Media, Diplomacy, and Foreign Troops

Husain Haqqani

Who negotiates deals between governments? Is it the top officials and diplomats they have appointed to maintain the national trust? Or is it anonymous sources and TV talking heads? These days the lines seem to be blurring, and I’m not sure we’re better for it.

As you may know by know, The New York Times published an article this morning that quotes anonymous American officials who say that the US is seeking to put troops over the border into Pakistan to pursue Taliban militants.

This was immediately denied by NATO‘s US Rear Adm Gregory Smith.

There is absolutely no truth to reporting in The New York Times that U.S. forces are planning to conduct ground operations into Pakistan.

The suggestion that Pakistan would allow foreign troops on her soil was also immediately rejected by Ambassador Husain Haqqani who declared:

Pakistani forces are capable of handling the militant threat within our borders and no foreign forces are allowed or required to operate inside our sovereign territory…We work with our allies, especially the U.S., and appreciate their material support but we will not accept foreign troops on our soil – a position that is well known.

So what is the true story? Actually, we don’t know all the facts. It could be that some US official asked if they could send some troops onto Pakistani territory and were immediately rejected by Gen. Kayani and Ambassador Haqqani.

It could be that our military representatives and diplomats have been negotiating for increased material assistance such as the latest combat helicopters, night vision, and communications equipment and some underling misunderstood the discussion because he was only privy to partial information.

It could also be that there are some who believe that despite Pakistan’s insistence on defending its sovereignty, they can negotiate through media campaigns.

Just as the journalists and editors probably believed that the fake Wikileaks story had been verified by someone before they published it, it is likely that the journalists at The New York Times believe the story about US trying to get troops over the border is also true. But it appears that, like the fake Wikileaks story, the American reporters have failed to investigate enough as the report was immediately discredited by both American and Pakistani officials.

Obviously, this is not to say that we don’t need greater transparency in all things. But there is a difference between transparency and speculation. What we are seeing more and more is speculation, not fact-based analysis and this is causing confusion and feeding the conspiracy theory virus that has infected our media so deeply that respectable newspapers published a fake story about Wikileaks without verifying that it was, in fact, legitimate.

What is unfortunate is that this report could have opened a legitimate conversation about the limits between Pak-US cooperation in the fight against jihadi militants. Certainly there is much cooperation that benefits both nations, but there are also limits to this cooperation. The US will surely not be willing to put their soldiers under the command of Pakistan’s officials. Likewise Pakistan is not going to allow foreign troops to operate on our sovereign soil. But between these limits, there is a lot of room for discussion. Actually, even those limits are probably discussed. The problem with this New York Times report is that it states as a fact that the US military seeks to expand its presence in Pakistan despite the immediate rejection of this by all parties.

The headlines in tomorrow’s conspiracy sheets are already being written with great excitement. These media jihadis will take any opportunity to excite the masses and create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. And this does not do any good. Actually, it threatens to place unnecessary obstacles in the way of negotiations between our diplomats and military officers and those of our allies.

It is clear that we need more transparency in our cooperation with the US. As Ardeshir Cowasjee expertly observed, there is too much hypocrisy by some civil and military leaders who say one thing to us and another to the Americans. But we also need to allow our leaders to do their jobs. Wild speculation and conspiracy theories undercuts their ability to negotiate for Pakistan’s best interests. Just as we don’t need government officials reporting the news, we don’t need our journalists trying to negotiate terms with foreign governments. Let each do his job, and we Pakistan will gain more from both.

Think Positive

Basil Nabi Malik’s column in Express Tribune was a great way to start the day. Actually, I’m thinking of putting it up on the wall so that I read it every morning as a reminder that if each of us can get just one person to think positive and make some positive changes in his or her life, we can do amazing things. That person, is ourself.

As a starter, rather than trying to change everyone around us, let us simply change ourselves. As a people, we are too obsessed with what others are doing, may be doing, or could be doing. The maulana with the long beard and short shalwar should aim to better himself in the eyes of God rather than browbeat everyone around him into changing into his prototype of excellence, whereas the secular liberal should exhibit a certain degree of tolerance and attempt to keep in check his condescending attitude towards all those who overtly show their ‘faith’. The average Pakistani, portrayed as a perpetual victim, should think for himself rather than ascribing to the world views of the likes of the secular liberals or the religious fanatics.

