Feisal Naqvi

Money talks and bullshit walks

In Uncategorized on March 18, 2008 at 4:13 am

We are at war. And we are losing.

I’m not talking about the military war in which unmanned missiles strike homes in Wana and in which unknown people transform themselves into neat little mushroom clouds. I’m talking about the war for the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people.

As Exhibit A, I present the lead headline from the Sunday edition of a prestigious English-language newspaper: “Foreigners’ haunt bombed in capital.” The facts are that a bomb exploded in Islamabad, killing a woman and injuring 15 others.

The bomb attack in Islamabad was not mounted to kill only foreigners. The bomb was an explosive device packed with pellets and ball bearings designed to cause maximum injury to human beings. It was placed in a restaurant open to public in the capital of our country and it was exploded without any questions being asked regarding the nationality of the diners.

The fact that one woman who died was not a Pakistani does not mitigate the horror of the bombing. If anything, I am more ashamed than reassured by the fact that guests in my country are being targeted for killing. I, for one, have not reached the stage where I am able to excuse the indiscriminate killing of civilians on the grounds that they are not citizens of this benighted nation.

Let me be clear about what I’m saying: I think the newspaper’s headline was utterly and completely despicable, though chances are that it came out as it did because of professional incompetence rather than some sinister design. Even so, by identifying the restaurant as a place popular with foreigners and by emphasising the fact that the sole death was that of a foreigner, it gave credence to the argument that the conflict in which the Islamabad bombing was a minor skirmish is not our war, but an extraneous conflict foisted upon us by the West, specifically the United States.

That argument is not only utter rubbish, it is dangerous rubbish. If we believe that we have no stake in this war, then we have already lost it.

Since the issue of the war on terror has become intertwined in the public mind with the person of General/President Musharraf, let me clarify that this article is not in any way, shape or form, a justification for the staying on in power of General/President Musharraf. In fact, it is the opposite.

If Mr Musharraf had but one redeeming quality, it was that he had clearly identified the war within Islam and had correctly chosen to fight the extremist elements. The problem now is that Mr Musharraf is no longer helping in the war against terror. This is because an increasingly large number of Pakistanis are coming to the conclusion that this war is not a war in which they have a stake but only a war in which Mr Musharraf has a stake. As a consequence, so far as the war on terror is concerned, Mr Musharraf is no longer part of the solution. He has instead become part of the problem.

Let us put him aside for now; his fate will be decided shortly enough. Instead, the key question is, how do we ensure that five years from now the Pakistani nation does not continue to think that they have no stake in this war?

Part of the answer lies in the last scene of the movie titled “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The movie tells the story of an American congressman who was instrumental in raising the budget for the mujahedin from a few million dollars to almost a billion, thereby helping to ensure the failure of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Towards the end of the movie, after the withdrawal of the Russians, there is a scene in which Charlie Wilson is fighting other congressmen for funding for schools in Afghanistan. Not billions this time, but just a few million. And the response from one of the other congressmen in the Appropriations Committee is, “Charlie, nobody gives a damn about schools in Afghanistan.”

Reluctantly or otherwise, we have been America’s star-ally since 2001. Since that time, we have received approximately USD10 billion for our efforts. But as I look around, I can see no visible compensation for the sacrifices made by Pakistanis: the Americans have not built us any dam, any factory, any university or any hospital since 2001.

What I do know is that America has refused to give us the same preferential trade access it gives to other countries in the region. What I do know is that every Pakistani applicant for an American visa is treated like dirt and that every Pakistani who actually tries to enter the United States is treated like a criminal.

This does not help America’s cause. And since my cause — the cause of a free Pakistan in which I am not at the mercy of people who tell me how to pray and how to live — is tied to America’s cause, it does not help my cause either.

For the benefit of policy-makers, let me try and simplify my argument:

* This is our war. We are the ones who are getting killed. And if the extremists win, we will suffer the most.

* This war cannot be won without public support.

* It will be easier to persuade the Pakistani public to support this war if the public receives some direct, substantive and visible benefit in return.

* Military hardware does not count.

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