Uncertain future for Pakistan and its masses

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Tens of thousands of people blocked the road between Peshawar and the Pakistan-Afghan border post of Torkham on April 23 and 24. The call to block the road was issued by Imran Khan, leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Justice Movement) in protest over the indiscriminate US drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people in the last year alone. The Jama’at-e Islami as well as tribal leaders from the area also backed Imran Khan’s call as tens of thousands of people waving PTI flags converged on the ring road near the upscale neighborhood of Hayatabad in Peshawar that leads to Torkham.

People shouted slogans against the US and demanded that not only the drone attacks must immediately stop but that American troops must also get out of Afghanistan and the US stop interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs. Protesters also vented their anger at the ANP government in Khyber-Pakh-tookhwa Province. The party was supposed to be pro-people yet its leaders have turned out to be American puppets after they were showered with dollars.

The Raymond Davis affair in which the CIA-hired mercenary shot and killed two innocent Pakistanis in cold blood in Lahore on January 27 and was then set free by the Lahore High Court on March 16 under bizarre circumstances has heightened hatred of the US. There is widespread belief that American pressure subverted the judicial process in Pakistan.

But why should anyone blame the Americans for subverting the judicial process when Pakistani elites themselves have so little respect for it? On April 21, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted five of the six men convicted of raping Mukhtaran Mai in 2002.

She had appealed to the Pakistan Supreme Court in 2005 after the Lahore High Court had set aside the conviction of five of the six men in the gang rape case. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s verdict.

“I’m disappointed. Why was I made to wait for five years if this decision was to be given?” said a sobbing Mukhtaran Mai. She was represented by one of the finest lawyers in Pakistan, Aitezaz Ahsan, but even his legal skills were no match for evidence tampering and influence of the feudal lords in Pakistan. Mukhtaran Mai expressed the widely held belief: “The accused can kill me and my family when they return home.”

But Mukhtaran Mai would be considered a footnote in the mega dramas being played out in Pakistan, including the unrelenting drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In an article in the Pakistan daily, The News, Imran Khan said on the eve of the rally that “today we Pakistanis of all shades and convictions need to come together to support our FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) brethren and protest their killing and displacement. “It is not enough to simply issue statements against US policies and drone killings; we need to act so that the voice of the people becomes a force for the rulers to reckon with,” he said.

Banners on Peshawar’s main road bore the message “Stop drone attacks on innocent tribal people,” and images of crossed-out drone aircraft, while posters of Imran Khan and his party dotted the city. People that came out at the call of Tehrik-e Insaf Party chief were reflecting a deeply-held sentiment in Pakistan. Since Barack Obama became president of the US, he has increased drone attacks in Pakistan. In 2010, there were more than 100 such attacks. The pilotless planes firing Hellfire missiles have demolished homes and villages and murdered hundreds of innocent people in North and South Waziristan. The US claim that it fires missiles only at militants is belied by the deaths of hundreds of women and children. Besides, even attacking suspected militants is illegal, according to the UN. But the US operates above the law and has always done so. American officials believe they are the law and have the right to decide who is a suspect and who is innocent. Being innocent is no guarantee against being blown to pieces.

There is deep unease among Pakistanis about the craven attitude of their rulers –” civilian and military –” at giving the Americans a free hand to kill civilians. According to WikiLeaks documents, during one meeting with US officials, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told them he did not care about “collateral damage” and that Americans could kill as many Pakistanis as they wished. Zardari claims to be the president of Pakistan and he is supposed to represent and protect their interests. But most Pakistanis hold the view that if Zardari, who became president by default, did not care for his own wife Benazir Bhutto in whose murder many suspect he had a hand, why should he care about the ordinary people of Pakistan. Zardari is a lowly street urchin and according to those that know him, unfit even to be doorman at the presidential palace much less occupy it.

If Zardari and the rest of the civilian crop of politicians are incompetent and thoroughly corrupt, what about the military that claims to defend Pakistan’s honor and its ideology? There is equally deep unease among people about the military’s close relationship with the US. Had it not been for American officials keeping a tight embrace of the military top brass and showering them with billions of dollars worth of arms, the US would not have dared to act with such impunity. But of late, there has been some tension building up as attacks by American agents of the Special Forces as well as the CIA have become more brazen. The Raymond Davis affair was the latest in a long series of such criminal acts by the Americans with the tacit approval of the Pakistani authorities, both civilian and military.

In order to smooth ruffled Pakistani feathers, the Americans agreed to provide drone planes to Pakistan. But one must concede the Americans do have a sense of humor. For years, Pakistani military officials had demanded the US share timely intelligence data with them, especially relating to targets being hit in the tribal region. In the wake of recent American attacks, especially one in mid-March that killed 42 tribesmen holding a peaceful jirga, the military has publicly called on the Americans to stop such attacks. Even Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, has publicly condemned the attacks and demanded they stop. American officials have said they have no intention of complying with this request. It is unlikely the Pakistanis will press the matter further.

What about the other long-standing Pakistani request? For years, they have asked for pilotless drone planes, a request turned down by the Americans so far. They have finally decided to provide the Pakistani military 85 small surveillance drones. The plane called “Raven”, weighs 1.9 kg (4.2 pounds) –” yes you read that correctly, 1.9 kg –” and is launched by hand. Have you ever flown a paper plane? Well that is what a Raven is.

The supply of Ravens is part of the US military aid to Pakistan for 2011 estimated to be nearly US $3 billion. The “toy drone” is produced by the US-based AeroVironment Company and powered by a motor. Presumably the Americans think Pakistani generals will have great fun launching these planes to spy on fellow generals in the GHQ in Rawalpindi. It will add a bit of action, not to mention humor to their dour life in the drab, even if well-maintained surroundings at the GHQ. While Pakistani generals play with these toys and get used to them, the Americans are dangling the prospect of supplying, at some unknown date, larger, longer-range surveillance drones. That the plan was put forward by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates in January 2010 but has still not materialized reflects official US thinking.

What is unmistakable is the uneven relationship between the US and Pakistan. The Americans are using and abusing Pakistan and are even involved in supporting terrorists in the country (consider the Davis saga who was deeply involved with known terrorists as per records from his cell phone) but Pakistani officials cannot seem to bring themselves to think of life without American largesse. Slavery comes with a terrible price not only in dollars but also in dignity. Dignity, however, is an unknown commodity in Pakistan. Slavery, like drugs, is addictive. Once people get hooked on it, they cannot shake it off even when they know it is destructive. The late Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, to use his correct name) had characterized such people as “house slaves”. This is a breed of domestic slaves that completely identify with the slave master’s interests in return for being given crumbs and leftovers from the master’s dinner table. Pakistani elites are America’s house slaves.

Life for the masses is one endless grind. Poverty is at an all-time high; suicide rate among the poor has escalated because they cannot cope with the unending misery. Prices have skyrocketed and most essential food items are out of reach for the vast majority. Pakistan’s middle class has disappeared, being pushed into grinding poverty as a consequence of rising costs and hyper-inflation. The country’s infrastructure is crumbling because the bulk of the budget is consumed by defence spending and perks for the elites.

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