Saturday July 13, 2024

An unending trial

By Ayesha Siddiqa
November 05, 2016

In the past few days I have been targeted on Pakistani, media especially on social media. Countless tweets, blogs, Facebook posts and even a television channel have labeled me a traitor. All this has compelled me to write about it.

I was  also reminded of an article written a few months ago by a US-based Pakistani scholar arguing for geo-political liberals to engage with the state and help provide alternative input. But a question that I have been dying to ask since the publication of that article is that: even if geo-political liberal scholars want to make an effort is there sufficient tolerance amongst the state institutions to hear their voice? In fact, the threshold of the state to hear an alternative perspective is exceedingly low.

This was my recent experience after returning from a conference in Afghanistan to which I was invited in June this year along with six other participants from Pakistan, including a former ISI chief. I was one of the two who were asked – out of a total of seven Pakistanis – to make a presentation. I was later accused of meeting Indian officials, asking money for my book launch, talking to India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and finally, passing on some message from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his counterpart.

I wonder why I would ask for money for my book launch. That is done by a publisher; in my case that is my British publisher, Pluto Press. Perhaps, some knowledge of book publishing will also help. Publishers tend to use presses in less expensive but efficient locations, which is why many books end up being printed in India.

An even more important question is: why would I be used to carry messages when there is an entire battery of people that the Sharif family can trust? I am neither a member of the PML-N nor close to the Sharif family in any way or form. In fact, I am not even a government servant or at a position where I would have regular interaction with state functionaries or close interaction with the security establishment.

One of the reasons for resigning from my civil service job in 2001 was to have sufficient freedom to write, research and engage in independent scholarship. I am certainly not privy to any state secret nor do I hold any position that would give me access to sensitive information. The story has major holes starting with the incorrect description of how was my travel organised and by whom. I am a Pakistani citizen, and I have never had any contact with any of the people mentioned in the videos.

I am not liable to seek a no-objection certificate from the state for meeting people that one has to meet to gather their perspective in order to explain one’s hypothesis. A hard fact that my detractors must swallow is that I have a doctorate in War Studies from King’s College, London which means a proven expertise in analysing and examining security as a structure and a process. The idea is not to boast but in fact to argue that scholarship requires knowledge, training and freedom.

Furthermore, I have remained independent of any institutional bond to encourage an atmosphere of free scholarship, which unfortunately is not Pakistan’s strength. Our culture has been to not respect the academia and to force scholars to follow the ‘party line’. This is necessary for state bureaucracy but not as a means for input into policymaking.

As a scholar I feel that we ought to examine the manner in which we have traditionally dealt with India. This thinking in itself does not mean that I would be ready to sell my country or become a source of its weakening. And if it is felt that any suggestion regarding talks with India and using non-military means for building relations is treachery, then I wonder where Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf’s efforts at abandoning the UN resolutions in return for peace and stability in the region would be categorised.

The malicious campaign against me from approximately a hundred social media accounts on different forums – all sounding the same – is truly       pathetic. Perhaps, the government should try experimenting with its new cyber crime law to stop such abuse of freedom and baseless propaganda.

Every country needs independent voices, who can point out when policies become costly. This involves not taking dictation from the state, the definition of a geo-political liberal. Certainly, thinking about Pakistan and available options is not the monopoly of state functionaries.

Is the scandalising of my first-ever Afghanistan visit meant to silence an independent assessment based on interaction with various people? The question is: should we choose to be defeated in the battle of hearts and minds for the ordinary Afghan people when we can win by honouring their dignity, investing in a people-friendly policy and respecting their sovereignty? Beneath bitterness and suspicion there lies a strong layer of connectivity between the people of the two countries. Why lose a war when we can win it?

The writer is an independent social scientist. Twitter: @iamthedrifter