Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The American visitors

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.
The American visitors

Quite a few American officials visited Islamabad lately creating noise and ripples in the political and government circles. People across the political divide were excited and waited patiently for an opportunity to meet them, reminding of the Raj days. The government tried to use these visits for its advantage claiming so many simultaneous visits a clear indication of the American approval and support for General Musharraf and his government. On the contrary the people on the other side of the political divide considered these visits a kind of pressure on the Musharraf government to hold the next elections fairly. They also hoped that the Americans would coerce Musharraf to share power with the liberal elements. In short the opposition and the civil society has attached much of its hopes on Americans. Is this hopefulness realistic or naiveté, let us explore.

The hopes and disappointments such visits generate are based on two assumptions, the first being that everything happening in Pakistan is caused by the Americans and the other, any change for the better or worse, has to come from America. In other words our fate is decided in Washington and we are helpless about affecting our future. Taking this route, many politicians have spent decades trying to convince Americans of their utility as our other contestants of power have been doing the same thing more effectively. Most of our hopes appear to be tied to their doings. Like most hopes originating from foreign lands, these seldom materialize and we have become used to dashed hopes and disappointments. To improve chances of materializing our hopes we will have to base them in our lands, we will have to take things in our hands and stop looking at others for our issues. We must make our own decisions and shape our future instead of looking towards others.

Americans have never tried to make a secret of their foreign policies being based on national interests and they can get ruthless achieving them. They do not believe in emotional relations or the type of romantic friendships we habitually expect. They are friends as long as the other nation is useful and don’t waste a moment walking away after achieving their interests. Who would know it better than Pakistanis, after all within months following Russians left Afghanistan; the Americans abandoned every one and left. We were left alone to deal with a bunch of serious problems. As if this was not enough they even stopped supplying us arms they had promised some time back.

There is nothing wrong in having a foreign policy of national interests as every country does so. Probably the only country in the modern world conducting foreign policy with interests of other nations in mind mostly at our own cost seems to be Pakistan. Pinning hopes at the Americans cannot be reasonable and might be the major reason for the sorry state of affairs we routinely find ourselves in.

How far the Americans can influence our political scene is not certain but the common perception is that they decide the final outcome. There is no way of confirming this but one thing is for sure that foreign influence is positively affected by the perception of the people. In other words if we as a nation believe Americans can influence us, well they can. This cannot be good news for us. They say in America that there is no free lunch, so we cannot expect good coming out of Washington without a price tag attached. Historically we have seen that the price tag can be very steep, so steep that it might neutralize much of the associated benefits. It is now clear that the old American slogans of democracy and human rights were also means of achieving their political goals and economic interests.

No wonder apparent good news coming from Washington produces a kind of anxiety about the cost it would carry making it not so good news. To really initiate changes and developments capable of bringing healthy transformations in Pakistan we will have to ensure that these are initiated here. They are locally commenced. Only changes and developments with focus on Pakistani interests can be useful. We must become masters of our destiny and stop looking at others for our concerns. Relying on others has never worked for any individual or nation nor can it work here. We have to take our destiny in our own hands for the sake of our country and the future generations. It might not be easy initially but ultimately it paves its own ways.

If we take a bird’s eye view of the world we can easily differentiate between countries that master their destiny and the ones that do not. Countries in control of their destiny are prosperous, respected and stable whereas those looking at others are not. Emperor Babar admired elephants but jumped from it the moment he realized he could not control it and had to rely on some one else for that. The British started taking their destiny in their own hands centuries ago at the time of Magna Carta and made a place for themselves in the society of nations. The French did it on the Bastille; the Chinese under chairman Mao and so on. Is the latest indigenous extempore movement of the civil society for free judiciary our Magna Carta or Bastille? Let us hope it is.

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