Disturbing Déjà Vu

by Shaheryar Azhar, moderator, The Forum

The following article by Barbara Crossette was pubished in February 1, 1991 in the New York Times. Few lessons stand out in stark relief:

1. The Pakistan army was on the wrong side of history in the first Gulf War as it is today on the Kerry-Lugar bill.

2. The emotional Pakistani public and media, then as now, are always eager to jump on Army’s bandwagon abandoning in a heart beat all pretense at reason, logic and reality.

3. Pakistan’s politicians when in power (and thus saddled with the burdens of governing) always seem to take the right course while Pakistan’s politicians when out of power act against their better judgment and also jump on Army’s bandwagon for taking cheap shots at the government. In this example, Prime Minister Sharif played the role that President Zardari/Premier Gilani are playing today on the Kerry-Lugar bill and the War on Terrorism while PPP under Benazir Bhutto played the role that PMLN under Sharif is playing on those two key issues. Notice that the parties of the right never learn and never change. They are the Neanderthals that stalk this poor and blighted land.

4. To paraphrase from this story: “In Pakistan, journalism has become the first casualty of the Kerry-Lugar bill.” Self-described ‘senior journalists’ like forum member Shaheen Sehbai (this moderator is very sorry to point out) and others like Hamid Mir and Kamran Khan are guided by what? Need one point out?

There is still time for the Army, PMLN and the Media to learn from the past and refrain from upsetting the democratic apple cart. Otherwise we know what happens to those who never learn from the past: They are condemned to repeat it!

In Pakistan, War Stirs Emotions and Politics

By BARBARA CROSSETTE, Special to The New York Times
Published: Friday, February 1, 1991

Reactions to the American-led war against Iraq have created political havoc in Pakistan, where the Government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been trying to stabilize the country and restart the economy after a year of domestic turmoil.

A rift of unpredictable consequences has opened between the Prime Minister, who generally supports the Saudi Arabian and allied view on Iraq, and the Pakistani military, which is still smarting from the cutoff of American aid in October.

On Monday, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the Army Chief of Staff, made a speech in which he said that the gulf war was part of a “Zionist” strategy that also guided Washington. Reflecting the view that any Muslim leader was preferable to an assortment of infidels and heretics, he argued that “the United Nations had allowed the allied forces to liberate Kuwait and not to destroy Iraq economically and politically.”

Pakistan has committed more than 10,000 soldiers to the allied force in Saudi Arabia, but said that they are there mainly to protect the holy places.

Exploiting Iraqi’s Popularity

In a rush to make political capital of popular support for President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, the fragmented Pakistan People’s Party — still led, in theory, by Benazir Bhutto — has in effect joined ranks with the religious right and the military, who are traditional enemies.

This is taking place against a backdrop of nonstop propaganda that favors, and in some cases is paid for, by Iraq or Iran. Tehran apparently hopes to emerge from the conflict with a major role in the Middle East. Pakistan has an influential Shiite Muslim minority in a largely Sunni Muslim country.

Pakistan, a nation not entirely sure of its bearings, is awash in anti-Western polemics. In a country where Christian churches are being stoned because Washington is in charge of the war, there is a daily diet of visceral anti-Americanism and crude anti-Semitism in the press, both English and Urdu.

“Imagine, $13.5 billion for losing half a dozen lives and some houses,” a columnist in The Muslim newspaper wrote today of the Israeli aid request because of its role in the conflict. “Trust a Jew to make big money out of a minor mishap.”

Premier as Conciliator

Many Pakistanis say that the outburst against the West has peaked — or reached a plateau, a retired army officer said today — and that a large part of the credit for cooling tempers goes to the Prime Minister.

Diplomats agree that Mr. Sharif, while under pressure from conservative Islamic parties that helped bring him to power, has moved decisively against the mobs and those who instigate them. Representatives of Western embassies say they believe that they are well protected.

