunni version of Iran? Definitely.For Iran the only way to avoid the predicament of Pakistan was to shut off it's borders to the West but this could not be done except by first getting rid of the Shah and other colonised Iranians. This is the scenario that keeps Western planners sleepless. With Pakistan will go Afghanistan, Bangladesh and a potentially destablised India.

What the West knows is that except for a minority of the elite who are nurtured by them the general population in the Muslim world whether Shia or Sunni regard them as the real enemy. This does not mean that these people are Taliban sympathisers( evidenced by the way they vote) but given the choice between being raped by the West or the Taliban, they would choose the Taliban ( their own people).

Events are moving with the speed of light and battle lines are being drawn for the coming blood shed. Thirty five thousand US troops will not be enough in Afghanistan and neither will attacking Iran be an option. Withdrawal of US troops from Iraq will not be an option. The legacy of Bush will consume the Middle East in flames and Obama will be too busy dousing fires at home to come out with a sensible Foreign policy. People like Chas Freeman who could have made a difference have been sidelined by people who do not understand what havoc they have already wrought.

There is no shortage of people in the US who understand the scenario that I have outlined better than me and who could offer a solution out of this which will work but their voices are constantly silenced and their participation in decision making sabotaged. The reckoning to the US of this madness has already happened in a loss of its standing and prestige in the world. Can this loss of credibility get any worse? Read this essay again in six months ( yes 6 months) and you will see the speed of the deterioration.


--- On Sun, 3/15/09, sshusain@aol. com wrote:

To see this story with its related links on the uk site, go to free/2009/ mar/15/jason- burke-pakistan

Our skewed world view won't let us see the real Pakistan

The west can no longer afford to impose its values and notions of democracy on

countries that neither want nor need them

Jason Burke

Sunday March 15 2009

The Observer

First for the good news: Pakistan is not about to explode. The Islamic militants

are not going to take power tomorrow; the nuclear weapons are not about to be

trafficked to al-Qaida; the army is not about to send the Afghan Taliban to

invade India; a civil war is unlikely.

The bad news is that Pakistan poses us questions that are much more profound

than those we would face if this nation of 170m, the world's second biggest

Muslim state, were simply a failed state. If Pakistan collapsed, we would be

faced by a serious security challenge. But the resilience of Pakistan and the

nation's continuing collective refusal to do what the west would like it to

together pose questions with implications far beyond simple security concerns.

They are about our ability to influence events in far-off places, our capacity

to analyse and understand the behaviour and perceived interests of other nations

and cultures, about our ability to deal with difference, about how we see the


Pakistan has very grave problems. In the last two years, I have reported on

bloody ethnic and political riots, on violent demonstrations, from the front

line of a vicious war against radical Islamic insurgents. I spent a day with

Benazir Bhutto a week before she was assassinated and covered the series of

murderous attacks committed at home and abroad by militant groups based in

Pakistan with shadowy connections to its security services. There is an economic

crisis and social problems - illiteracy, domestic violence, drug addiction - of

grotesque proportions. Osama bin Laden is probably on Pakistani soil.

For many developing nations, all this would signal the state's total

disintegration. This partly explains why Pakistan's collapse is so often

predicted. The nation's meltdown was forecast when its eastern half seceded to

become Bangladesh in 1971, during the violence that preceded General Zia

ul-Haq's coup in 1977, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, when Zia was killed

in 1988, during the horrific sectarian violence of the early Nineties, through

sundry ethnic insurgencies, after 9/11, after the 2007 death of Bhutto and now

after yet another political crisis. These predictions have been consistently

proved wrong. The most recent will be too. Yesterday, tempers were already


Some of the perpetual international hysteria is stoked by the Pakistanis

themselves. Successive governments have perfected the art of negotiating by

pointing a gun to their own heads. They know that their nation's strategic

importance guarantees the financial life support they need from the

international community. More broadly, our understanding of Pakistan is skewed.

