Pardon me for not having anything insightful to say on Osama’s killing, but you see, I went down with a particularly bad case of brain-freeze after reading the Foreign Office statement. Rarely have I come across such a poorly worded, amazingly flawed, and downright clueless proclamation, and that too, in the wake of an incredibly sensitive event. Nevertheless, my ability to think, while clearly hampered, left me with little doubt that MoFA was simply acting as the post-office for its much larger, and, in the light of recent events, a hundred times more incompetent government colleague. Yes, I’m talking about the one based in the adjacent city.
Contributing to the affliction was my television set, which kept throwing up a stream of analysts - many of whom needed no introduction, mostly held ‘independent’ views, and had a deep eye on everything. Watching Pakistani television talk-shows in the aftermath of a major political incident is incredibly frustrating, but this time, instead of frustration, I just felt a lot of clear, well-directed, and purposeful anger.
The armed forces and intelligence agencies, after feasting on national and international exchequers for around 60 odd years, have, with great aplomb, given us sufficient proof that they are not to be trusted.
Not to be trusted because of their complicity, and not to be trusted because of their sheer incompetence.
But beyond the fact that Osama bin Laden was found napping near PMA Kakul, it is very important to rationalize and fine-tune the anger that most, if not all, of us are feeling. First of all, this is not a question of the US violating our ‘sovereignty’. It’s definitely not about the international community huddling up to take the mickey out of us again. And most of all, it certainly is not about our image abroad.
All of these considerations are secondary at best.
The primary consideration for us, i.e. the polity, is why have we been treated like fools and serfs in our own country? For 60 years, self-defined, insulated, and autonomous strategic concerns have been the military’s first and foremost priority. All of this has come at the cost of debilitated political institutions, skewed budgetary allocations, internal strife, ethnic imbalances, radicalization and militancy etc. etc.
For years, some have been talking about complicity on the part of the armed forces. Nabbing a security threat here, winking at another one there. Now finally, this complicity has come around full circle and revealed another side, long suspected but finally proven: the military and its subservient intelligence agencies are not only protecting terrorists, they are also complacent.
Just think about the fact that the military has maintained an air of superiority on the basis of its ‘competence’, its ability to deliver, and its ability to perform when asked.
Well, guess what?
Selling cornflakes, houses and processed cow dung aren’t exactly a measure of competence for a military.
The OBL episode is one more in a long line of dramas between armies and intelligence agencies. This exclusive and insulated domain of action comes at the cost of real issues being faced by millions of Pakistanis on the ground. With 30 percent of the population below the poverty line, 1 in 10 kids never going to school, unemployment and inflation, poor service delivery, security threats, and an unstable economy, the cost borne by ‘spy-games’ and the two evils of complicity and complacency are tremendously high.
What’s worse is that there seems to be no urgency from the civilian leadership in wresting political control from the unrepresentative arms of the state. Afraid of history and what has happened to those who’ve attempted to shake the balance of power, politicians have been hesitant to say anything openly, despite the fact that this is perhaps the most opportune moment to take a stand.
The bigger picture here, as opposed to what some are saying, is more about correcting internal contradictions than improving our ‘image’ as a global entity. Domestic concerns, forever marginalized for the sake of territorial sanctity, need to be taken up. We need to question whether this rabid, near-maniacal drive for a conjured notion of honor is actually worth it? More than that, whether this honor game is actually nothing more than a smokescreen for institutional, political and corporatist interests?
These are exactly the kind of things that the people, the intelligentsia, and political leaders need to be asking, as opposed to finding ways to salvage national pride and foreign sympathy. But, call me a cynic or a pessimist, I don’t see that happening any time soon. If early signs are something to go by, we won’t be seeing anything other than a few bumbling excuses, a few false promises, and a reversion to tales of khaki superiority.
Something that did however bring a smile to my face during this rather sordid affair was a modification made by a friend to a popular army refrain:
‘Sleep tight…because we are too’