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by Ahmed Quraishi

The Americans are back to their favourite arm-twisting practice: Diplomacy through calculated media leaks. The New York Times story on alleged Pakistani modifications to old-tech US missiles is a reminder that American interests do not overlap with those of Pakistan’s, despite the best efforts of the pro-American lobby within the Pakistani government. This lobby has been quite active recently – through a PR campaign – in defending US position and counselling fellow citizens to stop opposing Washington because Pakistan needs American aid.

What will America’s Pakistani apologists say after this indirect salvo, threatening Pakistan of scuttling the five-year, $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar aid bill because Pakistan continues to develop strategic missiles and refuses to turn its army into a police force at the beck and call of Uncle Sam’s bungled freedom mission in Afghanistan?

Maybe this is the reason why our usually boisterous ambassador in Washington was circumspect yesterday, saying little except that there appears to be a misunderstanding. But it is not a misunderstanding. The report – where no US official appears by name – is tailored to create panic in Islamabad and exert pressure without the need for Mr Holbrooke’s personal skills. Pakistani policymakers would do well to read between the lines.

Two things stand out: unwarranted US spying on Pakistan’s strategic weaponisation programmes and – more importantly – the preposterous US accusation that Pakistan’s defensive capability risks attracting an arms race with India.

There is only one explanation for the mounting American frustration: Despite seven years of intense pressures on Pakistan, Washington is nowhere close to putting a leash on the Pakistani military and its intelligence agencies. It does not know yet the exact location of Pakistan’s nuclear bombs and warheads. It is no closer to neutralising Pakistan’s nuclear button despite the wild campaign to convince the world that Pakistan was incapable of protecting its weapons. Pakistan managed to deflect pressures and refused to turn itself into a walkway for American and Indian boots. The latest episode in our political soap opera, where retired intelligence officers have been used to divulge old secrets, is designed to discredit the military.

While they distract the nation with their non-issues, there is no one to question the rulers why they approved the construction of the world’s largest US embassy in Islamabad when the American aid bill has not even passed US Congress? There are signs that the politicians are quietly allowing unprecedented US military and covert presence in and around the Pakistani capital in order to change the balance of power inside Pakistan in a permanent way. There are reports now that US military presence is being formalised in both Sindh and Balochistan. The frequency and detail of these reports means they cannot be discounted as hearsay.

Two Pakistani political parties, Mr Zardari’s PPP and Mr Sharif’s PML-N, both ironically created during the reigns of two different military rulers, are taking the nation for a ride in the name of democracy. Thanks to their non-performance in the past 19 months, Pakistan is staring at a huge national failure, from foreign policy to Gwadar. Lost in this circus is any talk about healthcare, education, highways or infrastructure. It is national decline.

The worst part about our politicians is not their glaring ineptitude. It is the fact that their parties are so stifled there is no hope the ruling elite will expand its limited pool of talent to include a nation brimming with initiative and yearning for change.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email: aq@ahmedquraishi.com

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Shireen M Mazari

The chaos that is spreading within the country is frightening and a result of bad or lack of governance on the one hand and US intrusions and questionable activities in Pakistan on the other. In the first instance, there is no civilian governance infrastructure to take over and govern the “cleared” areas in Malakand – but then there is no governance even in more central parts of the country. That is why we have had the despicable attack on the poor and marginalised Christians in Gojra – once again under the shameful and protective guise of the Blasphemy Law. Never has a Law been so abused to wreak violence on our minorities’ whom the Founder of the Nation, Quaid-i-Azam, declared as equal citizens in the state of Pakistan. Clearly, there is so much hatred, intolerance and violence endemic within us that we do not need any Taliban to kill and harm our less fortunate fellow citizens. And where were the government and the law and order institutions when all this barbarism was being carried out?

As Pakistanis we must hang our heads once again in shame; but the main concern for us should not be simply our image internationally but what we are becoming within our own society. That is what should be of primary concern for the leadership. That is why in many previous columns I have been pointing to the dangers of bringing our marginalised population within the mainstream and delivering justice to the people so that they all have a stake in the system and the state – be they the marginalised Madrassah students or the marginalised minorities’. Otherwise extremism and violence will fester – Taliban or no Taliban – and as a desperate measure sending in the military will only aggravate not resolve the problem. And one has yet to talk of Balochistan where targeted killings continue while politicians continue to talk rather than act despite a seeming political consensus on what needs to be done. Why a beginning towards reconciliation cannot be made by declaring a general amnesty for all political prisoners and exiles only our bizarre ruling elites’ mindsets can understand but we are on a precipice here.

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