Perhaps we should also commit to honest work in our daily lives without resorting to silly shortcuts which eventually result in greater troubles. The standards in any society can be deciphered from their work ethic. And unfortunately, our work ethic revolves around the notion that the term efficient signifies more remuneration for less work rather than getting more done in less time for greater remuneration.

Furthermore, let us have a bit more respect for our country. Trashing one’s country to fit in with a foreign crowd, or to look cool, doesn’t say much about a person. We may have a multitude of issues but we also have a massive reservoir of positives, such as our national heritage, pristine tourist sites and unmatched hospitality. Let’s start highlighting that, along with the obvious negatives that need to be corrected, to send a more balanced picture of our homeland.

As a necessary offshoot to the above, let us stop criticising others for doing exactly what we do, albeit on a grander scale. People in Pakistan are quick on the draw in criticising a specific Urdu news channel for ‘sensationalising’ tragedies and dramatising every situation for ratings and personal benefit. However, how many people in Pakistan would refuse to use the present situation for personal benefits, if the possibility arose? When in New York, I saw Pakistani students brag about how they used the fact that they were from a Taliban infested country which oppressed women to gain sympathy and special treatment in various situations, such as university applications.

People crib about the lack of taxes our political and administrative elite pay to the national kitty. True, but very few of us would pay the same if the said amount was not being cut from our paychecks. So unless we positively assume the role of good Samaritans rather than unwilling participants, the only difference between us and them, unfortunately, is lack of opportunity.

In a nutshell, we can’t hypocritically be part of a society which takes bribes, encourages nepotism, discourages hard work, and applauds shortcuts, and at the same time criticise the society for being as it is. After all, either we are the change that we want to see in Pakistan, or the product of the change that was Ziaul Haq. The ball is in your court, Pakistan.

Confronting Hypocrisy

by Mohsin Hamid for Dawn

The spot-fixing scandal has broken my heart. I’m a die-hard Pakistan cricket fan. Yes, I’d long heard about the corruption in our team, including by some of our greatest players in the 1990s. But I never wanted to believe it.

So when I saw the no-ball video evidence last month, it shook me. I was disgusted by our players, and even more so by the Pakistan Cricket Board. Whether or not anyone is convicted of a crime, if the video wasn’t a fake (and there’s no reason to think it was), then it and the horrifying behaviour of our officials in response are all I need to be convinced that our national cricket administration is rotten to the core.

In recent times Pakistan cricket has seen increasingly overt displays of religiosity. We’ve had conversions, sudden changes in appearance (with beards sprouting on many a formerly clean-shaven chin). We’ve had group prayers led by captains and (if rumours are to be believed) secret, sacred oaths sworn to unseat captains. We’ve had after-match press conferences prefaced by invocations of the divine.

Why, then, are we confronted with endemic cheating by our players and the unsavoury sight of our administrators seemingly scrambling to hide what has been going on? Why is our cricket infrastructure in as sorry a state as our political infrastructure?

For me, a large part of the answer has to do with the politicisation of religion.

I have always been a strong believer in Pakistan’s potential. And despite the terribly difficult times our country is going through, I’ve never accepted that our future needs to be bleak. But it is clear to me that Pakistan is being bled by a terrible enemy. That enemy is not America or India or any other external power. No, our enemy is within. Our enemy is our own hypocrisy.

To an extraordinary degree, we Pakistanis have a culture of hypocrisy. We condemn corrupt officials but cheat on our taxes. We have little evidence for conspiracy theories but spout them anyway. Our police take bribes. Our champion sportsmen throw matches. Our state both fights militants and supports militants. Our People’s Parties steal from the people. Our Muslim Leagues wink at those who kill Muslims.

Our hypocrisy is so rampant that one would think it’s a state-sponsored ideology.

And, in fact, it is. In moving from the secular state envisioned by Jinnah to the so-called religious one brought into being by Bhutto, Zia, the Sharifs and the Bhutto-Zardari dynasty, Pakistan has created a political template that makes hypocrisy essential.

