Some sobering lessons

By Raza Rumi:

Adecade after the ghastly attacks on the Twin Towers, the world has not changed. It is business as usual: imperial projects, ‘dangerous’ foes and millions of hapless, voiceless people. 9/11 was a reprehensible act perpetrated by a desperate and rogue network whose ideologues had hijacked a faith and its symbolism long before they started to assert their worldview by force.

While most 9/11 perpetrators belonged to the Middle East and its infamous Holy Kingdom, Pakistan emerged as the epicentre of terror in the global imagination and continues to occupy that exalted position. Its neighbourhood has been ransacked and occupied by the liberators and now the war on terror has turned into a contested, essential Pakistani experience. Nearly a million people in Iraq are dead or missing but never mind. It is time for the West to take stock of what happened due to a relentless pursuit of ambition and greed of an unaccountable, omnipotent war industry.

The case of Pakistan remains unique. From the highpoint of General Musharraf’s tactical acquiescence to the US diktat, the relationship with its frenemy has now reached a nadir. For many in the world, Pakistan is a headache: a nuclear armed state with a mighty military machine, it cannot be invaded. On the other hand, the institutional interests of the military in protecting the Taliban and local militant networks are now at a huge variance with those of the US as it plans to scale down its military presence in Afghanistan.

The lesson that US policymakers – especially the neo-con variant – ought to have drawn from its misadventures in the fictional landscape of ‘AfPak’ is that bolstering authoritarian rule may be convenient for a war bureaucracy, working yet again with a dictator exacerbated Pakistan’s historical fault lines. First, most Pakistanis to date consider 9/11 as an ‘inside job’ or at the worst, a crime perpetrated by the Jewish lobby to pave the way for war against the ‘Muslim’ world. Second, the media element of the alleged ‘double game’ has twisted public discourse for good. It is not ‘our’ war, say the pundits of media and politics; and the US is responsible for all our problems.

Third, 9/11 is also an imagined marker for many in Pakistan. The simplistic narrative argues that prior to the US led war on terror, there were no incidents of terrorism in Pakistan. Most importantly, this has led to a Machiavellian renunciation of responsibility of Pakistani elites – military-intelligence apparatus and its junior partner, the civilians – for all that ails Pakistan. The 9/11 conspiracy game has gone out of control. Terror outfits are patriotic and US contractors are busy killing Pakistani civilians, attacking mosques, shrines and schools and even the military installations.

At the same time, US tactics – repeated use of drone strikes, unclear and ineffective civilian aid management and unwillingness to deal with Pakistan’s paranoia of India – have made matters worse. Stuck in this duel of the intelligence agencies and military machines are the disempowered Pakistanis, who have only recently been allowed a controlled form of democratic rule. Ironically, security and foreign policies remain outside the ambit of the elected representatives. And this is not speculation but an established pattern of how Pakistan must be governed.

If the purpose of post-9/11 wars, conflict and diplomacy was to rein in al Qaeda, there have been some successes on that front. Its leadership has been undermined and its network is endangered and on a retreat. The Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, however, are strong, with the former directly pitted against the Pakistani state. The Pakistani Taliban are now in alliance with sectarian groups and criminal gangs and are determined to claim their booty. This does not augur well for Pakistan’s democracy and progress in the short to medium term. Similarly, the prospect of the Afghan Taliban sharing power is problematic at multiple levels.

If Islamism was meant to suffer a defeat in the quasi-ideological battle, then the West should be worried. Within Europe and across the spectrum of Muslim countries, radicalisation has only increased. There are some sobering lessons indeed from the lost decade. Hopefully, they will not be ignored by the global corporate media.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2011.

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