OVER A COFFEE: With friends like these! —Dr Haider Shah
We can sever our relations with one big country on account of national ego but it is tantamount to economic suicide to turn our back on the whole world
He did make a fair point when he said he was not a fugitive from a court of law nor was he hiding in a cave. Making a mockery of the bounty announced by the US, Hafiz Saeed looked very relaxed and complacent and sounded persuasive in his flashy press conference at a Rawalpindi hotel. Who will not be persuaded by the argument that due process of law is the constitutional right of all citizens of Pakistan. The healthy and thriving leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JUD)/Laskhar-e-Tayyaba (LET) is, however, in sharp contrast to the starved to death, skeletal missing persons who could barely stand on their feet when produced by the incarcerators after the judiciary remained relentless in having them produced. The lawyer of the detainers had claimed before the media that the missing persons were not innocent as they were a security threat and could not be punished through the normal course of justice. If the contrast was not so startling, perhaps I would have also raised my voice in support of the bulging Hafiz Sahib.
But Hafiz Sahib and company are not the only thrill-making actors on the stage of Pakistani media. While Hafiz Sahib’s followers are active on the ground, there is another category of e-Taliban who are brimming with a spirit of jihad in the virtual world and electronic media. The Robespierre of the Pakistani French Revolution, Zaid Hamid, has demanded of the Supreme Court to declare all sehooni (Christian), yahoodi (Jewish) and RAW’s paid journalists traitors and then summarily guillotined. Like many others, I must confess that I also take Zaid Sahib as comic relief during talk shows and will not miss any programme where he is one of the participants. If Marvi Sirmed is also there, it would be as good as the Guy Fawkes Day fireworks. What Zaid Sahib says does not alarm me at all but what is rather distressing is the fact that as of today there are 118,245 educated young people who ‘like’ his official page. It has taken more than two years for our Rationalist Society to have 1,600 members. These figures in their own right speak volumes about the mental health of our society.
Countries pass through various tribulations before they set themselves on a steady course of economic progress. Until yesterday, Vietnam was known because of Marxist guerrilla warfare and Hollywood movies. Today Vietnam is noted as a country that is making smooth and steady progress with sensible turbulence-free economic policies and prudent foreign relations. Sometime ago, I wrote a two-piece analysis of paradigm change as exemplified by Serbia. The flashpoint nation of yesteryear made a conscious disconnect with its racist extremist past and handed over its extremist heroes to the War Crimes Court so that it could gain membership of the European Union. In the recent past, Eastern European countries also made such paradigm shifts. Poland, the bastion of the Warsaw Pact, has emerged as one of the fastest growing capitalist economies with other former communist countries also following suit. Earlier Japan and Germany had also changed their outlook and became the biggest allies of the US, hence reemerging as the major economic powers of the post-WWII era.
Pakistan has been experiencing a bumpy ride on the economic rollercoaster. Despite our persistent ‘anti-Americanism’, our economic growth was robust in periods when we enjoyed warm relations with the US and experienced a shrinking economy when the relationship soured. In a unipolar world, strained relations with the US mean weakened ties with the international community as well. From France to the US, Indonesia to India and Russia to China, all big members of the international community are apprehensive of our cosy relations with extremist characters that are hardwired with the international jihadist movement. We can sever our relations with one big country on account of national ego but it is tantamount to economic suicide to turn our back on the whole world.
Having established discrimination-free trade relations (known as MFN in international trade parlance) with the rising economic giant India, Pakistan is making a determined effort to put the economy back on track. All aspiring economies like Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh are trying to attract foreign direct investment and making themselves the most hospitable place for potential investors. Our extremism-ridden image does not help us at all in this neck-to-neck competition. We happen to be the sixth largest country in terms of population and one of the members of the nuclear club. Our size and geographic location entitle us to dream big for the future. Hafiz Sahib may be a very sincere man and all the supporters of Zaid Hamid may be very genuine patriots, but sincerity without sanity is often more dangerous than not.
When the whole world was heaving a sigh of relief over the successful operation of the US Seal team in Abbottabad, Hafiz Sahib was leading the funeral prayers of Osama bin Laden. When the whole world is advising Pakistan to normalise its relations with its neighbours India and Afghanistan and promote regional trade, Zaid Hamid is busy stoking the fires of hatred in young impressionable minds. Our sports loving Pakistanis want to see the end of the painful isolation of the country end and our peaceful inhabitants of Northern Areas want to see tourists flocking to their picturesque spots. We want neither our Switzerland in Malakand to become a hotbed of fanatics nor the valleys of Gilgit reddened with sectarian strife. Just as Serbia disowned their heroes of the bloodstained past, perhaps we also need to make a major disconnect with our gloomy past. In terms of our new march to long term growth by better integration with the international community, all icons of our deadly embrace of militant extremism are a liability. Whether it is the exit of Baitullah Mehsud or of Ilyas Kashmiri, we undoubtedly believe that the less the better.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org