Cameron was right: Pakistan has some soul searching to do

The outrage at David Cameron's criticism of Pakistan's role in combating terrorism hides the truth: Pakistan is a fractured society in need of rediscovering a sense of unity with which it can defeat the Taliban, argues Zainab Mahmood.
Zainab Mahmood
5 August 2010

Spin-offs never quite receive the same success as the originals that inspire them. Sequels to television shows, famous books or even geographic entities splitting from the primary country especially when animosity, political manoeuvring and economics is involved, rarely ever have a fairy-tale ending.

Pakistan never did get a very good deal at partition. For instance, it doesn’t help that by embracing a new name and new culture and state religion we chose to disavow our historical and cultural past that is associated with the Indian subcontinent. We lost claims to centuries of our heritage, political, literary and social and architectural traditions that are now known to the world purely as “Indian” regardless of the contributions of people and communities that now fall within Pakistan’s borders. The Mughals were Indian, so was Razia Sultana, Moinuddin Chishti, Deputy Nazir Ahmad, Bulleh Shah, Ghalib and countless other muslim poets, musicians, intellectuals who were born and bred in India, infused with Indian culture and traditions yet whose descendants now call themselves Pakistani. Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s forgotten son, could easily have been remembered as an Indian had he accepted Pandit Nehru’s offer to take on ministerial duties in his cabinet with enormous resources and money at his disposal to establish a world-class research centre.

Today the only two South Asian muslims named in Forbe’s billionaire list are, you guessed it, Indian. The backdrop for Merchant Ivory films, post-partition British literature and modern day dramas and period films about the subcontinent is always India. Not to mention the ubiquitous fascination with the clothes, the food, the dance and the lifestyle which inspires the Bollywood-styled displays of Indian film stars homes at Selfridges in London and the enormous number of Indian celebrities waxed in at Madame Tussauds. No imperialist nation has had such a long and tenacious love affair with one of its colonies as England harbours with India.

We, on the other hand, gained independence but we also gained the distrust and enormous challenge that comes with establishing a new identity with which the world could henceforth recognise us. Unfortunately, 63 years on and we still haven’t figured out who we are. In a recent editorial, respected columnist Irfan Hussain, in answering criticism levied against Pakistan’s role in the war on terror, said that if the world was concerned as to whose side Pakistan was on, the answer is simple; “on its own side”, of course.

But what the author means by this is painstakingly unclear to the silently suffering majority in Pakistan. Federal Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira while speaking to Sky News following the burning of comically misspelt effigies in Pakistan said that David Cameron’s comments were hurtful since Pakistani people, leaders and law enforcement agencies had made enormous sacrifices to support the war on terror. Well at least he got one out of three right; neither the corrupt political leadership nor the officers in heavily decorated uniforms have the faintest idea about the sacrifices of the common folk - the average people blown-up in suicide blasts, the blue-collar workers, the police officers, check-post guards, the havaldars and sipahis who risk their lives every single day fighting the unknown enemy for a cause they do not fully understand. Villages have disappeared, schools, hospitals, communities razed to the ground, thousands and thousands of devastated families, internally displaced people and refugees from drone-attacked zones are living in camps or relocated to over-crowded cities. Setting aside the billions of dollars of losses we incur as a result of the armed struggle, impacting our manufacturing, agricultural, farming and other industries and infrastructure, the human cost of this war is shockingly high, so whose side did the writer say we are on?

David Cameron is not wrong about Pakistan’s paradoxical situation. That is what has everyone in such a state of over-active denial; we cannot in all honesty admit to ourselves or to the world what we know is the truth. Needless to say today we stand to gain the most from the elimination of islamist terrorism as they have chosen Pakistan as a strategic end-zone, a laboratory for all their planning and experiments. Destroying unwanted crops with billions of dollars in aid, foreign military training and equipment and elaborate intelligence networks, all at the expense of the quality of life of the average Pakistani, will yield nothing but millions of acres of destroyed crop. As long as the land is fertile, an opportunistic farmer will come along and sow the seeds of extremism again.

At the same time there is nothing peculiar or surprising about David Cameron gladly supping with the Indian delegation that welcomed him. With billions of pounds worth of investment coming in to the United Kingdom from India, more than from Japan, China and Canada combined and second now only to the United States, not to mention, man power, students, professionals, expertise and the insatiable obsession of the British with Indian culture and curry, it is no wonder that our colonists have chosen India as their Joseph, Britain’s favourite son.

And why not, any self-respecting and neutral observer would ask? Indian firms employ almost a million people in the UK, 57% of British companies are outsourcing to India while Indian exports to Britian far exceed the value of imports coming in. Tata, an Indian conglomerate is the largest single manufacturer in the UK and also added Jaguar, a symbol of british suaveness and luxury, to its expanding list of owned businesses in 2007. UK giants Marks and Spencer as well as Tesco have benefitted enormously by looking to India for back-sourcing their operations in order to avoid financial catastrophe. The picture could not be clearer, with India opening doors to Russia, Israel, South Korea and looking to China as a trading partner, Britian is vying for a lucrative spot on this competitive list and has gone as far as to lift the nuclear ban on India allowing for the free trade and exchange of nuclear technology. London is set to overtake Paris and Chicago as the fourth largest economy among world cities by 2020 and it wouldn’t be wrong to say the Indians will be benefitting greatly from the ride.

