Two successive Pakistani governments in the past eleven years have been unable to sell the War on Terror to their people. These included one ‘enlightened moderate’ semi-military dictatorship and one ‘liberal’ democratic one. These governments aren’t the only ones. Op-Eds in English newspapers have been awash recently with people calling for a Military operation into North Waziristan, with little success.
Ever since the war started in Afghanistan, the term ‘trust deficit’ has been thrown around a lot as a hindrance to the success of the war. Mostly it has referred to the relationship between the Pakistan and US armies but, perhaps, it also needs to be applied to the relationship between the people of Pakistan and its government. The War on Terror, much like any other military operation, suffers from a severe lack of information coming out of the actual war zone. In such situations, governments generally take much stricter control of media reports and the information being disseminated to the public. As a result, the populace is generally almost solely reliant on the version of events being presented through the official channels. This, I feel, is where the Pakistani government fails repeatedly to make the case for military intervention.
The simple and sad fact is people just don’t trust the officials telling them to go to war. Our people are often derided for their propensity to believe in conspiracy theories, but isn’t their paranoia justified? Ours is a history of government lies, exploitation and manipulation. If the people were not wary of the government’s intentions, you would have to seriously question their learning abilities. Add to that the actual credibility of the government and political figures looking to establish ‘the rule of law’. Is it really surprising that the people of this country don’t willingly swallow the narrative of a well-meaning government trying to help the poor by establishing its writ? As a prime example, the man entrusted with the internal security of the country, the Interior Minister, is a man, who apart from his regular public bungling was actually sprung from jail by a Presidential pardon, has since lied about his dual nationality, accepted his lie and resigned from the Senate, only to unrepentantly and unabashedly walk right back into his vacated seat. The government has not seen fit to replace him!
Add further to this, the duplicity of the government over the issue of drones. It is now very much an open secret that the government, while putting up a facade of disapproval for the consumption of the Pakistani public, has privately pretty much given the US carte blanche on the affair. Is this the action of a government trying to bring its people on-board for a battle critical to the survival of the country? Quite obviously, the government seems unconcerned by the hit its credibility takes through such blatant dishonesty and therefore has no foundation on which to complain about being undermined by other political forces.
The pro-war government spokespeople exhaustively cite the disruption to basic government functions such as law and order and education in the area. While these are genuine issues, one again, the veracity of the government’s concern becomes dubious when one looks at the state of affairs in places where it isn’t hindered by the Tehrik-e-Taliban. Since this government was elected, up until last year, education standards seem to have been slipping throughout the country. Law and order (other than terrorism) hasn’t seen much improvement either, with many suspecting partners within this very government of complicity in the deteriorating situation in Karachi. So tomorrow, if the government is unable to find support for its program to ‘establish the writ of the state’ in Waziristan, should we really be surprised?
Of course, conspiracy theories don’t just begin and end with our own government; they involve a good many others. Again, can the population of a third world country, with low literacy, a colonial history, a corrupt government and uncomfortably close dealings with a super-power really be accused of irrational distrust on that account? I am no expert on history but I don’t really think I need to be one to know that the history of the CIA in the past sixty years is not one of honesty and fair-play. It is a history of supporting mercenary forces, causing civil wars and military coups, bribing, threatening and sometimes overthrowing governments, and on the whole being a general nuisance. The US government has, on more than one occasion lied about events in order to use them as pretexts for wars with devastating consequences. If there’s one thing the CIA hasn’t being accused of it’s being too scrupulous!
The situation is further harmed by examples of military adventurism in the recent past by the US, as well as a feeling of being sold short by our own representatives. Pakistani leaders throughout history have been perceived as being all too willing to serve foreign interests at the cost of the local population. In recent history, the stories of arrests and extraditions for bounties by the Musharraf regime served greatly to undermine his credibility in selling the war. The more recent disaster to emerge for this government was the cache of diplomatic cables brought out by Wikileaks. These went a long way in confirming suspicions people have long held about the level of involvement of the US in the running of the country. These included offers by aforementioned Rehman Malik to provide access to the NADRA database, as well as almost all major political players regularly turning to the US Ambassador for mediation in internal politics. I say again, if the government now tries to “own” this war, how will the people know whose interest is actually being served?
But perhaps the biggest failure of the government and non-government advocates of the war is their failure to identify and effectively articulate the TTP phenomenon. While representatives such as Faisal Raza Abidi can eloquently quote statistics and shower their descriptions of the TTP with examples of their barbarity, they are unable to present a lucid, logical thought process for their enemies and are therefore (as described in my previous post) heavily reliant on the Crazy Terrorist theory for support. This theory (as also described in my previous post) has more trouble finding roots in Pakistan than it may do so in other parts of the world.
There are many attempts at colouring this theory, the current shade referring regularly to an ‘ideological war’. But what is an ideological war? Arent all wars simultaneously ideological and non-ideological? A good example may be the Afghan war against the Soviets, where there was no dearth of ideologies running around. Among these were the international Jihad to rid a Muslim country of foreign invaders, there was a Capitalist fight against Communist domination, there was Communist resistance to Capitalist infiltration, a rural Afghan uprising against foreign occupation, ethnic and tribal attempts at dominance, and possibly much more. And yet, at its simplest, it was a battle for influence over Afghanistan by the two opposing superpowers.
This time around, the ideological backing from the US hit a new low when, post- 9/11, George W. seemed to consider it too much of an effort to come up with a complex political, economic or religious framework (though some may refer to his ‘crusade’ comment), and started talking simply in terms of good and evil. Perhaps someone in the White House decided not to befuddle the President with intricate ideas and to let him deal on a plane he could manage. The result, of course, was perhaps the biggest ideological claim of all times – the US was out to rid the world of evildoers!
This heavy reliance on the Ideological War theory greatly hinders possible support for any action against the TTP because it takes away material aims and leaves a void in terms of explaining their motivation. Excessively referring to the TTP as zealous nutjobs takes away the public’s ability to assess the situation and leaves them with a need to rationalise the behaviour of the TTP in other ways – enter foreign backing theory.
The Pakistani public also appears much more circumspect about the prospects of such an operation than the experts. This is also because arguments calling for military action seem to end just there, with a military operation, and no explanation of time-frame, fallout and long-term solutions. Carrying out an all-out military offensive in those regions would appear to be a gargantuan task, especially with an enemy identified, supposedly, only by his belief. Making such an operation worthwhile in the long run would appear even more difficult. This is a real concern with no apparent answers forthcoming.
What is needed is a much more scientific and rational approach to the assessment of the situation and its possible solutions. Unless proponents of the war are able to successfully and plausibly articulate the motivation of the TTP, to unemotionally calculate the costs and benefits of a military operation and explain them to the population, and perhaps most importantly, establish their own credentials as being driven solely by the interests of the state, they face an uphill task of trying to convince the Pakistani people that a military operation is absolutely necessary.
So far, most of the effort is in the form of emotional outbursts and in trying to present the operation as a movement to establish the rule of law in the northern areas; basically doing the right thing. This narrative no longer sells in the justifiably cynical land of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan no longer trust that their leaders, or opinion formers, act simply to do the right thing, they need more in terms of explanation!