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January 2, 2008

Undone by our own shenanigans


January 2, 2008

While the nation was still raw in its grief over the assassination of Ms Bhutto, not only was its sorrow aggravated, its rage and anger over this cowardly act of terror was fuelled, and its intelligence insulted by the senseless and bizarre pronouncements of the Interior Ministry on the cause of Ms Bhutto's death. One does not know whether to cry out in frustration and anger or to simply and helplessly despair at officialdom's ineptitude and absurdities. What possible end was expected to be achieved by denying what the world was seeing repeatedly on television screens and hearing from first hand accounts? Honestly, the ordinary and sane human mind cannot comprehend why the grieving Pakistani nation was subjected to such insensitive and inane pronouncements.

That the caretaker government has now apologised for it is a welcome change from the norm. Unfortunately, the damage has been done in terms of any investigative credibility that the government may have had. Worse still, it has provided an opportunity, if that was ever needed, for external players to seek justification for intrusion into the country's domestic matters. Added to this has been the demand from many quarters within Pakistan, including the slain leader's PPP and her spouse, that an international probe be undertaken for seeking out the guilty. The most recent statement coming from the GoP, that it will seek foreign help in its investigations if needed, is sensible, since the much-cited UNSC-sponsored Hariri investigation was highly politicised and effectively a US effort to corner Syria.

Of course, there is scepticism about a credible national investigation given the State's past record on this count. That is why there is a dire need for the government to ensure transparency and establish credibility at each step of its inquiries and investigations. As one who has always decried foreign interference in our domestic affairs, given this particular situation with a grieving nation and a

trust deficit between civil society and officialdom as well as the history of past investigations, some foreign help, such as the one offered in a politic way by the British Prime Minister, would go a long way to assuring the Pakistani nation that the government is serious about exposing the guilty and bringing forth the truth. National healing will only happen if the trust deficit can be overcome -- especially since the deficit has been self-created by the government.

Having said that, what is coming out of the US and its politicians, in terms of pronouncements relating to Pakistan and the assassination of Ms Bhutto, is nothing more than abusing Pakistan for American domestic political ends in an election year. Of course tirades against the safety of our nuclear assets are immediately brought in, no matter what the issue relating to Pakistan. Meanwhile, Ms Clinton, in an effort to show her knowledge of the world, has gone to town on the Pakistani State. Accusations fly with no explanation as to the rationale behind them, and yet she states, in a typically American imperialistic fashion, "I am not calling for him (President Musharraf) to step down" – as if that is her call to make in the first place, rather than that of the people of Pakistan!

Reuters asked me on 31 December why Pakistan abounds in conspiracy theories, and I felt it was partly a result of a credibility and trust deficit which created a suspicion-prone civil society. I asked why the US was also playing this game not only with Pakistan but also in the case of some of its own assassination cases. Of course, the JF Kennedy assassination comes most vividly to mind since theories still abound as to who killed JFK and why.

This brings me to a point that Ms Clinton and other US politicians are conveniently forgetting when they are demanding that an FBI investigative team be thrust upon us. It would be a valuable and much-needed lesson in humility for them to recall how the JFK assassination has still not been investigated satisfactorily which is why todate conspiracy theories continue to exist on this issue. So while Scotland Yard may have some credibility, the FBI is a totally different case.

Ms Clinton's ignorance seems complete in terms of Pakistan when she declares that Pakistan's "feudal landowning leadership" must be disempowered because it was led by President Musharraf and has protected Al-Qaeda! Now there may be many grounds on which President Musharraf has been critiqued, but in all fairness he cannot be labelled a feudal landowner or even the leader of the feudal land-owning class! And while one may detest the feudal class and the feudal mindset, and there are many evils associated with feudalism, but empowering the clergy is not one of them. Without being an apologist for feudalism in any sense, the fact is that it is where the feudal leadership has been weakened or is non-existent, that the mullah has gained power and come into his own. Perhaps Ms Clinton is also not aware of the fact that the late Ms Bhutto, widely regarded as the symbol of moderation and secularism, was also a feudal landowner. More comment on the post-Ms Bhutto PPP would be indecent till the forty-day mourning period the family has sought is over.

Ms Clinton also declares that US aid should shift its military aid to social welfare aid so that the US can build up Pakistani civil society. God help us if the US is going to chart the course for our civil society bolstering! But more important, Ms Clinton seems to have had a convenient amnesia regarding why the US is giving limited military aid to Pakistan. This is not charity. Our military is in the front line of the global war on terror and for this we are paying a high price. But certainly without the basic military aid and equipment, we cannot fight this war. Whatever the level of our efficiency or lack of it, it is with our help that Al-Qaeda leaders have been nabbed and it is our leaders and our people who are paying with their lives. We also know that when the US interests in the war on terror have been served, Pakistan will cease to be an "ally". So Ms Clinton, the US should stop being an ingrate and accept with graciousness whatever Pakistan, with all its flaws and shortcomings, is able to do in the war on terror. Look where the US is in Iraq aided by its core allies like Britain and Australia.

However, at the end of the day, the fault lies with us as a state. By looking for support outside and seeking external approval rather than trusting our own people, we have laid ourselves open to abuse by external actors. Instinctively, the state seeks to shy away from truthfully facing its people and trusting in their good sense. Machiavellian games are played with the poor nation by the power wielders. That is why this country is such an easy victim of America's imperious ignorance.

The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Email: [email protected]

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