Obama’s Wars: Exposing Pakistan’s demons
Bob Woodward’s book, “Obama’s Wars” has opened a Pandora ’s box of controversy. The government’s rebuttals notwithstanding, Ambassador Hussain Haqqani’s comparison of Pakistan to a woman eager to be wooed, President Zardari’s astounding query about possible US support for the Pakistani Taliban and the portrayal of General Kayani as an international man of mystery will generate heated debate locally.
Most gruesome and heartrending of all revelations however, is of course our President’s comments on civilian casualties. President Zardari is reported to have said to then Director CIA Gen Hayden:
“Collateral damage worries you Americans. It does not worry me.”
It is difficult to ascertain the veracity of these claims, as they are not supported by any end notes, but critics of the president have seldom needed any proof to lash out at him.
Allies that don’t trust us
However, far more critical is the main theme of the book, which is likely to be overlooked. The entire narrative illustrates Washington’s paranoia like mistrust of Pakistan. If after nine years of partnership in the war on terror, our pivotal ally in the struggle is so critical of our intentions, should we still continue to shift responsibility and avoid serious introspection?
The biggest hazard of this state of denial is that it breeds paranoia and, as evident from the recent border-incursions and our response to them, often brinkmanship. The deficit of trust between Pakistan and the US at this critical stage can wreak havoc beyond our imagination. But somehow, the powers that be in the Islamic Republic show interest only in projecting the US as an aggressor and imperial threat. Unfortunately, we fail to see that our current predicament has arisen from the very same self-defeating and polarising propaganda.
The burden of past mistakes
If truth be told, our history is burdened with the excruciating weight of hypocrisy and double standards. A country that has can hardly make ends meet uses the most far fetched conspiracy theories to cover its own ineptness. Somehow, the US is blamed for all our ills. No one realizes that if the US could not stop us from building a nuclear bomb, indeed an international red herring, it can never hold us back if we actually want to accomplish anything. Our own arrogance, hypocrisy and myopia have kept us lagging behind. It it is not rocket science to realize that while we have been wallowing in self pity and dabbling in conspiracy theories, India and China, our two neighbors that started their journeys with us, have left us far behind.
At the end of the book is the memorandum from the National Security Advisor regarding the Afghan strategy, also dubbed “the terms sheet.” In this document, one of the two criteria listed asks:
“Are there indicators that we have begun to shift Pakistan’s strategic calculus and eventually end their active and passive support for extremists?”
Are we keeping our promises?
Here lies the biggest problem. We in Pakistan have never shown interest in shifting the strategic calculus. In our hearts, we still want to export destabilising ideologies and view our neighbors in terms of their “strategic depth”. A closer look at our plight does not allow for such imperial luxuries. A country like ours, which is on the brink of bankruptcy, deeply polarised and going through an identity crisis, cannot afford to cultivate a harvest of Frankensteins, who one day may rip it apart. Hence, the above mentioned criterion will have to be met, whether those in Islamabad like it or not.
We can, however, do it willingly, and in doing so, seek help for the sectors that enable us to stand on our feet. Granted, there are several bottlenecks in the way of such a paradigm shift, some ideological, others the constructs of our insecure imagination. Our obsession with finding an ideological identity has forced us to adopt perhaps the most xenophobic and perverted version of our faith. Hence Israel, the United States and India have certainly forged an unholy alliance to get us, even when Israel never had any conflict with us.
Similarly, the fact that we have not been able to keep our federating units satisfied and one left us in 1971, we have the fear of being encircled, which manages to alienate our neighbors. History has not helped us either. Afghanistan was the first country that opposed Pakistan’s inclusion into the United Nations, not to mention its support for the Pakhtunistan movement. The US also left us in the lurch after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Once bitten, twice shy, right? Not quite.
Building a new future
No matter how bitter our historical experiences have been, it does not mean that we cannot expect better from our allies in the future. All we have to know is what makes our neighbors, like India and China, so attractive to the global community. Even after 63 years of independence, it is not too late for our country to start afresh with the nation-building process. If our civil-military bureaucracy wants to take advantage of this opportunity, it will have to tighten its belt, allow the above-recommended paradigm shift, give up support of all non-state actors and stop opposing political ideals like secularism.
It is important to remember that while donors and our allies can only provide us with money, technology and knowledge, it is up to us to utilise them. If we use them unwisely, in all likelihood we will end up inventing even more demons. It is imperative that we focus on acquiring the knowledge, resources and technology to build the economy, and if possible, culture, rather than spending years acquiring bits and pieces of military hardware which have no productive use whatsoever. But to do that, we will have to prove ourselves a good ally and win as many friends as possible.
If we do not bury our demons today and vow to begin afresh, the history of our contradictions may finally bring us down.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.