Pakistan today we encounter a paradox crying for an explanation;
it is a paradox, moreover, whose exploration can bring some clarity
to the predicament of the Islamicate today.
2002, when President George Bush defined his near-term agenda
for waging wars, he fixed his sights on Iraq, Iran and North Korea:
the 'axis of evil,' marked for regime change. These countries
were targeted - we were told - because they were developing 'weapons
of mass destruction.' In the case of Iraq and Iran, this was only
a cover. More likely, the two countries were targeted because
they opposed Israeli hegemony. Perhaps, too, the US wanted their
was not targeted for regime change. Yes, Pakistan has no oil.
But the US-Israel axis could find her culpable on several other
counts, each quite damnable. Pakistan is the only Islamicate country
to possess nuclear weapons; she was guilty of nuclear proliferation;
she was the chief patron of the Taliban regime; she has been accused
by India of supporting cross-border terrorism in Kashmir; and,
on the first two counts, Israel could tag Pakistan as the most
serious threat to her security.
Why was Pakistan
not being targeted?
has gathered even greater force over the past two years; and for
two reasons. After being stalled for a while by the ferocity of
the Iraqi resistance, US plans for war against Iran are once again
gathering steam. In the past few weeks, Israelis, Neocons, Christian
Zionists and assorted hawks have again been baying for Iranian
blood. Now, the US Senate too has joined the chorus. On September
26, with an overwhelming vote, it virtually handed President Bush
the license to wage war against Iran.
At the same
time, there is little doubt now that Pakistan is 'hosting' both
al-Qaida and the Taliban. Now rejuvenated, both organizations
are operating from 'liberated' territories in Pakistan's Waziristan.
More ominously, last July, Pakistani allies of the Taliban dared
to challenge the authority of the state in Pakistan's capital.
And since their rout there, they have continued to mount deadly
attacks on the Pakistan army.
today there is no talk of adding Pakistan to the 'axis of evil.'
Why is there no clamor in the United States or Israel to invade
Waziristan, to attack Pakistan's nuclear facilities, to punish
her for nuclear proliferation, or to launch covert operations
to seize Pakistan's nuclear assets before they fall into the hands
of Pakistani nationalists, the Taliban or al-Qaida? This is the
of mobilizing the people, instead of educating them in
the values of citizenship, instead of enriching Islamic
traditions, instead of building a national economy, instead
of developing indigenous technologies, Pakistan's ruling
elites built bridges to the United States... to create
a technologically weak, a debt-ridden, and financially
dependent economy controlled from outside through local
has a simple explanation: simple but also indicative of the
malaise that afflicts nearly all the Islamicate world. In Pakistan,
the US effected regime change without a change of regime. There
was no need for an invasion, no need to fire a shot, no need
for covert operations. At the first American touch, almost overnight,
a terrible beauty was born. Instantly, the US had drafted the
Pakistani military, nay the Pakistani state, to wage war against
Islamic 'extremists.' The US had gained an army: and Pakistan's
military dictators had gained longevity.
with which Pakistan's sovereignty was terminated, the speed of
this transaction, and no less the completeness of the foreign
take-over, speaks volumes about Pakistan's history, the nature
of her ruling elites, the timbre of her 'national' institutions,
and the alienation, degradation and dereliction of Pakistan's
middle classes. Within a few years of her birth, the state was
privatized by landlords, generals and bureaucrats: three factions
created, nurtured and guided into positions
of leadership by the British.
of mobilizing the people, instead of educating them in the values
of citizenship, instead of enriching Islamic traditions, instead
of building a national economy, instead of developing indigenous
technologies, Pakistan's ruling elites built bridges to the United
States, to the US military, to foreign corporations, and to US-dominated
multilateral institutions to create a technologically weak, a
debt-ridden, and financially dependent economy controlled from
outside through local elites.
today is the fruit, the logical culmination of the agenda of accommodation
launched in the nineteenth century by the two Ahmads of India
- one founded a college to produce clerks who would be loyal to
the British, another fashioned a whole new religion to instill
servitude. The glorious hope of the two Ahmads was to serve the
Empire. They were Muslims for the Empire. More than a hundred
years later, their spiritual progeny serve a different Empire.
If they are still around fifty years from now, they will be serving
new Empires risen from the east.
years, Pakistan has been managed by different factions of its
ruling elites - the military, bureaucracy, landlord - taking turns
to plunder the people, competing against each other to serve foreign
masters, at first covertly, but of late more openly, more blatantly,
more treasonously. So complete now is the alienation of the domestic
elites from their own society that their bidding against each
other, the domestic competition to sell the institutions of the
'state' is now conducted in open view.
order to stifle resistance, this dependent state methodically
creates a weak, alienated, demoralized, and corrupt society. By
failing to provide education, skills, and jobs, the state forces
people to look outward, to turn to foreign shores for education,
for jobs, and cultural inspiration. For every person who leaves
for foreign shores, there are ten who are forced to stay at home,
and whose education, careers, and very lives are organized around
the chance of leaving the country. Pakistani society increasingly
consists of would-be migrants waiting for their chance to dash
out of the country's airports, ports and border-crossings.