The Government has curtailed, and in some areas banned, the sale of posters with an artist’s rendering of the Iraqi President at prayer.

The press attache of the Iraqi Embassy has been expelled on charges of funneling large amounts of money to pro-Iraq demonstrators and directly instigating protests.

A political analyst in touch with provincial Urdu-language newspapers said that Iraqi money is being lavished on propaganda. In a country where journalists are paid a paltry salary and there are no accepted codes of journalistic ethics, it is easy to influence the press, this person said.

Another Muslim Savior Figure?

There are bold voices willing to counter the trends.

In an interview with The Friday Times, Khaled Ahmed, an editor of The Frontier Post, a Peshawar-based newspaper that has generally been hostile to the United States, said that the Islamic world had again fallen for a mythological hero.

“The Muslims have always looked for a savior figure,” he said. “They did it to Gamal Abdel Nasser, to Qaddafi, even to Ayatollah Khomeini. Once you start subscribing to the idea of a savior figure, you enter the realm of mythology, where reason does not work.”

The Pakistani, and Indian, press has given prominence to stories that prove to be clear cases of disinformation: that Israeli planes are based in Saudi Arabia or Turkey, that Pakistanis and Americans have been shooting at each other, that Iraq today won a major land battle against allied forces in Khafji. The United States Information Service here has a collection of dozens of such stories, all of which they try to refute. Where ‘the Truth’ Is Relative

Pakistanis also get their news from the gulf through mullahs in the mosques and from foreign broadcasts, including the BBC and the Voice of America. But a student with generally moderate views said this week that when he “wanted the truth,” he turned to Moscow radio or the Iranian national network.

Asked what he meant by the truth, he replied that on Iranian radio he had heard that more than 200 American planes had been shot down. He said that Americans were contending that they had lost only a few, which was clearly a lie.

Pakistan’s two largest cities, Karachi and Lahore, receive the Cable News Network’s international service, but this is often criticized as too pro-American. Pakistani publications and the Government television network do not report on the war from the scene, however, saying that such coverage is too expensive for a poor third-world country.

“In Pakistan,” Mr. Ahmed of The Frontier Post said, “journalism has become the first casualty of this war.”



Filed under Pakistan, War On Terror

3 responses to “Disturbing Déjà Vu

  1. Jalal Ahmad

    This article points to a bitter truth that our political parties don’t know how to spend time in opposition. Imagine a party like PPP joining hands with religious right on this issue where Iraq clearly was a perpetrator at the time.
    I still remember vaguely the posters of Saddam at the time sitting on a mushallah and praying with both hands together. And this points to another bleak fact as mentioned in the article that Muslims always look for “savior” kinds figure and it means quite unfortunately that we don’t have any real leaders among us. Gamal, Qaddafi, Khomeini and Saddam all were local leaders. But muslims are still torn between the idea of a nation and an umma which was preached (and still is preached) by religious parties who strongly opposed division of India.
    It’s about time that our political parties start to realize that being in government is not the soul (although ultimate) goal of any political party. It’s purpose is to provide leadership to the people and safeguard their interests be it in government or in opposition. The opposition parties should formally nominate shadow ministers. The parliament term should be reduced to four years and the President should not have the power under 58.2(b).

  2. yasserlatifhamdani

    How true…

    It reminds me of the filth that is “Daastan Iman Faroshon ki” a third rate raunchy book by Inayatullah Altamash…. described as “aurat aur iman ki maarka arayan”…. where crusaders send their pious nuns and other religious women to have sex with Muslim men… and mislead them.

    The book has the following dedication..:

    “Qaum kay us betay kay naam jis nay sallahuddin ayubi banna hai”.

    We are all inspired by Islamic History… but history should also be read objectively and not in terms of saviors, heroes and villains.

  3. pf

    Empty rhetoric —Najmuddin A Shaikh

    The only conclusion that the world could draw was that no one studies things in Pakistan or, having studied them, deliberately keeps quiet until a false crisis can be created: