VIEW: Dangerous old ladies —Feisal Naqvi
Daily Times, November 20, 2007
The time has come now for the United States to realise that it is the citizens of Pakistan who are indispensable, not their army. We have lives, we have views, and until recently, we had rights. If America wants to win our hearts and minds, it can start by giving a damn about them
Two weeks ago, General Pervez Musharraf imposed martial law in Pakistan for the second time. The main reason given by him was that the courts were interfering with his efforts to crack down on religious extremists.
If that reason had been correct, the Pakistani government would have spent the intervening period happily arresting every religious extremist in sight (and there are plenty), without fear of an overly zealous judiciary. That has not been the case.
The first mass arrests which followed the declaration of ‘emergency’ resulted in the rounding up of 54 people who were attending a meeting in Lahore of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
The people arrested were neither overtly religious nor extremists. In fact, out of the 54 persons arrested, 24 were women, several of whom were well past sixty. One of the ladies is the principal of a highly regarded school for girls. Another is an internationally renowned artist and the former principal of Pakistan’s leading college of fine arts. What exactly did General Musharraf think would happen if this monstrous gathering of old ladies was not stopped? Assault with a deadly handbag?
The men there were no bomb-throwing revolutionaries either. There was a Cambridge-educated economist, two Cambridge-educated lawyers, a lawyer who is the son of a retired Supreme Court justice and yet another lawyer whose father-in-law happens to be a serving justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
These people are not a threat to anyone. Liberal, secular, highly educated and deeply concerned — they are the best this country has to offer. Why then is the United States supporting a regime that regards these people as a threat?
The average lawyer in Pakistan is no Oxbridge graduate but a liberal and generally secular outlook is common to the profession. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was one of the finest advocates of his generation. Ever since his demise (and the birth of Pakistan), lawyers here have felt a special responsibility in trying to protect the values which he left to the fledgling state of Pakistan.
In 1968, when General Ayub Khan tottered after ten years of martial rule, the opposition was spearheaded by lawyers. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rigged the elections in 1977, the opposition was led by lawyers. When General Zia-ul Haq imposed “Islamisation” in the early 1980s, the opposition was led by lawyers. In 1995, when Benazir Bhutto tried to stack the judiciary with incompetent cronies, the opposition was led by lawyers. And six months ago, when General Musharraf tried to fire the chief justice of Pakistan, the opposition was led by lawyers.
The men and women who lead these protests are not people with cushy lives. Many of them live lives of abject poverty, scavenging for a handout on a daily basis among the hurly-burly of lower courts. They have no reserves to fall back on: those days when they do not find a client are days when their families go hungry.
Once again: why is the United States supporting this regime?
The answer is that the Bush administration has long regarded Pakistan as a captive client, one in which only the army needs to be won over. This is a dangerous strategy. The war against religious extremism will be won or lost in the hearts and minds of the Pakistani nation, not in the hearts and minds of the army.
We hear quite often that the United States has given over USD10 billion to Pakistan. But where has that money gone? Pakistanis can look all they want but they will find no concrete evidence of American generosity. So far as the ordinary man is concerned, there is no hospital, no road, no school and no dam which marks the benefits received by Pakistan in exchange for its cooperation with the United States. Instead, a substantial portion of the “aid” given to Pakistan is re-circulated back to the United States in the form of payments for new weapons systems. Not only does this give our generals shiny new toys to play with but it subsidises the defence industry back in the United States.
The time has come now for the United States to realise that it is the citizens of Pakistan who are indispensable, not their army. We have lives, we have views, and until recently, we had rights. If America wants to win our hearts and minds, it can start by giving a damn about them.
The writer is an advocate