Kill The Tiger

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Militants in large number do not huddle together; of all places in Bajaur. Lately, the area was in the US' crosshair and- as proclaimed by the President- under our close surveillance. Even if they do; there was no chance that the Army that I have known would have them, our own countrymen, blown to smithereens. It would have taken a less lethal course. And, of course I do not believe that we could have committed this enormity hours before concluding another agreement with the tribesmen. After all we were so proud of its forerunner that seemed to be working so well in North Waziristan!

The prevalent view, therefore, makes plenty of sense. It was an American strike: probably to preempt another "capitulation to the Taliban"; and most probably carried out against our protestations. We accepted the responsibility in the vain belief that culpability for this crime was a lesser blemish than failure to defend sovereignty. Our sensitivity about this sovereignty thing is understandable: it has so often been violated. This time, however, in our desire to be seen as sovereign, we have risked our army's professional image: it cannot roundup a few lightly armed young men holed-up in a seminary! Mercifully, hardly anyone has accepted the official version.

Countries like ours are hardly ever fully sovereign. Those who surrender own citizens to foreign powers without due process of law, and get paid for it, are even less so. (Would any of our legal wizards please tell us if those released from Gitmo could sue us for handing them over without sufficient proof; or, could the US now ask us to return the money we charged for this lot?) Sovereignty was not all that we lost when we agreed to give "unstinted support" to America on its war on terror; we also sold our body and soul. (Tu jhuka jo gheir ke agey, na mun tera na tun.) It was not our decision to cooperate with the US, backed by the rest of the world, which was wrong, but how we understood our role.

We were asked, perhaps threatened, to be an ally. We obliged, understandably; upgraded our status to a frontline ally, happily; and bragged about our indispensability. "But for us, this whole war on terror business would come down on its knees"; so spake the most indispensable of us all. Even lesser allies have more rights. They do not have to risk their own existence or that of their citizens in pursuit of their obligations. We cited killing and capturing of our own people, many of them innocent, as proof of our commitment to the mission assigned to us. Bush was still unhappy and came all the way to ascertain "if our President was still committed".

Once the vulnerable flank is exposed, it will be exploited. And one does not have to have worn a uniform to understand that. It is only when the uniform becomes part of the skin ('body armour' in military lingo), that one becomes immune to flanking attacks. Chinks in our armour are by now well known- even documented. When threatened to be bombed into the stone age, one needed no war-game to conclude that we could not win against America; only an assessment of how badly we were needed and then negotiate the parameters of cooperation. Indeed, if all cooperation was predicated with a price tag, the status plummets from ally to a hired hand. The trouble is that the hired hand has now gotten addicted to the lower status.

There has certainly been profit in this bargain. If the economy has recovered; let's concede the point, sportingly and generously. Many argue that our fateful decision catapulted us onto the global centre stage. Indeed, Pakistan once got more attention than Al-Qaida. Overtime, one can be blinded by the limelight and start scoring own goals. Dr AQ Khan may have violated some of our own norms but no international law. Our foreign sensibilities led to his public humiliation and have kept us on the defensive ever since. No country has acquired this capability all on its own or from the shelf. Some abducted foreign scientists, others' did not get caught.

It is no longer about shooting in our own feet, but ever more to our own head. We pontificate to the world that the use of force against the terrorists was counterproductive. All the rest target only the aliens. We declare our own people terrorists and blow them up. Believe it or not; our rationale is that if we did not kill them, someone else would. No doubt, our people would rather be killed by their countrymen- in the hope that we will honour the dead. The problem is that we either disown our dead (remember Kargil!), or own whatever was left of them by the alien drones. The problem is that we revel in the death of our compatriots and dishonour our dead (remember Bugti). And then there are other problems.

One day, in not too distant a future, we do want to revert to being a normal country; a country whose presidents and prime-ministers do not have to operate from fortresses, and indeed a country that is not ruled by a soldier in uniform. These abnormal arrangements were believed to be aberrations post 9/11. Post Bajaur, we may have to live with them for a long time. Can the President now live without his body armour and his armed escort?

A few weeks ago I had argued in these columns that General Musharraf was not riding a tiger and he could restore the normal political process in the Country. It seems there was after all a tiger under him that I had failed to notice. He mounted it to fulfil a self assigned role, and cannot dismount to make Pakistan a normal country. The only way out is for the General to kill the tiger. Our post 9/11 policies need a major midcourse correction.
 

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Author: Asad Durrani