is the middle classes now who ape the elites, who in turn have
been aping their foreign masters for more than a century. As English
increasingly becomes the passport to success, they are forsaking
their native languages. In the colonial era, the elites sent their
children to the grammar schools, the missionary schools, and then
they were packed off to Cambridge and Oxford.
society increasingly consists of would-be migrants waiting
for their chance to dash out of the country's airports,
ports and border-crossings.
succeeding their white masters, these 'whitened' natives brandished
their command of English as the visible symbol of their new
elevation to power. It marked them off from the 'natives' over
whom they now ruled. A new caste had emerged, the native 'whites'
segregated from their 'backward' cousins by their alien language,
their affluence, their Western loyalties and dress, their moral
turpitude, and their Western vacations and honeymoons.
most damaging product of this alienation has been a deepening
intellectual sterility. Despite the proliferation of degrees,
every new generation of Pakistanis is intellectually more sterile
than its predecessor. Each new generation has eagerly surrendered
the traditional virtues of its predecessor without acquiring the
virtues of its masters, their scholarship, their energy, and the
humanity which they practice among their own kind. The aping and
mimicking of the diseases of foreign masters is far easier than
the cultivation of the virtues that distinguish them, that are
the sources of their power over their dark subjects.
revives in some troubled hearts. At some point, this wholesale
degradation of a society, this prostitution of national institutions,
this miscegenation of foreign and native elites, produces revulsion
in a few sensitive hearts. It gives birth to anger, art, struggle,
new theories, and hopes for regenerating society.
regeneration is arduous. The mongrel elites have raised many barriers,
they have strung barbed-wire fences with watch-towers across the
country's landscape. They have trained a mercenary military and
perfidious police, led by officers schooled in the arts of repressing
dissent. However, it is not these overt forces of repression alone
that weaken and deflect the resistance.
resistance can stand up to repression if it resonates with the
people, if it can engage, stir, and mobilize them behind the cause
of justice. But the alienation in society is so deep, the demoralization
and apathy so complete that the few sensitive souls who choose
to resist are left to twist in the wind, unsupported, unshielded,
to be singled out and decapitated by the mercenary military and
Pakistan is not without hope. In one corner of Pakistan, that
hope comes from the sons and daughters of the mountains, yet uncontaminated
by 'civilization,' firm in their faith, clear in their conviction,
proud of their heritage, and ready to fight for their dignity.
Though unschooled, they are clear-eyed as the eagle of the mountains.
Their poverty steels their determination. They stood up against
the Soviet marauders: and defeated them. Today, they are standing
up again to reclaim their dignity and their lands from foreigners
and native mercenaries.
most damaging product of this alienation has been a deepening
intellectual sterility. Despite the proliferation of degrees,
every new generation of Pakistanis is intellectually more
sterile than its predecessor.
now, as in much of the Islamic world, the alienation of the
institutions of the state has reached its climax. In Iraq, the
United States could not have restored colonialism without planting
her boots on the ground. In Iran too, they dare not dream of
capturing the state without boots on the ground. In Pakistan,
however, the task of regime change has been truly a cake walk:
it was achieved with Pakistani boots on the ground.
A US weekly,
Newsweek, has written that the Pentagon "wants [Musharraf]
to turn much of Pakistan's military into a counterinsurgency force,
trained and equipped to combat Al-Qaeda and its extremist supporters
along the Afghan border." There, you have it - dear Pakistanis
- in clear, bold print. What is this if not a plan for plunging
your country into civil war, into a carnage far worse than what
the Algerians have gone through?
How is it
that the Pentagon dares to make such outlandish demands on the
Pakistani army? The answer is simple. They do it because they
know for a certainty that Pakistan's elites are eager to deliver;
they know that Pakistan's mercenary-generals compete for American
patronage; and Pakistan's scavenger-politicians crawl to Washington
begging not to be left out of the deals to sell the Pakistani
state. Worse, until recently, Pakistanis have watched from the
sidelines, or turned away, and let it happen.
For the first
time now, a tiny segment of Pakistan's middle classes, the lawyers
- though still outfitted in the ridiculous black attire given
them by their erstwhile English masters - have stuck out their
necks against the mercenary-generals, against the mercenary military,
against the commodification of their state. It is an auspicious
turning point for Pakistan.
It is a sign
that the Iqbalian spirit stirs a few Pakistanis. And observe what
it has already accomplished. A few hundred Iqbalians have put
the mercenary-generals on notice. The mercenary-generals postured,
they scowled, they threatened, in desperation they turned to their
masters for advice, they called up the scavenger-politicians to
provide civilian cover. In short, for a brief moment, there was
panic in the top ranks of the mercenary military.
For a brief
moment only. The mercenary generals will not surrender so soon,
or so easily. Indeed, it does not matter if one batch of mercenary-generals
departs the scene: many more wait in the wings to take their place.
