Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Heading toward divorce

May 18, 2011

Caught sleeping on the job the Pakistan government has turned its machinery to bite the hand that feeds its face. Nations evolve and one would have thought that rousing nationalistic songs and hot-button phrases like “invasion of sovereignty” would have been dropped in favor of unvarnished facts. Time was that dictators spewed nonsense and one yearned for democracy and a wonderful array of elected legislators that would arm themselves with data and speak with accuracy and vote with conscience. But our kismet is crossed with parliamentarians that come with their own personal agendas.

The two things that galvanize Pakistanis of all hues are cricket and the kursi. Strange bedfellows and stranger sums of money exchange hands for both. It is in times of crisis that a person and a nation’s mettle are tested. A la Goebbels after the in-camera session of Parliament, the Information Minister stated that the ISI Chief had “surrendered” himself to Parliament. We’ve now taken to messing with the nation’s psyche. The parliamentarians got together and drew up a 12-point agenda the primary thrust of which was to stop the drones or else the NATO supply lines would be cut and to initiate a judicial inquiry commission with regard to the bin Laden fiasco.

Around the same time US Senator John Kerry visited Pakistan; and interestingly he roared in like a lion and left quite the lamb. For it seems that soon after the bin Laden fiasco American and Pakistani voices questioned their union in the fight against terrorism. The slur of infidelity seemed thrown around and both sides felt violated. $3.2 billion in aid screeched US congressmen and media, what is going on in Pakistan? In the depth of the night, in all of 40 minutes, with helicopters and Navy Seals, Osama and all multimedia files are gone, wondered the whiplashed Pakistanis.

The Pakistani media went on overdrive. Only a minuscule few honed in on the actual invasion of sovereignty that has occurred over the last quarter of a century in Pakistan and one that we have accepted with gratitude and smiles for this invasion came laced with money and religion. We welcomed Uzbeks, Chechens, Arabs, Afghans and more. It is alternately sad and stupid to realize that the real serpent that has permeated and become one with the fabric of our society is so completely ignored and like petulant children we are kicking and screaming at the United States.

Extremism is born and perpetuated by poverty and unemployment. The hungry, disenchanted teenager is much more likely to be ensnared by the charms and monetary temptations of the radicalized. And when the radicalized are your neighbors, your servants, your co-workers, your teachers or essentially anyone and you collapse your economy further, you simply guarantee extremism.

Ensconced in ultra-luxury Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has decided that the Punjab province shall refuse the American dole. While it is true that Pakistan has not accounted for its billions in aid appropriately and a good part of it has not made it to its intended purpose and has probably lined many a private pocket, it is factual that American aid is used for a large number of governmental and non-governmental educational, administrative and developmental projects. These projects will simply dry up as the aid does. Chucking charity is not as simple a choice as the ghairat (self-respect and pride) of Shahbaz Sharif might dictate.

Perhaps it was this Punjabi indignation or the graphic posters that protested in front of the in-camera parliamentary session that caught the eye of the Americans for now their tune is decidedly different. Kerry may have wagged his finger at Kayani behind closed doors but in public the story is conciliatory. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says that this is not the time for the US to flex its muscles at Pakistan, rather it should withhold judgment. Senator Mitch McConnell says that disengaging with Pakistan now was not a good idea. And most surprising is the statement by House Speaker Richard Boehner who said that Pakistan was a real asset and had lost more troops and more individuals in the fight against terror than the US.

The American-Pakistan partnership has been one of those uncomfortable but necessary alliances for both parties. So analogous to human relationships when you realize with this gnawing deep inside that you share little now except an interwoven past and an inextricable convenience.

Our hypocrisy must stop: the drones fly from Pakistan’s airfields and we have given our express permission for this, our President does not even think the non-extremist civilian deaths are collateral damage. Regardless of American intelligence, drones do not rain down on Iran, Turkey or Malaysia. They don’t froth at the mouth about “national sovereignty” they protect it by simply refusing.

Our elected representatives and our people must realize that it is not the drones or national sovereignty or American aid that is the main issue. It is that termite of the extremist mindset that kills Muslims in mosques that has permeated our society and converted it into the rotten mess that it is in today. It will take a concerted effort at de-weaponizing house by house and legislators, civil society and the media to galvanize and work tirelessly for decades on a thought revolution to ensure the extermination of extremism and the preservation of Pakistan.

Mahjabeen Islam is an addictionist, family physician and columnist. mahjabeen.islam@gmail.com