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Asinine and anodyne in '09?



by Mosharraf Zaidi

(December 31, Islamabad, Sri Lanka Guardian) One measure of character is the ability to take responsibility for one's own fate and actions. No matter how many detractors and enemies may exist, any human enterprise--a business, an idea, or a country--must be able to ward off adversity in order to survive and thrive. A linear approach to problem solving, in short, is a useful tool to have. This is why the propensity of Pakistanis to explain their country's failures through conspiracy theories, and the propensity of Pakistan's friends to do the same is the most alarming of indicators.

Traditionally, the conspiracy theory of choice, for all calamities, is RAW. Whenever the US is providing vast sums of aid and assistance to the country, RAW is joined in its infamy in Pakistan, by the CIA. Where there is smoke, there is a cigarette, and so for every mention of the CIA, a generous dollop of Mossad references is also necessary. Like maple syrup over a pancake, British MI6 too is all over Pakistan. Since 1998 there is no doubt what the grand prize in the little game is: Pakistan's gold-plated, diamond-encrusted bling-bling nukes. What were they after before 1998? Since Pakistan didn't have nukes, one possibility may be that they were after our women. Whatever they were after, they've always been hard at work trying to contaminate the Land of the Pure.

In the last few years, traditional conspiracy theories to explain away the Pakistani state's difficulties are now supported by a spectrum of new ones. Pakistanis have now discovered that in fact its not only RAW, CIA, Mossad or MI6 that are trying to destroy Pakistan from within. It is also the ISI--even if inadvertently. Good or bad, whatever happens in Pakistan can now be traced to a heat-seeking ISI agent. It is they who are behind everything in Pakistan. Every politician is owned by them, every bureaucrat works for them. Every fancy license plate is a product of ISI largesse. Every profit-turning business is a beneficiary of a contract for phantom goods and services. Every mullah donates money, every burqa sold contributes revenue. New mosques are built by the ISI, but so are new malls, new parking lots and new soda fountains. Left to the right, north or south, up or down the ISI seems to have joined the ranks of RAW and CIA as the owners of the remote control that manages Pakistan's central nervous system, its skeleton, its muscles, its very heart and soul.

So on we go, on this merry-go-round of a national obsession with passing the buck to the invisible hand of seemingly divine structures. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but who needs a shower and soap, when you have intelligence agencies? In 2009, it seems that spying is the new Lux. Spy work is next to godliness. Omni-potent gangs of secretive evil geniuses plotting the demise of all things Pakistan. The line begins in Langley, Virginia and ends at ISI headquarters in Islamabad.

If you are progressive and liberal, the ISI has ruined Pakistan's E Street drive to development and secularism. The ISI-Taliban-LeT nexus has driven nine-inch-nails into the Quaid's secular dream. If you tilt more to the right, the RAW-CIA-Mossad-MI6 quadrant has destroyed Pakistan's drive to keep the dream of the ummah alive. The kaafirs are plotting to derail Pakistan from the siraat-e-mustaqeem trail.

Conspiracy theories that blame intelligence agencies (local or foreign) for the breathtaking and oft-unbelievable life and times of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan exist because of intellectual laziness. It is easier to weave stories where the dots don't all connect, than it is to painstakingly make the linear connections required to understand a fascinating, resilient, creative, but deeply dysfunctional state. Audiences at home and abroad are more easily and cheaply titillated by a narrative that involves cloaks and daggers than they would be by new institutional economics, identity politics and random walks.

The habitual blaming of American and Israeli organizations for cancers that are deeply ensconced within the body politic and society of Muslims is not endemic just to Pakistan, but in fact to the global Muslim community. It is a tired and pathetic tactic, and it fails to conceal the deep crises of faith, gender, literacy and integrity that plague the Muslim experience all over the world.

Intelligence agencies exist to operate in secrecy. Contrary to their protestations, they almost surely behave outside the law at times. But the overwhelming evidence in Pakistan suggests that intelligence agencies--foreign or national--can only have made a marginal contribution to the rot.

For example, in the 2008 election, it surely could not have been an intelligence agency that forced the Election Commission of Pakistan to use the discredited 2002 voters' list. No intelligence agency stopped government from investing in power plants and the energy sector. It is not any intelligence agency that is stopping Pakistan from addressing climate change. Spy masters from India did not initiate the practise of establishing ghost schools, nor of hiring political pets as primary school teachers. The CIA is not stopping the federal government from reforming the BPS system of grading in government. Nor did Mossad force the Punjab or NWFP to dispense with the DCO system without conducting a credible analysis of the costs and benefits of a return to the colonial commissioner system. The MI6 does not kill mothers during childbirth, and the ISI does not cause gastrointestinal epidemics because of contaminated water. Spies aren't the ones that let the Securities and Exchange Commission slip from capable hands in 2004 to a revolving door of leadership ever since. No intelligence agency will be responsible for letting the current State Bank governor leave without any attempt to retain her, and no intelligence agency will be responsible when an incompetent sycophant is named to replace her.

Of course, the spies have been central to the conduct of overt and proxy wars in the South Asian region for donkey's years. That's what they do. They should certainly be scrutinized and held to account for their behaviour. Pakistanis however need to take enormous care in dumping their entire load of dirty laundry onto RAW, or the CIA, or Mossad, or MI6, or even the ISI.

There would never have been any possibility of Lashkar-e Taiba-training camps in Pakistan if the country enjoyed a 100 per cent literacy and school enrolment rate. There would be no recruitment pool for the Taliban if the economy generated enough jobs for the willing and able. Friday sermons would not be a source of fear and loathing across the country if Islam was treated with the respect any faith deserves, rather than as a political football for mullahs and heretics to kick around for personal and interest group gain. There would be no link between Pakistani citizens and domestic problems in the UK or India if Pakistani public policy reflected even a nominal degree of sensitivity to the ethos and aspirations of all of its citizens. And no RAW, CIA, Mossad, MI6 or ISI agent would represent a threat to Pakistan if Pakistan didn't represent such a major threat to itself. In 2009, Pakistan must dump the asinine and the anodyne. Ordinary Pakistanis must take responsibility to build an ordinary and functional Pakistan.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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