VIEW: Voyeuristic incontinence —Gulmina Bilal Ahmad
We will clamour for international assistance, international conferences and privately lead secular lives, but when it comes to our writings, our analyses and our politics, we conveniently turn Islamist. The rhetorical practice of Islamism is feigning anti-Americanism. Those who value the Pak-US relationship, then, are not pro-Pakistani
For the past two weeks, it feels as if one is caught in the midst of a never-ending nightmare, a reader’s intellectual nightmare that is. It seems that, ever since the ‘leaks’, there is no real news. Instead, the whole world has been caught in some nightmarish version of voyeuristic incontinency and everyone is either ‘leaking’ or enjoying reading about them. The world’s best papers, magazines and channels have been reduced to tabloids, each competing with the other to provide us with the latest on the leaks. Of course, they do this because we, the thinking public, are devouring information, and the greatest tragedy is the analyses of the leaked cables. It is unfathomable that our chattering analysts can even analyse the most superficial of comments.
There is no information in the WikiLeaks. There are just comments by individuals in bureaucratic positions about seemingly influential military and political leaders. There is also nothing new in the cables, as not a single cable expresses a thought that has not been expressed at every tea stall of the country. In other words, the leaks are merely sound bytes that substantiate gossip. Previously, when the public used to talk about the ‘pragmatic’ all weather politics of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, they did not have the reference to his conversation with the then American ambassador to Pakistan that they now have. In the past, when Saudia Arabia’s involvement with our politics was discussed, the rather smartly constructed (are we sure that this one is not a deliberate leak because it seems as if some PR person structured it) sound byte, “We are not just observers in Pakistani politics but participants,” was not available for quick reference. In the past, the rather colourful Husain Haqqani was the only one who was accused of being very close to Uncle Sam. WikiLeaks tells us that he is not the only one and that influentials of all shapes, sizes, shades and ideological bent are quite ready to do what is called “American bidding”, as a resident editor of one of the major English dailies called it in his column lamenting the so-called shallowness and pro-Americanism of our leaders.
Which reminds me, what is this American bidding? Is there a leak focusing on the definition? This seems to be the operative word and there should be a leak telling us what are the parameters of this bidding, how it clashes with the so-called wish of being ‘pro-Pakistani’ and of what ideological bent should one be to refrain from American bidding, so to speak. This bidding also seems to have a long history for diplomatic relations between the two countries that started from October 20, 1947. So, if mutual alliance and cooperation on mutual interests is the definition of this bidding relationship, then from the celebrated Liaquat Ali Khan to date all our leaders seem to fall into this category. The stated goal of the US-Pak alliance earlier was technical development; this relationship has extended to military, civilian, technical and service structures. Whether it was the armed services of the country or Karachi and at that time East Pakistan’s Chittagong port that was technically developed and modernised, it was because of the benefit of this relationship. This relationship, along with others — namely our relationship with Saudi Arabia — was also responsible for enhancing and supporting Pakistan’s self-defined relationship of being a rent-seeking state and exporting terrorism policy. The tragedy hit when the unemployed terrorists, nurtured because of our pan-Islamist rhetoric and mindset, came home to roost.
The problem is not with Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, General Kayani or Maulana Fazlur Rehman. In fact, what is positive about the leaks is that we see that none of our leaders can stand each other, but the beauty of messy democracy is that they have to function with each other. Kayani has to work with Zardari and Nawaz Sharif although he would rather ‘install’ the invisible Asfandyar Khan any day as president. There was a time in Pakistan that the army chief’s every wish became reality the next day. Today’s reality is that even the army chief has certain wishes he cannot fulfil, at least not immediately. Although on the subject of Asfandyar, it might be best if he were installed as the president. That way, his constituency, namely the Pakhtuns, could at least see him. Presently, he is missing in action and still has to condole with the family members of his personal staff who were martyred in a suicide attack on him years back.
However, without further digressing, returning to whose fault this is, one could ask if the Americans are at fault. Does the allegation that the American ambassador’s behaving like a ‘viceroy’, as some columnists have put it, has anything to do with it?
No. The fault lies with us and our confused worldview. By us, I do not mean the unwashed masses that are operating at the most menial of survival levels. It is the middle class of this country that is adamant at prospering individually but equally committed to bringing down the country collectively. We will clamour for international assistance, international conferences and privately lead secular lives, but when it comes to our writings, our analyses and our politics we conveniently turn Islamist. The rhetorical practice of Islamism is feigning anti-Americanism. Those who value the Pak-US relationship, then, are not pro-Pakistani. This is how the hypocritical and confused narrative is shaped and reiterated by this segment of the middle class.
Thus we shape the narrative and succeed in lighting candles at the Wagah border but also bring out rallies against the killing of militants in the border areas. We will decry Lal Masjid tactics but also take out rallies against the government for the loss of ‘innocent lives’ there. We forget that the innocents were men, women and children being trained psychologically, physically and intellectually against peace. We protest when Zardari privately supports the drone attacks but forget that Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a drone attack. He was a man responsible for countless deaths.
The only real ‘story’ perhaps in the leaks is an old one, one of the hypocrisy of the Pakistani middle class who, in their confusion, sometimes jump on the bandwagon of peace and ‘Islam coming under attack’, benefiting themselves, but succeeding in isolating the country more so. The more they isolate the country, the more they have, at the cost of the country’s poor.
The writer is an Islamabad-based consultant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org