Why do we debate like this?

When I saw Asad Khan’s piece attacking Husain Haqqani, I yawned. In 1,000 words, the author managed to say nothing new. What he hoped to gain from writing it or the newspaper hoped to gain from publishing it I can only guess to be some easy website hits and re-tweets which they probably succeeded at. A few days later, that piece was responded to in the same newspaper by Junaid Qaiser who answered each of Asad Khan’s points. With that, I thought for sure the matter would be finished. Then, someone who I have a lot of respect for made a serious accusation that Haqqani was on the payroll of Arab Sheikhs. This was actually a new one, usually it is RAW or CIA I thought was supposedly paying everyone. I was astounded and I asked what evidence he had to make such a sensational allegation. After a polite back and forth, I was left more depressed than ever. Not because a former Ambassador had been proven to be working for a foreign power, but because after seeing the evidence I felt like it was just another example of the self-defeating way that we debate in this country.

It turned out that the accusation that Haqqani is working for Arab Sheikhs was based on some things that he has written and Tweeted (or, in some cases merely re-tweeted) about Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. I read through the posts and Tweets and while I may not agree with his point of view, I didn’t find anything that was particularly shocking. There definitely wasn’t anything that I hadn’t heard before. Actually, I have heard much worse. Was it just because it was seen as a betrayal to be coming from someone who usually takes the liberal view? Isn’t part of being a liberal the willingness to accept that we will not always agree about everything?

From what Haqqani wrote he didn’t seem to be saying that Pakistan should join Saudi’s attack on Yemen, but that the decision needed to be handled in a way so that it didn’t make the Arabs feel insecure. When people feel insecure, they tend to make rash decisions, so I understand that. It’s true that he did Tweet about Pakistan’s “refusal to stand by Saudi Arabia”, but even that was about whether the decision would “reinforce image of unreliability”. I’ll be honest, even with this nuanced point I’m still not sure I agree with him, but even so certainly he has a right to voice an opinion I don’t agree with! Then the discussion seemed to change directions. Now it wasn’t Haqqani himself that was being paid by the Arabs, it was his employer. At this point, I decided to let it go because it felt like things were going in a circle and I was getting exhausted.

When Husain Haqqani says something critical of Pakistan, it’s because he is paid by RAW or America or Arabs. Everything he says is dismissed not because he is wrong about this or that point, but because he is paid. And it’s not just Husain Haqqani, actually. It is everyone. Nadeem Paracha has Tweeted something positive about Gen Raheel? You know who is paying him to do it. Mohammad Taqi says something about missing persons in Balochistan? RAW is paying him to do it. Based on the number of accusations of someone being paid to say something in Pakistan, we should be the wealthiest country in the world!

Why do we debate like this? Why do we attack the person instead of their points? Maybe someone is paid and maybe someone is not paid. If you have some evidence that they are paid then by all means show evidence of payments and expose them. If they are just wrong about something, though, then explain why they are wrong. Debate the idea and not the person. Husain Haqqani made an excellent joke recently when he said, “Goals are scored by kicking the ball, not by kicking the player.” We are a nation where everyone is bruised and bloodied from constant kicking while the ball sits untouched in the centre circle. It’s not a winning strategy.

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