Religion, like love, is at its core about sincerity. Saying you love your spouse or your child in public as loudly as possible does not make it true. But imagine a state where everyone was encouraged, indeed coerced, to do this. By law, no one would go to work on their child’s birthday. Wedding anniversaries would be marked with televised speeches. In order to be issued with passports, childless couples and the unmarried would be forced to fill out special declarations to the effect that their status was not of their choosing.

What would happen? People would lie. In order to be accepted and get ahead, they would say one thing and believe something else. And by so doing, they would devalue truth (and indeed love) in their society. They would create an environment of hypocrisy in which those who love and those who don’t love both claim to love, where those who don’t love would be denied the chance for honest self-assessment, and where those who do love would find the words they use to express their feelings drained of meaning through rampant misappropriation. The result would be a society utterly toxic to love and to its own people.

The same is true of religion. A state that mandates religious practices, as Pakistan does, is a state that mandates hypocrisy, because the law can only govern outward behaviour. It can say that such-and-such behaviour is prohibited, but it cannot say that such-and-such belief is prohibited. And as the gap between belief and behaviour widens, hypocrisy sets in. People with beards still kill. People who cover their heads still steal. People who thank God for their victories still cheat. And because so many people do these things, the split between religion and morality becomes profound and widely accepted.

Secularism need not be anti-religious. A secular Pakistan could be a Pakistan in which the religious life of its citizens is enhanced, just as love is enhanced in a state that does not seek to legislate love. We need to re-evaluate the notion of politicised Islam that has worked its way into our politics, our constitution, our culture and our sports teams.

There is no hiding from our hypocrisy. We have to confront it. It lies at the heart of our state. The choice between an Islamic republic and a republic with a Muslim majority is ours, and it is not merely a matter of words. There is a reason why religions say there should be no compulsion in matters of religion. The reason is that compulsion leads to hypocrisy.

And hypocrisy leads to the crises Pakistan faces today.

The writer is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Follow what I say, not what I do

There’s a lot of anger right now about how some idiots in the US are behaving. Opposition to a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks; a Christian church in Florida’s plans to go burn copies of the Holy Quran – their attitudes reek of anti-Islamic ignorance and bigotry. But do we show the same tolerance and respect to others that we demand?

The controversy over the mosque in New York City is ridiculous. There’s already a mosque in the area, in addition to over 30 other mosques in the city. While we have several beautiful Christian churches in Pakistan (I have always thought Hall Road Church in Lahore quite beautiful), when was the last time you ever heard someone complain about the laws of Saudia Arabia that prohibit church building?

Also, did you know that the plans to build the mosque were approved by New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Jew?

The ongoing dispute in New York is another reminder of how civilised societies treat those citizens who do not subscribe to the majority faith. Much to his credit, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg (a Jew, by the way) approved the project, despite opposition from right-wing groups.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan we see deadly attacks against Christians, Ahmadis, Sufis, Shias, etc. And while this might make for exciting news coverage for a day or two while we cluck our tongues and shake our heads at the shame of it all, we move on quickly to what is more important to us – has Asif Zardari bought any flats lately? What is Imran Khan wearing today?

Likewise for this disgusting controversy of burning Qurans. The US Embassy in Islamabad has called the Florida church’s plans “disrespectful, intolerant and divisive” and condemned the threat, as has the US Ambassador to the United Nations.

But after nine Christians in Gojra were killed and more than 120 homes destroyed, nothing was done to punish anyone. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that Christians in the area still fear for their safety.

Where is the outcry from our own officials about the treatment of minorities? People are quick to condemn and quick to forget. We are more concerned with protecting the fragile egos of our cricket players than the fragile lives of our brothers from another faith.

We want idiots in America to be punished for being idiots, but we ignore the idiots under our very noses. We act outraged when some idiot in America shows disrespect for our religion, but we turn our heads and look away when minorities in our own country are slaughtered in their churches and mosques.

Just like we love to accuse American delegations of every crime imaginable, but cry foul when we are treated with the same suspicion, there is something about the national dialogue that always follows the pattern: Follow what I say, not what I do!