There are two common reactions to the Wikileaks revelations. One, they reveal nothing really new. Two, they do not reveal the complexity behind policy choices. For example, we all know that our political supremos are thoroughly corrupt and incompetent, and have no real commitment to the future of the country. They play politics instead of providing decent governance. Now we know this view is shared by our “allies and benefactors” who deal with them personally and have access to information that we cannot have.
Similarly, we know the government is not ashamed to lie to parliament on issues that concern the security, dignity, independence and sovereignty of the country. But then according to I F Stone “all governments lie.” Moreover, where Wikileaks provides new information on what international representatives and leaders think of our leaders and policies these opinions can be said to be biased, selective or the perennial “taken out of context.” They do not cover other aspects of policies that are a product of very complex circumstances.
The above reactions would be plausible if Pakistan was a normal country. In every country leaders sometimes say things in private that they would not like to be made public. Recall western leaders caught saying things when they did not realise microphones had not been turned off – like Bush speaking to Blair condescendingly or Gordon Brown expressing his exasperation with an elderly lady Labour constituent who disagreed with him. They certainly embarrass the leader concerned and provide grist to the mills of the media and his opponents for a while, but are of no lasting significance. The latest Wikileaks tranche also contains interesting views of envoys about the heads and senior ministers of their host governments.
But what about a prime minister who tells the American ambassador he will go through the motions of protesting in parliament about American drone attacks on his country, and then promptly ignore the matter? What about a military head in a democracy who tells the ambassador he is weighing the pros and cons of replacing the elected president except for the fact that he dislikes the leader of the opposition, who would probably win another election, even more than he dislikes the president?
What about a president who finds it necessary to show documentary evidence to the American ambassador that his assassinated wife had designated him as her successor and now plans for the country to be handed over to his sister in the event of his own assassination? Was his party even aware of this? Silly question! What about an American ambassador who has the temerity to insist the illegally removed chief justice of the Supreme Court will not be restored, to accuse the Lahore High Court of being anti-American, to recommend that the human rights violations of the Pakistan army be hushed up and to extract a commitment from the incoming president to grant immunity to the outgoing dictator who tore up the constitution and was suspected of being directly or indirectly responsible for the assassination of the president’s wife?
So much for the US commitment to the promotion of democracy and the rule of law! The ambassador’s cables make clear that the worst enemies of Pakistan’s future are those who govern it with American determination to keep them in office as long as they serve American ends. All this has been known for a long time. Wikileaks merely reconfirms it.
We rely overwhelmingly on foreign leaders who have nothing but contempt for our leaders. The Saudi monarch wants military rule in Pakistan because of his low opinion of the highest echelons of our civilian leadership. The American president regards Pakistan as a “nightmare” country that is unfit to possess nuclear weapons because of its indissoluble links with extremist organisations which our power elite regards as assets in containing threats from India. Nuclear deterrence and decent governance were supposed to do that! Among the priorities of our power elite the illusory “security” of Pakistan takes precedence over ensuring its actual survival.
This makes for a scenario that is tailor made for extremists to plan to seize control over large parts of a disintegrating country, including possibly nuclear materials and/or weapons. Moreover, the current “kinetic” American strategies involving the systematic killing, terrorising and humiliation of civilian populations – all very Israeli in concept and practice – ensure that anti-American extremism will never be de-legitimised in the eyes of significant segments of the population in Pakistan and Afghanistan – indeed in the Muslim streets of the world. Can a corrupt Pakistani leadership that is held in international contempt ever make this point effectively to the US and others?
But all is not yet lost. Our people are indeed resilient. They need to be organised and provided hope. There are amongst us outstanding individuals and groups of people who need to come together and awaken the masses to their potential and the fact that their current plight is not their destiny. Prescriptions are the easy part. Implementing required political, social and economic measures is the real challenge. Power structures are in fact the enemy. There may not be much we can do about the international power structure. But the domestic power structure is another story. It only appears invincible as long as it is not challenged by the people.
There are political leaders, like Imran Khan, who are obviously clean, devoted, trusted and capable of contributing, in concert with like-minded people, to movements that can set the ball rolling. Wikileaks also reveals him as the only political leader able and willing to stand up to the Americans and tell them about their flawed policies in a manner that is far beyond the ability and guts of our supposedly “successful” politicians.
However, the low self-esteem of much of our intelligentsia drives them to belittle and ridicule dedicated people who have demonstrated that they mean what they say, have a genuine passion to serve the people, and have already a number of admirable achievements to their credit. Imran’s “failure” as a politician in our present milieu, in fact, does him credit. He has refused to compromise with power in return for political benefit. Accordingly, cynical detractors call him a dim-wit in the game of politics. It all depends on what they mean by politics.
I know that reactionary and extremist opinions are often ascribed to Imran that he does not in fact hold. He needs to clear up the confusion and disinformation especially if he wants to gain the active support of the educated female vote and organise his potential grass roots base. He needs to broadly outline, in simple language, a national program of participatory action covering the major domestic, external, economic, social, security, intra-regional and intra-ethnic issues which none of our “smart” politicians show any interest in addressing. They rely, instead, on the resignation and hopelessness of a people they believe are condemned to giving unrequited loyalty.
Imran Khan may be laughed at by the establishment. Like anybody, he has his limitations. But he is admired and respected by vast numbers who are victims of viciously indifferent governance. He is confident he can mobilise the trust of the people – as he has in the aftermath of the floods – and provide them the kind of hope they yearn for. He appears to be prepared to dedicate the rest of his life to enabling the people of Pakistan escape their current plight to which our current “leaders” seem happy to condemn them forever.
He needs and deserves all the help and guidance ordinary, able and dedicated people can provide. He may succeed or fail in his mission to transform Pakistan. But I do not see a better political alternative to helping him in whatever way we think appropriate, and thereby, helping the people of Pakistan to launch a movement to save our country. Unlike our present politics, such an effort can never be in vain.