This is in part due to centuries of historical baggage. Though few would quote

Emile Zola on contemporary France, Winston Churchill, who as a young man fought

on the North-West Frontier, is regularly cited to explain today's insurgency.

This legacy also includes stereotypes of "Mad Mullahs" running amok, an image

fuelled by television footage that highlights ranting demonstrators from

Pakistan's Islamist parties though they have never won more than 14% in an


For many Britons, Pakistan represents "the other" - chaotic, distant, exotic,

dirty, hot, fanatical and threatening. Yet at the same time, Pakistan seems very

familiar. There is the English language, cricket, kebabs and curries and figures

such as Imran Khan. There are a million-odd Britons of Pakistani-descent who

over four decades have largely integrated far better in the UK than often


It is the tension between these two largely imaginary Pakistans that leads to

such strong reactions in Britain. We see the country as plunged in a struggle

between the frighteningly foreign and the familiar, between fanaticism and

western democracy, values, our vision of the world and how it should be ordered.

Yet while we are fretting about Pakistan's imminent disintegration, we are blind

to the really important change.

Recent years have seen the consolidation of a new Pakistani identity between

these two extremes. It is nationalist, conservative in religious and social

terms and much more aggressive in asserting what are seen, rightly or wrongly,

as local "Pakistani" interests. It is a mix of patriotic chauvinism and moderate

Islamism that is currently heavily informed by a distorted view of the world

sadly all too familiar across the entire Muslim world. This means that for many

Pakistanis, the west is rapacious and hostile. Admiration for the British and

desire for holidays in London have been replaced by a view of the UK as

"America's poodle" and dreams of Dubai or Malaysia. The 9/11 attacks are seen,

even by senior army officers, as a put-up job by Mossad, the CIA or both. The

Indians, the old enemy, are seen as running riot in Afghanistan where the

Taliban are "freedom fighters". AQ Khan, the nuclear scientist seen as a

bomb-selling criminal by the West, is a hero. Democracy is seen as the best

system, but only if democracy results in governments that take decisions that

reflect the sentiments of most Pakistanis, not just those of the Anglophone,

westernised elite among whom western policy-makers, politicians and journalists

tend to chose their interlocutors.

This view of the world is most common among the new, urban middle classes in

Pakistan, much larger after a decade of fast and uneven economic growth. It is

this class that provides the bulk of the country's military officers and

bureaucrats. This in part explains the Pakistani security establishment' s dogged

support for elements within the Taliban. The infamous ISI spy agency is largely

staffed by soldiers and the army is a reflection of society. For the ISI, as for

many Pakistanis, supporting certain insurgent factions in Afghanistan is seen as

the rational choice. If this trend continues, it poses us problems rather

different from those posed by a failed state. Instead, you have a nuclear armed

nation with a large population that is increasingly vocal and which sees the

world very differently from us.

We face a related problem in Afghanistan where we are still hoping to build the

state we want the Afghans to want, rather than the state that they actually

want. Ask many Afghans which state they hope their own will resemble in a few

decades and the answer is "Iran". Dozens of interviews with senior western

generals, diplomats and officials in Kabul last week have shown me how deeply

the years of conflict and "nation-building" have dented confidence in our

ability to transplant western values. Our interest in Afghanistan has been

reduced to preventing it from becoming a platform for threats to the west. In

Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the west has glimpsed the limits to its power and to

the supposedly universal attraction of its values.

The west's dreams of a comfortable post-Cold War era have been rudely shaken. We

have been forced reluctantly to accept the independence and influence of China

and Russia. These are countries that we recognise as difficult international

actors pursuing agendas popular with substantial proportions of their citizens.

Other countries, particularly those less troubled than Pakistan or Afghanistan,

are likely soon to join that list.

This poses a critical challenge in foreign policy. Worrying about the imminent

collapse of Pakistan is not going to help us find answers to the really

difficult questions that Pakistan poses.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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