By Bilal Qureshi
In an article published in The New Republic, respected American journalist Nicholas Schmidle shares some of his experiences and observations about the over all paranoia and hysteria that has been increasingly visible across Pakistan’s electronic media. Specifically, Mr. Schmidle describes his awkward interaction with Shireen Mazari. Mazari had no information about Mr. Schmidle’s background, but she assumed, incorrectly of course, that Mr. Schmidle is working for C.I.A just because he was an American. This attitude towards foreigners, especially towards Americans is misguided. If everyone visiting Pakistan is working for Blackwater or C.I.A, Islamabad should not allow these people to travel to Pakistan. Otherwise, Pakistan’s public, particularly those who write opinion pieces or appear on Television should not accuse everyone of being a spy because this attitude is alienating friends at an alarming rate.
Regretfully, Ms. Mazari’s prayers were answered when Mr. Schmidle was later asked to leave Pakistan, which he did, but did his departure change anything in the country? Did Mr. Schmidle’s exit made Pakistan a safer place to live for ordinary Pakistanis? Did Mr. Schmidle departure make Pakistan a peaceful and heavenly prosperous place for all the ‘good people’ to visit and invest? In fact, can we say honestly argue that the overall economical, political or social situation in Pakistan has changed because those ‘agents and spies’ are no longer in Pakistan to do whatever these people were doing? I mean seriously, can anyone in Pakistan answer with specificity what was accomplished, or worse, what was saved when a particular person was declared persona-non-grate and forced out of Pakistan? Obviously we don’t know the answer – no one knows the answer to this question, including those in security establishment who decide who can come and who has to leave.
What people of Pakistan need today is help. Yes, help and I mean it in every sense of the word. And, expelling people from Pakistan is not a very smart way of attracting assistance from donors. Despite squandering all the goodwill (and I am being overly generous here), Pakistan can still attract money, technical assistance and knowledge from around the world, but first, the country has to demonstrate that it is emotionally ready to improve and help itself before other nations commit to help Pakistan. And, as for as I know, both public and private supporters around the world are still willing to come forward to and give whatever they can to Pakistan, provided, the country puts a muzzle on conspiracy theorists, and stop treating every N.G.O and foreigner as a smoke screen for C.I.A. If Pakistan cleans up its act, it is a safe bet that the country can revive its economy and find affordable and sustainable resources for energy, water and electricity shortfall. Most importantly, both direct and indirect foreign investment can also help Pakistan’s depressed and angry youth find employment, which for me is critical if Pakistan is serious about disrupting Taliban’s recruiting inside the country. But, and it is a big but, the country has to first dethrone pseudo intellectuals and Taliban supports like Ms. Mazari, and rest of the gang that promotes hyper religious nationalism in the country in the name of patriotism.
For me, patriotism is protecting the country from degenerating and it is my patriotic duty to sound the alarms of panic because Pakistan does not face any threat from either its neighbors, or from the West. Pakistan is being attacked and threatened by internal enemy – homegrown terrorists, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda, coupled with an economy that is in a downward spiral and Pakistan stands at a critical juncture today. If overly hawkish and overly animated conspiracy theorists like Ms. Mazari succeeded in convincing the public in Pakistan that America is the enemy and behind everything bad and wrong, there is an American plot, Pakistan would continue to deteriorate. If, on the other hand, common sense prevailed and Pakistan stopped treating distinguished journalists like Mr. Schmidle as spies, and instead, welcomed people from across the world to come to Pakistan, chances are that within couple of yeas, the country would successfully beat back not only the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, but also become a place that is peaceful, vibrant and a source of innovation and happiness for everyone, but especially for Pakistanis.
So, what is Pakistan going to do?