If Pakistanis wish to avert civil war - and a bloody civil war
it will be - then they must steel their hearts, they must gather
courage, they must plan, they must organize, they must mobilize
to take back their country, their state, and their military: to
take it back definitively and with a clear understanding of how
to make this nationalist appropriation irrevocable.
alone cannot do it for them; when they become too troublesome,
the mercenary state will start disappearing the lawyers. Nevertheless,
change will come to Pakistan: for those who can read the signs,
the writing is on the wall. Pakistan's mercenary elites have hitched
their wagon to the US 'global war on terror.' The United States
will direct this war, and it will be a dirty war. As in Iraq,
American experts in counterinsurgency will not hesitate to turn
Pakistan into a Guatemala or worse.
alienation in [Pakistan] society is so deep, the demoralization
and apathy so complete that the few sensitive souls who
choose to resist are left to twist in the wind, unsupported,
unshielded, to be singled out and decapitated by the mercenary
military and police.
dare to exert to make a stand for the change they want?
If they choose to stay unconcerned, unthinking, disengaged,
impassive, change will be imposed on them by the mercenary
state. They will find themselves being dragged through a dirty
war: many will loose their lives. Disappearances, executions,
arbitrary arrests, in short, state terror will become common:
the order of the day.
dare to change themselves, they can choose the change they
want: to make the state work for them not against them, to reclaim
history, to become the historical force that produces change.
However, this change demands a price, a price in will,
values and sacrifice. Pakistanis must search their hearts to revive
the fire they have smothered for too long: the will to struggle,
to resist, to live in dignity, connected to their history, drawing
on their best traditions to forge a future that they will control.
If they fail now, the game is lost. It may be lost forever.
can learn from Latin America, whose oppressed peoples - in particular,
their indigenous people - after five centuries of oppression are
raising their heads everywhere. Together, they are throwing off
the shackles of the predatory state, the mercenary state that
collaborated with a succession of Empires to destroy their lives,
their hopes, their struggles. Today, they are reclaiming the state
in Venezuela, in Bolivia, in Ecuador, in Nicaragua, and they are
getting ever closer to victory across the entire continent.
States today is powerless to roll back these revolutions. It is
powerless because the struggles of oppressed peoples are interconnected,
interwoven. When the dispossessed resist in Palestine, when Iraqis
battle behemoths in their country, when underdogs make a stand
in Lebanon, when Afghan peasants run circles around armies of
occupation: in short, when the wretched of the earth tie down
the Empire in West Asia, they raise hopes of liberation in every
quarter of the world, even amongst the oppressed classes in the
very centers of power.
of the past six years in West Asia have quickened the pace of
history: they have opened a window for the liberation of the oppressed
peoples everywhere. Just when the Empire was hatching its Project
for the New American Century, history decided otherwise. It will
be a new century alright, but there is scarce a doubt six years
later that it will not be an American century, a reality that
Americans should have the courage to accept graciously. Instead,
it will be multipolar century, with many centers of power, scattered
across all the continents of the world.
power is being decentralized, and we can hope that this new round
of decentralization will produce more enduring results than the
last one. The men and women leading the new decentralization are
a new breed: they have not been chosen by their erstwhile masters.
It is for
Pakistanis now to seize this historical moment, to join the forward
march of history. The historic changes underway in Latin America,
and the new forms of resistance being forged in Iraq, Lebanon,
Afghanistan and Palestine are delivering new hope, new ideas,
and new inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere. Global empires
are too costly to be sustained anymore: that is the singular message
that Iraqis and Afghans are delivering to the world.
dare to join this universal struggle, harness its power, and seize
the scales of justice? Will they follow the lead of the brave
lawyers so that the streets of every city, every town, every village
in Pakistan reverberate with their cries for honor and justice?
Or will they choose to lengthen their vegetative séance,
embrace ignominious death, and become the litter in the graveyard
of history, their epitaph written by the foreign masters they
have served for so long and so well?
are historical: they are also urgent. The choices before Pakistanis
are clear: it is life or death. If they fail to act now, they
will concede the stage to the Taliban and the mercenary elites.
May the Pakistanis ponder deeply for an answer: may they choose
to walk in the paths of justice: and may their difficult journey
here for other articles by M. Shahid Alam:
A History Of Violence
Islam Now, China Then - Any Parallels?
America's 'Fake Global War On Terrorism'
Has Regime Change Boomeranged?
An 'Islamic Civil War'
Pitting The West Against Islam
Not All Terrorists Are Muslim
Israel, The U.S. And The New Orientalism
The Muslims America Loves
Real Men Go To Tehran
Did Thomas Friedman Flunk History
Shahid Alam, professor of economics at Northeastern University,
is also a regular contributor to CounterPunch.org. Some of
his CounterPunch essays are now available
in the book, Is There An Islamic Problem? (Kuala Lumpur: The
Other Press, 2004). He is also the author of Challenging the
New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on America's 'War
Against Islam' (IPI Publications: forthcoming).He may be reached
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