Strides of civil society are non-negotiable

Strides of civil society are non-negotiable
Prof Paul Scott and Sarwar Bari
The News, April 27, 2009

The political and economic shape of Afghanistan and Pakistan is being configured right before our eyes. It is clear that a series of readjustments and course-corrections are being made, changes that may well add up to what will then form a chain of causality that will be obvious only when one looks back and connects the dots. Hindsight is always perfect. What is obvious is that the global economic crisis is forcing policymakers back to a drawing board whose formula may well be phrased in a “means and ends” matrix. All pragmatic realists should applaud this formulation. Sufficient means and clear ends should almost always result in a reasonable chance of success. This mantra of means and ends is akin to Goethe’s definition of genius, “knowing when to stop.” Yet pragmatism and realism devoid of idealism and humanitarianism are empty cylinders where national interest can be counted. The shaping of history and configurations of nations and peoples is more than just an accountant’s balance sheet.

President Obama, in his first White House televised interview, with the Al Arabiya news networkbased in Dubai, enunciated a course of action that will be fundamentally different in both means and ends than that of Mr Bush. As the New York Times reported, “…Yes, the with-us-or-against-us global struggle — the so-called Long War — in which a freedom-loving West confronts the undifferentiated forces of darkness comprising everything from Al Qaeda to elements of the Palestinian national struggle under the banner of ’Islamofascism’ has been terminated. What’s left is what matters: defeating terrorist organisations. That’s not a war. It’s a strategic challenge.” One applauds the change in tone in Mr Obama’s words. He is certainly both an elegant and an intelligent man; one who understands nuances.

While Mr Obama does not want to be the new sheriff in town he has certainly sent out explicit signals of what fights he will not be drawn in. This is where the recent statements of Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates need closer and more critical appraisal.

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