Pakistan on the other hand, has struggled with corrupt regimes, failing businesses, bankrupt and defaulting companies and a jittery economy fighting inflation, devaluation, unemployment and continual losses. PIA reported a loss of 5 billion rupees in the first quarter of this year, while the second largest car manufacturer Honda atlas suffered losses of 900 million rupees. The controversy surrounding the death of twelve-year-old Iqbal Masih, along with other exacerbating factors, led to losses close to 100 million dollars for the world famous carpet manufacturing industry in Pakistan.

Almost every product circulating in the world today has origins in China, reshaping the global marketplace, but where Chinese made products are struggling to establish a reputation for reliability and durability, India is establishing itself as a centre of quality control and pioneering expertise. Where Pakistan failed to even feature, India has managed to capitalise with its “incredible India” marketability abroad. They might be suffering from the same problems that plague us, such as extreme poverty, disparity of resources, ethnic rivalries, traditionalists denouncing capitalism and modernity, but they have benefitted from one thing that stands out above the rest as possibly the single largest factor behind their success – nationalism. Indian first, Muslim, Gujarati, Telugu, Brahmin, Dahiya second.

That is where we have failed miserably, allowing religious and provincial identities to supersede the united national identity. If we cannot sit together at one table to productively discuss how to take the country forward without hurling abuse and blaming each other or declaring our own as kafirs, then how can we expect anyone else to listen? We have the same genetic code, intellect, talent, and historical and cultural legacy of our multi-ethnic forefathers, but we malign them, denounce them and throw them onto heaps of corpses. We have disgraced the fathers and sons we lost at independence, in 1945, in Kargil, those killed in twin attacks in mosques in Lahore, at the Data Darbar Shrine, in Mohmand agency and countless other terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil since 9/11.

The problem is not the terrorists that our country and the United States are hoping to flush out by throwing billions of dollars at the problem, but in fact our homeland itself. A recent Brookings report “looking beyond the madressah”, analysed how the poor performance in regular schools across Pakistan is to blame for the popularity and rise in extremism and militancy amongst half the country’s population which is under the age of seventeen. A skewed sense of history thanks to puffed up accounts of Muslim conquests and incorrect facts related to insurgencies against the British in propaganda-filled history books from Zia’s era send forth generations of Pakistani youth who are maligned against Indians and the British from grade school. The enlightened or affluent few who have a chance to benefit from unbiased books and the internet are shocked to find out that the British and the Indians are not as bad as our Pakistan study books said they were.

But it is too little too late as the thousands of youngsters emerging from a dilapidated schooling system, unskilled and unprepared, are headed towards a maze of unemployment and dissatisfying social rewards, eventually reverting to religion when all else disappoints. And waiting for them with open arms are religious opportunists with a suicide jacket in one hand and a Quran in the other, convincing these youngsters that victory will come only when they use the one to establish the other, by hook or by crook, to rid the world of infidels.

This is what extremists in Pakistan and the violent wahabi-salafists in Saudi Arabia, Africa, Indonesia and now within the United States are exporting. The Islam they bring to us is no longer a religion of peace and conversion by exemplary behaviour, but a political force seeking to establish supremacy by eradicating dissenters and challengers taking a page from George Dubya’s “either you’re with us or against us”. What Pakistan is at fault for is simple; we could have been a purist Islamic state like Iran a secular one like Turkey or a moderate one like Malaysia, but instead we chose a multiple-personality disorder, allowing the elite and educated to go one way, the impoverished masses to go another, while those in power sold us out in pieces to western capitalists on one side and Islamic fascists on the other.

Edward Said in explaining Orientalism, the west’s distorted perception of the east and the political struggles against capitalist nations said that the working rule of every journalist must be to assume that, “all governments lie”. The Pakistan government’s unacceptable bedfellows from extremist factions were exposed in the Walderman report a few weeks ago amidst vociferous denial from Islamabad. Rewind to the Brookings study concluding that the culprit lay in ordinary classrooms and college lecture halls as opposed to mosques and madressahs, and discerning readers must assume, where there is smoke there is bound to be an arsonist.

Residing a few miles apart, as citizens of what was supposed to be one nation, we are facing two very different destinies of glory and failure. We must honestly ask ourselves, haven’t we ever thought along the same lines as David Cameron who in his political immaturity or deliberate honesty said he will not tolerate “Pakistan looking both ways”. Neither should we. This is the lesson to take home, for those of us who know and cherish what it means to be a moderate, forward-thinking and patriotic Pakistani.

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