Foreign and Defense Policy

Soul Searching in Pakistan

Step back from the bellicose statements issued by the Pakistani army and foreign ministry after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the eruption of prayers and stray protests on behalf of the slain terrorist, and you’ll find an outpouring of thoughtful analysis by some of the country’s leading public intellectuals.

In an essay in the New Republic, reprinted in the delightfully named Goatmilk blog, my former colleague Ahmed Rashid sums up the lesson that ought to be learned:

What Pakistanis desperately need is a new narrative by their leaders—a narrative that does not blame the evergreen troika of India, the United States, and Israel for all of the country’s ills, that breaks the old habit of blaming outsiders and instead looks at itself more honestly and more transparently. Pakistanis as a nation seem incapable of self-analysis, of apportioning blame according to logic and reason rather than emotion.

In Dawn, the country’s leading English newspaper, Cyril Almeida, one of the few non-Muslims of any prominence in Pakistan, strikes a similar note:

Where do we go from here as a country?

As long as national security and foreign policy remain in the hands of a cabal of generals—unaccountable and untouchable, a law unto themselves, and in thrall to their own irrational logic—what future can this country have? Surely, not much of a future.

And here’s Pervez Hoodbhoy, perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of radical Islam.

Bin Laden’s death should be regarded as a transformational moment by Pakistan and its military. It is time to dispense with the Musharraf-era cat and mouse games. We must repudiate the current policy of verbally condemning jihadism—and actually fighting it in some places—but secretly supporting it in other places. Until the establishment firmly resolves that it shall not support armed and violent non-state actors of any persuasion— including the Lashkar-e-Taiba—Pakistan will remain in interminable conflict both with itself and with the world.

Ayesha Siddiqa, whose Military Inc. is the definitive work on the army’s vast business interests, weighs in with a typically pugnacious op-ed:

It is the first time after 1972 that the civilian government has an opportunity to question the unlimited powers of the defence establishment….The fact is that if the political forces won’t do it now, they may never get another opportunity again.

For my money, Pakistan’s beleaguered English-speaking elites are among the bravest people in the subcontinent, willing to speak truth to power, whether military or clerical, in a land where this can carry deadly consequences.

And though it would be foolish to exaggerate their influence—the salons of Lahore and Karachi have little sway over either the masses or the generals—they nonetheless offer a glimmer of hope for the country’s future. President Obama should not squander this opportunity to press for real change in Pakistan along the lines that the most thoughtful voices in that country suggest.

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