Sunday, January 04, 2009
Ten myths about Pakistan
by Mohammed Hanif
Times of India, 4 January 2008
Living in Pakistan and reading about it in the Indian press can sometimes be quite a disorienting experience: one wonders what place on earth they're talking about? I wouldn't be surprised if an Indian reader going through Pakistani papers has asked the same question in recent days. Here are some common assumptions about Pakistan and its citizens that I have come across in the Indian media...
Pakistan controls the jihadis: Or Pakistan's government controls the jihadis. Or Pakistan Army controls the jihadis. Or ISI controls the jihadis. Or some rogue elements from the ISI control the Jihadis. Nobody knows the whole truth but increasingly it's the tail that wags the dog. We must remember that the ISI-Jihadi alliance was a marriage of convenience, which has broken down irrevocably. Pakistan army has lost more soldiers at the hands of these jihadis than it ever did fighting India.
Musharraf was in control, Zardari is not: Let's not forget that General Musharraf seized power after he was fired from his job as the army chief by an elected prime minister. Musharraf first appeased jihadis, then bombed them, and then appeased them again. The country he left behind has become a very dangerous place, above all for its own citizens. There is a latent hankering in sections of the Indian middle class for a strongman. Give Manmohan Singh a military uniform, put all the armed forces under his direct command, make his word the law of the land, and he too will go around thumping his chest saying that it's his destiny to save India from Indians . Zardari will never have the kind of control that Musharraf had. But Pakistanis do not want another Musharraf.
Pakistan, which Pakistan? For a small country, Pakistan is very diverse, not only ethnically but politically as well. General Musharraf's government bombed Pashtuns in the north for being Islamists and close to the Taliban and at the same time it bombed Balochs in the South for NOT being Islamists and for subscribing to some kind of retro-socialist, anti Taliban ethos. You have probably heard the joke about other countries having armies but Pakistan's army having a country. Nobody in Pakistan finds it funny.
Pakistan and its loose nukes: Pakistan's nuclear programme is under a sophisticated command and control system, no more under threat than India or Israel's nuclear assets are threatened by Hindu or Jewish extremists. For a long time Pakistan's security establishment's other strategic asset was jihadi organisations, which in the last couple of years have become its biggest liability.
Pakistan is a failed state: If it is, then Pakistanis have not noticed. Or they have lived in it for such a long time that they have become used to its dysfunctional aspects. Trains are late but they turn up, there are more VJs, DJs, theatre festivals, melas, and fashion models than a failed state can accommodate. To borrow a phrase from President Zardari, there are lots of non-state actors like Abdul Sattar Edhi who provide emergency health services, orphanages and shelters for sick animals.
It is a deeply religious country: Every half-decent election in this country has proved otherwise. Religious parties have never won more than a fraction of popular vote. Last year Pakistan witnessed the largest civil rights movements in the history of this region. It was spontaneous, secular and entirely peaceful. But since people weren't raising anti-India or anti-America slogans, nobody outside Pakistan took much notice.
All Pakistanis hate India: Three out of four provinces in Pakistan - Sindh, Baluchistan, NWFP - have never had any popular anti-India sentiment ever. Punjabis who did impose India as enemy-in-chief on Pakistan are now more interested in selling potatoes to India than destroying it. There is a new breed of al-Qaida inspired jihadis who hate a woman walking on the streets of Karachi as much as they hate a woman driving a car on the streets of Delhi. In fact there is not much that they do not hate: they hate America, Denmark, China CDs, barbers, DVDs , television, even football. Imran Khan recently said that these jihadis will never attack a cricket match but nobody takes him seriously.
Training camps: There are militant sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan but definitely not in Muzaffarabad or Muridke, two favourite targets for Indian journalists, probably because those are the cities they have ever been allowed to visit. After all how much training do you need if you are going to shoot at random civilians or blow yourself up in a crowded bazaar? So if anyone thinks a few missiles targeted at Muzaffarabad will teach anyone a lesson, they should switch off their TV and try to locate it on the map.
RAW would never do what ISI does: Both the agencies have had a brilliant record of creating mayhem in the neighbouring countries. Both have a dismal record when it comes to protecting their own people. There is a simple reason that ISI is a bigger, more notorious brand name: It was CIA's franchise during the jihad against the Soviets. And now it's busy doing jihad against those very jihadis.
Pakistan is poor, India is rich: Pakistanis visiting India till the mid-eighties came back very smug. They told us about India's slums, and that there was nothing to buy except handicrafts and saris. Then Pakistanis could say with justifiable pride that nobody slept hungry in their country. But now, not only do people sleep hungry in both the countries, they also commit suicide because they see nothing but a lifetime of hunger ahead. A debt-ridden farmer contemplating suicide in Maharashtra and a mother who abandons her children in Karachi because she can't feed them: this is what we have achieved in our mutual desire to teach each other a lesson.
The writer is the author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Photo: Courtesy National Geographic.