‘If Pakistan in 2011 is a frightening place,’ began Bob Blackwill, the former American ambassador and now a leading think tank pundit, as we sipped coffee in the Taj Lounge. “I can guarantee Pakistan in 2012 will be worse and in 2013 yet more so.” To be honest, I can’t really disagree. As predictions go, this one is hard to dispute. Indeed, I know many Pakistanis who perhaps share these fears.
But as I pondered over Bob’s grim forecast I was also acutely aware of a different reality. Not as a State but as people — and also as a society — Pakistan is not dissimilar to India. Punjab, Haryana and parts of Rajasthan are almost indistinguishable from the districts across the border. So what’s gone wrong with Pakistan?
Let’s start with the people. They’re not fanatics. They are not fundamentalist Muslims. Like us, to their east, they are traditionally conservative, culturally god-fearing and the faith they follow is rich with Sufi, mystical beliefs. They worship Allah but they also revere a multitude of pirs, gaddi nasheens
and wandering fakirs. They are not Wahabi or Salafist. They are rooted in South Asia.
Urban Pakistanis aspire to be rich, modern, successful — just like us. Rural Pakistanis live amidst their fields and cattle, struggling against the climate, the adverse terms of trade and centuries of feudal practice. Again, much like us.
Yet, what we most overlook — or, perhaps, we don’t even know — is that Pakistanis are deeply anguished by what’s happening to their country. They not only recognise the tornado that’s shattering their lives, they are living through the torment and torture it’s causing. More than anyone else, they seek its end and a return to peace, calm and tranquility.
For these reasons — but there are also more — Pakistan is not a lost cause. It may be flailing but it’s not yet failed. And the situation could reverse itself not least because ordinary well-meaning Pakistanis — and that’s the majority — desperately want that to happen. It won’t be easy but it’s not by any means impossible.
The key lies in tackling what’s gone wrong. And that means terminating and, then, discarding forever the policy of using extremism and terror to secure political or foreign policy goals.
I accept that there is a history to this vicious politics and the West has played its part in nurturing and benefitting from it. But dwelling on the past doesn’t provide the solution needed today. In fact, it often serves as an excuse for inaction. The change must begin with the guardians of this terror realpolitik: the army. The day Kayani and his corps commanders change course Pakistan will start to recover and return to sanity.
The first question is will they do it on their own? So far they’ve shown no inclination to do so. Second, can America nudge and push them? So far it’s said it will. But, in truth, hesitated to do so, usually benefitting from its own hypocrisy.
So now the real question is: will the Osama experience change things? Will America hereafter act on its own rhetorical commitment, to curb terror whatever its source? Will the shattering collapse in the Pakistani army’s standing in the eyes of its own people provide another compulsion for change? Could this pincer crack the nut?
Very occasionally, from the depths of despair and the nadir of humiliation, faint hope can spring forth. But has that moment come? Or am I being an incorrigible optimist?!
The views expressed by the author are personal