Sense and sovereignty in Kafkastan

I just returned from Karachi, where the city was outraged at the unscheduled, endless power cuts. Everywhere, the energy crisis dominated the discussions. In certain areas, there is no power for the last three days!

But for Imran Khan and his supporters, the biggest issue appears to be drone attacks taking place almost a thousand kilometers north of the port city. Banners advising the citizens to join the protests against drones appeared almost surreal in a city where the criminal gangs, safely ensconced within the mainstream political parties, are perpetrating target killings. Even less worrying to Khan’s supporters is the presence of al Qaeda operatives and underground don[s] who allegedly hide well in the multitudes of Karachi.

Are drones and war on terror really responsible for the plight of Pakistan? Amnesia is not uncommon in Pakistan especially when daily doses of violence have almost desensitised the society. Not to mention the fact that big cities have to function: people have to travel for work, earn livelihoods and find spaces for recreation and entertainment.

Drone attacks are reprehensible and arguably create more terrorists than they eliminate. However, the deeper question is why are we allowing them to happen. Khan’s supporters argued passionately the night before the new WikiLeaks were revealed by DAWN, about how US was imposing these strikes and challenging our national sovereignty. Late Thursday night was a surreal moment at its best. While listening to a rant on Imran-Khan-is-right, Twitter started flashing the headlines of what is now public.

No, forget the corrupt civilians. The holiest of cows – Pakistan Army – according to the new cables was privy and a participant of drone planning. Pundits and ‘informed sources’ within the media have been hinting at the coziness between Imran Khan and the security establishment these days. In particular, how Khan has been sparing the Military Inc on the drone crisis and holding the inept civilian government responsible for these attacks on our collective honour.

Whipping anti-Americanism helps concerned quarters; and is popular given the narratives of being let down by the super power time and again. But it also misleads, misinforms and diverts the public attention from the militants and the cancer of extremism that has engulfed Pakistani society.

To read this in a city gearing for an anti-US, anti-drone protest was surely stuff that makes a black comedy eternally appealing: ‘In a cable dated February 19, 2009, Ambassador Patterson…writes: “Kayani knows full well that the strikes have been precise (creating few civilian casualties) and targeted primarily at foreign fighters in the Waziristans.”

Dawn’s report on this issue also highlighted the gap “between private GOP acquiescence and public condemnation for US action” and spotted our favourite national pastime: double speak. The shrewd Patterson also wrote in that cable: “Pakistani leaders who feel they look increasingly weak to their constituents could begin considering stronger action against the US, even though the response to date has focused largely on ritual denunciation.”

The ritual has been done to death now. Countless TV shows, media mujahideen and Imran Khan have been ranting and raving on the drone strikes. Of late hundreds of legislators joined the chorus against drone strikes in the recent joint session of the Parliament condemning the unilateral action taken by the US to kill Osama bin Laden.

Recently, a sizzling report by the British newspaper Guardian also indicated that action against OBL was part of secret understanding between Gen Musharraf and the US. Of course, the wounded General has initiated legal action against the paper. Let’s hope that there is justice and truth comes out in its full form.

What is honour then? A game that the powerful play to dupe the people into accepting big fat budgets for security; expanding the nuclear programme when we beg the IMF for liquidity; and ‘appeal’ to the world community to manage our natural disasters. When the ungrateful international community asks us to raise taxes we cite the figures of how much Israel gets as US aid or how much is the US spending on the war in Afghanistan. God forbid, do we wish to be bracketed with Israel, notwithstanding the eerie similarities, or we want to be like the evil Amreeka – using war for private profit? Surely, the rich want no taxes and we need to expand our nuclear arsenal. How do we achieve this? By spreading xenophobia; and deepening the state of national insecurity.

As if this khaki enigma was not enough, the revelation that the PML-N’s leadership may have been complicit in ways to get rid of the Chief Justice in 2009 was a strong dose of reality-check. US Ambassador Anne Patterson commented “no leader in Pakistan really wants an activist and unpredictable Chief Justice”; and that discussions took place as to how to find a face-saving solution to get rid of the good judge. Amazing stuff. All in a day’s work!

True that these cables are diplomatic impressions often based on information gathered during conversations, they cannot be dismissed altogether. Anecdotes cannot be substitute for ‘hard’ data but the fact that such conversations take place in the Byzantine power culture says a lot about our civilian and military leadership.

Most importantly, will Imran Khan now do a sit in outside the GHQ? Or would he cite the WikiLeaks as another US conspiracy to defame and defang Pakistan?

Meanwhile, best of luck to Karachi wallas who will join the protests in scorching heat.


Raza Rumi is a policy advisor, writer and editor based in Lahore. His writings are archived


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