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Old Wednesday, June 04, 2008
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Post Need to move away from self-destruction

Need to move away from self-destruction

Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Shireen M Mazari

There can be nothing but condemnation for the attack against the Danish embassy. Hatred and violence have become endemic in our psyche with tolerance all but a vanished word from our vocabulary. We find grand reasons for unleashing violence all around us, and no reason has been so frequently abused as religion. It is as if we are the sole defenders of the faith even as we contravene basic injunctions of this faith on a daily, nay, hourly basis both collectively and individually.

The terrorist incident comes at a time when the state has been seeking to end the cycle of violence flowing out of our tribal belt and onto the mainstream of the country, especially in the wake of the US-led "global war on terror" which not only has its own face of state terrorism but has been premised on an erroneous strategy of killing and humiliating Muslims in Guantanamo, in Abu Ghraib, in Bagram and wherever the US can find an opportunity. So we have seen the hatred and condemnable violence of Al-Qaeda face off with the hatred and violence of the Bush Administration post-9/11. The hatred has found easy takers on both sides one in the name of religion and "jihad"; the other in the name of freedom and "democracy." Never have such terms been so brazenly abused. Pakistanis have been caught in this crossfire in a most central manner.

That is why some saner voices have been advocating strategies to break the cycles of violence we have been plunged into. While there are many incitements to violence, there can be no justification of it. It is high time we Pakistanis looked inwards to dealing with our dehumanised psyches so that we can restore a human face to our civil society once again. Of course, for any such effort to succeed a first step has to be the creation of some space between ourselves and the US and its NATO allies, which are calling for our blood and the blood of our tribal people. No effort to get the tribals to renounce their violence and shelter for those living by such violence will succeed as long as we are embedded in the US-led war on terror.

It is a strange irony that the US, which effectively forced Britain to dialogue with the Irish Republican Army at a time when the IRA had moved its acts of violence to the British homeland itself, is unable to accept the Pakistani state seeking dialogue with its own people to end the violence and terror in the country. Nor is the British example the only one of a state dialoguing with those it had earlier declared as "terrorists."

We have seen the Philippine government negotiate with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) of Nur Misuari and later on with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of Hashim Salamat in the '90s. Unfortunately, the latter negotiations soured in 2000, providing more space to the Al-Qaeda-Abu Sayyaf extremists, but the earlier creation of the "Coordinating Committee for the Cessation of Hostilities" and the International Monitoring Teams, composed primarily of the Malaysian Armed Forces with some members from Libya and Brunei, have been able to contain local violence from escalating by decisive action.

Indonesia's Banda Aceh, where a more conservative form of Islam is practised than in the rest of Indonesia, is another example of dialogue making the difference. A peace agreement, facilitated by Finland, was in place in 2005. As a result the Abu Sayyaf Group has been isolated in this region. But the main point that should be noted by Pakistan is the recognition by all sides that the status quo reflecting colonial structures in a post-colonial setup was untenable. Of course, closer to home are the dialogues the Indian state has had with its militants in the northeast and the Sri Lankan states efforts to dialogue with the Tamil LTTE. And look at the Nepalese Maoists moving from being a violent militant entity to the majority party in the new republican set up.

So why should Pakistan's much needed efforts at dialogue with its tribal militants, including the Taliban, be sabotaged by the US and NATO? Clearly, they wish to keep this country destabilised -- especially the US, which has been seeking to shift the centre of gravity of the war on terror to the tribal belt and enter Pakistan militarily, as part of its efforts to violently redraw the borders of what it refers to as the "Broader Middle East." There also seems to be an assumption that if the country is weak and divided internally, those in power can accept external demands more easily, including from the US and India -- with the latter in terms of the peace process. Added to this is an even more nefarious game being played in Punjab in terms of fissiparous tendencies.

Overall, one needs to see the NRO and the PPP-Musharraf deal in this larger framework. When the Shaukat Aziz government lost credibility nationally, a new US-brokered political setup was evolved anticipating the people's electoral choices. The spoiler proved to be the PML-N which got votes that were not anticipated. If one is to understand the run-around being given by Zardari to the nation and to his PML-N coalition partner, one needs to know details of the whole NRO deal brokered by the US between Musharraf and the PPP. That is why there should be no surprise at finding the US ambassador, nay, vicereine, in consultations with Zardari almost every other day. Perhaps if the president is made to go, he can do the nation a major service and reveal the whole nefarious deal.

As vacillation continues and deliberately contradictory statements arise from the Prime Minister's House and the real power centre, Zardari House, about President Musharraf, there seems to be a deliberate effort on to incite the people to new heights of anger and frustration. Every time the US senses Pakistanis discovering some free space for manoeuvre, it steps in with diatribes and visitors, and now the use of the IMF and World Bank in terms of subsidy removals, knowing full well the instability that that will cause. We may have had fair and free elections, but the state continues to be run by the unelected. The greatest confusion has come to dominate the efforts by our democratic forces to dialogue with the tribals and Pakistani militants. The US knows that as long as we are unable to bring stability to our tribal belt, we will have to go along with their misguided military policies in Afghanistan. That is why whenever a "deal" seems imminent, out come the Predators and helicopter-gunships.

But why are we allowing ourselves to play this dangerous game that will destroy our nation -- even though the state of Pakistan has remarkable resilience to survive? It is time for civil society to reach out to those we mistrust or even hate -- and this move must come from all sides. The westernised elite, a key component of the civil-society protest on the judicial issue, must reach out to the religious groups and parties. While accepting our differences on all manner of issues, we also need to come together on national issues like the restoration of the judiciary and a national spirit. We have to stop the cycle of violence and hatred that has become endemic within us and is leading us to self-destruct.

Acts like the bombing outside the Danish embassy not only helps to bolster our negative image abroad, it undermines our own society and development. What we need to do is to expose the hypocrisy of the West and its myths of freedom and tolerance. Instead, every time we respond violently, we bolster their position and tragically kill more of our own innocent people. The Pakistani nation is the sole loser once again.
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