– Killing the messengers
by Ardeshir Cowasjee
WE Pakistanis are determined never to learn from history. Our leaders deem ignorance to be bliss and choose to pay no attention to what the world thinks of them or of our country.
Pakistan is more isolated internationally than at any time since 1971. That year, for those of us who care to remember, the country lost its erstwhile eastern wing after a civil war and a humiliating military defeat.
Any other nation would teach its young the lessons of its greatest tragedy in the hope of avoiding it. We, on the other hand, are insistent upon re-enacting every mistake we made then as if to prove Einstein’s definition of insanity. “Insanity,” said the great scientist, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The 1971 crisis comprised several parts. Pakistan’s politicians were more concerned with parcelling out bits and pieces of political power, making petty arguments in the process, instead of realising that the country’s integrity was at stake.
The military formulated a ‘strategy’ that was based on flawed assumptions and could not be sustained in the battlefield. The religious parties went on a rampage, calling and killing anyone who disagreed with them in East Bengal a ‘Hindu agent’.
The Pakistani media created a false reality. Everything reported internationally was described as part of an international, anti-Islam conspiracy. We were shown as winning on every front even as we were being defeated everywhere. Jingoism was equated with nationalism.
Logic and reason dictated that the West Pakistani military negotiate with, and accept, those voted in with an overwhelming majority by the people of East Bengal. Instead, it was decided that the matter will be resolved with force of arms, without regard to the logistical difficulties of subduing a rebellious population separated by 1,000 miles of enemy territory.
Only one man within the government recognised the futility of the military operation in East Bengal and, after failing to convince his peers and superiors of their folly, sat quietly through the crisis after resigning as commander of Pakistani forces in the eastern wing.
The erudite aristocrat, Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, later became our ambassador to Washington D.C. and longest-serving foreign minister. But his elevation became possible only after ignoring his advice resulted in the mad events of the fateful year, 1971.
By December 1971, walls in Karachi were painted with graffiti declaring ‘Crush India’, with similar stickers decorating every motor vehicle. No discussion was possible about military balance or global alliances. Songs like Jang khed nayee hondi zananian di (‘War is not a game for women’ — a reference to Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi) were broadcast.
On Dec 16, Lt Gen A.A.K. Niazi signed the instrument of surrender that turned 90,000 Pakistanis into prisoners of war and gave Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora control of the territory now called Bangladesh. But this newspaper of record’s issue of Dec 17 still proclaimed in a banner headline, ‘War till Victory’.
Other headlines on the front page that day reminded the nation, ‘Pakistan promised continued support by China’ and the existence of a government of national unity comprising civilian politicians from different political parties. There was even a quarter page advertisement with the word ‘JEHAD’ in large letters. Totally missing was any acknowledgment of defeat or failure or analysis of what really happened.
Forty years later, the nation is in a similar frenzy. This time, ‘Crush India’ has been replaced by ‘Crush America’ and anchorpersons on our many television channels are shouting inanities and talking confidently about teaching the world’s sole superpower a lesson.
China is still being touted as the hidden ace up our sleeve. Jihad is now a multi-billion rupee enterprise involving groups that kill Pakistanis more than foreigners but still have a claim on our support as strategic assets in dealing with our perceived external threats.
Can anyone dare in this environment to point out our weaknesses, the possibility of strategic isolation and the prospect of economic disaster that awaits us?
There is no general like Sahibzada Yaqub Khan to at least record dissent with the nation’s madness. Our self-made and well-read man in Washington, Husain Haqqani, probably comes closest. Recently described as “the hardest working man in Washington D.C.” in a column by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the ambassador has washed off any sins of his past by gaining recognition for being internationally well-connected and acutely aware of international affairs.
As Americans voice anger over Pakistan’s pursuit of strategic depth in Afghanistan with the help of throat-slitting ruffians like the Haqqani network, Ambassador Haqqani continues to quietly persuade Americans to be patient with Pakistan and to plead with Pakistanis to understand the global power equation. But at home he is reviled frequently for not joining the ‘Crush America’ ghairat brigade.
TV anchors and newspaper owners who want to demonstrate Pakistan’s strength to the Americans would prefer an ambassador in Washington who denounced his hosts rather than an envoy who can win over hearts. As in 1971, the mood of the nation is not to hear what threats lurk in its near future.
The nation should only be reminded of how China is its all-weather friend and the unity of our people will somehow suffice to make the Americans roll over and play dead.
In our universe, Pakistan is in the middle of a party celebrating its greatness and no one wants a messenger of bad news to interrupt the self-glorification. But in the real world, we can kill as many messengers as we like, the message that Pakistan is in big trouble is unlikely to go away.