By Aniq Zafar
US President Barack Obama during an interview last week with a Pakistani news channel said he believed the Pakistani state was strong enough to win the military offensive against the extremists. This may have a soothing effect on some of the Pakistani commentators who tried to read too much into his comments days before the visit of President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, to the US some weeks back.
These commentators had then tried to show as if his comments would result into total collapse of the government in Islamabad within days and perhaps state of Pakistan will implode. The resolve that the government of Pakistan and the state institutions, particularly Pakistan’s Armed Forces, have shown in taking on militants in Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan in the last couple of months indeed has shown that the state of Pakistan is functioning and can meet the challenges. This has only been possible because the nation stood behind the government and the armed forces. Equally important was the fact that we got into handling the situation instead of concentrating on finding the conspiracies.
President Obama said that the people and the Pakistani government fully recognised the kind of violence they had been seeing could not be the answer for their long-term prosperity. The Pakistani government was accountable to the people of Pakistan. “I think the Pakistani government and the people of Pakistan recognise that when you have extremists who are assassinating moderate clerics like Dr Naeemi, when you have explosions that are killing innocent women and children, that can’t be the path for development and prosperity for Pakistan.” This indeed also reflects what the people of Pakistan now feel about the militants who for long hid themselves as Taliban and some people had started looking at them as if they were the messiahs.
For long there has been an effort to blame the world for what is wrong with us in particular and with the Muslim world in general. Our political leadership, intellectual elite and the media feed into established notions and only further strengthen those instead of looking at things from a different and wider perspective. We had been told time and again that only way we could handle militants was to engage them into a dialogue and if the military forces of Pakistan went ahead and fought them it will be falling into a trap of international conspiracy. Of course such outlandish ideas have been proven wrong and Pakistan’s military has successfully cleared most parts of Swat, and South Waziristan is next.
In a general environment where conspiracy theorists that exploit religious sentiment to project their particular world view, any informed debate becomes a difficult task. Take for example the conspiracy mindset that some world powers are trying to take out our nuclear weapons. But no one has a clear answer to the question, why would the whole world be turning upside down to take out our nuclear weapons? The nuclear ratcheting that we indulge into may give some nightmares to some analysts in the world but states much stronger than us in military terms and geographically located at distances that are out of reach of our missiles should not be bothered about our nuclear weapons. Yes, if non-state actors become too strong in a nuclear-capable state, not only the rest of the world, we ourselves should also be worried.
There is no doubt that nuclear and strategic weapons are now our mainstay against India but ironically the challenge we face today in the shape of militants is least pushed about our strategic weapons.
Obama did well to assure the Pakistani nation that his country had no desire to seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons or to send US troops inside the country. He said he was confident that the Pakistani government had safeguarded its nukes to prevent the militants from capturing them. Obviously, we in Pakistan never had a doubt that our strategic assets like nuclear and missile programmes are under tight control but again it is carelessness of some of the overzealous amongst our self-proclaimed heroes (some retired generals and scientists) that the world sometimes looks at us with suspicions.
It is very easy to feed conspiracy theories to the Muslim population of the world as a large part of it has been kept ignorant and under-educated by the ruling oligarchs. These oligarchs have used the names of religion, culture and history to keep people unaware of what is happening in the world and how fast that is happening.
The knowledge deficit of the Muslim world can be gauged by some simple facts. Take for example the fact that the number of books translated into Arabic from other languages in the last one hundred years is less than the foreign language titles translated into Spanish in one year. Or the new titles produced in Arabic are only somewhere close to the new titles produced in Finnish. There are more than 350 million Arabs and only four million Finnish speaking humans roaming on the face of the earth. Urdu, the language of more than 300 million Muslims of South Asia, also does not fare any better when it comes to becoming the language of knowledge. This deficit ultimately translates into psyche of the nations that revel in playing victim instead of focusing their energies on changing for the better. Until and unless serious effort is made at reducing this knowledge deficit we cannot understand the world and will always be at odds with diversity of the world.
President Obama also carried forward the message he delivered in his speech in Cairo only two weeks back where he had stressed that he was looking for a world where there’s mutual understanding, mutual tolerance; where the United States were seen as somebody who stood with people in their daily aspirations; for an education for their children; for good jobs; for economic development. All seems a good promise if it actually comes about.
It is true that there are many US policies that may not make sense. There are reasons that the world suspects some of the moves that the US makes in the international arena. If President Obama is promising change then we must also open up and think out of the box and ponder hard on how to make Muslim societies more pluralistic in nature and more receptive to modern ideas.