Someone just pointed me in the direction of the worst article by a Non-Resident Pakistani (NRP) in the Western press. What is it about NRPs? I mean, if you're going to immigrate, must you pretend to still be clued in to what's going on back home? And what is the deal with the Western press, which is willing to accept all kinds of libelous statements from NRPs - which they would never from Westerners about their own countries - presumably simply because of the authors' "credibility", defined only by their ethnicity.
We have seen this in the past, with Tariq Ali claiming in a piece in the Guardian that Murtaza Bhutto was shot point blank in 1996 - when no such forensic evidence has ever been presented - simply taking, one assumes, daughter Fatima Bhutto's word for it. We saw it with the claims of that charlatan Ahmed Chelabi, who seemingly singlehandedly convinced the neo-con administration of George Bush and the public through op-ed pieces in the New York Times, that Iraqis were waiting to line up in the streets to welcome US troops into Iraq. I'm not saying this current piece is on that level of deceipt, but its playing fast and loose with facts and generalizations is still breathtaking in its sheer audacity.
The article in the reputed Globe and Mail of Canada, provocatively titled "A Military Coup in Pakistan?", is by Tarek Fatah, a most prolific writer on issues related to Islam, Muslims and Pakistan. According to a journalist who met him in the US a few years ago, "he is a know-it-all whose knowledge of Pakistan is firmly anchored in the '70s." The problem is not even his central thesis - that the Pakistani establishment would rather see the back of Zardari and his cronies. That has been written about with much regularity in the Pakistani press to say the least, and truth be told, the majority of Pakistanis would probably have the same views. The problem, in fact, is with the sweeping claims made about motives, the lack of substantive evidence to back libelous accusations and the propagandistic (read apologist) tone of the piece.
Right off the bat, Mr. Fatah begins with:
"A military coup is unfolding in Pakistan, but, this time, there is no rumbling of tanks on the streets of Islamabad. Instead, it seems the military is using a new strategy for regime change in Pakistan, one that will have adverse consequences for Western troops deployed in Afghanistan."
So, the parameters are set. The "regime change" is not bad per se for democracy in Pakistan or for the future of rule of law in the country. It is bad only because it might adversely affect Western troops in Afghanistan. So much for having the interests of Pakistan at heart.
Here are some other choice examples:
"A year after rogue elements of Pakistan's intelligence services disrupted Indian-Pakistani peace talks by staging the Mumbai massacre..."
Wow. Clear and to the point. Except, nobody has proved this yet. Not even the Indians. Yes, Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives have been charged with the planning and aiding the crime, but they have not yet been convicted as far as I know. Not even Ajmal Kasab, the surviving gunman, whose trial in India is still going on. And while there is ample speculation about whether the attackers received help from elements within the Pakistani intelligence services, no credible publication has been as foolhardy as to claim in definitive terms that this was so. No such burden of proof for Mr. Fatah apparently.
"The men who wish to replace Mr. Zardari represent the religious right-wing backers of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, adding a new obstacle in Barack Obama's war effort in Afghanistan. A change of guard in Pakistan will also place Canadian troops at a higher risk of attack from a Taliban that will get unimpeded access to safe havens across the international border."
Let's leave the pandering to the US-Canadian interests aside for the moment. Since in the previous sentence, Mr. Fatah claims that the people out to get Zardari are "the men who run Pakistan's infamous military-industrial complex", it is only fair to surmise that he is accusing General Ashfaq Kayani of being a "religious right-wing backer of the Taliban and al-Qaeda." Really? So, anyone who thinks Zardari is an unprincipled man with no vision is a Taliban and al-Qaeda backer? And the US dithering on whether it will stay or go from Afghanistan, its own willingness to include the Taliban in talks and power-sharing, and the growing influence of India there plays no role whatsoever in the Pakistan establishment hedging its bets, if it does? I have to admit I haven't read anything as unnuanced since... oh, I don't know... Bush's 'With us or against us' dictum.
"In the West's war against terrorism, Mr. Zardari is probably the only politician in Pakistan who has the guts to identify the cancer of jihadi extremism and order the Pakistani army to root it out. With reluctance, the army has complied, but only half-heartedly. With him gone, it's almost a certainty that Canada and the United States, as well as Afghanistan and India, will once more face the deception and fraud that became the hallmark of Pervez Musharraf's military regime."
Yet again, wow. I doubt even the Press Information Department (PID) of the Government of Pakistan would have felt comfortable with such propagandistic drivel. The only politician? I have no love lost for the MQM or the ANP, but you know, they were saying the same thing for a much longer time, not to mention scores of other left politicians and intellectuals. Even during the time in the mid-1990s when Zardari's former spouse Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed (MBBS) was actively facilitating the formation of the Taliban in Afghanistan through her interior minister General Naseerullah Babar.
And "the army has complied [to Zardari's directive], but only half-heartedly"??? What exactly leads Mr. Fatah to believe that the current (or any) military operations are directed from the presidency without real interest from the military and that the killing of hundreds of soldiers and extremists constitutes "half-hearted" compliance, we shall never really know. It may have helped had he explained how he came to this conclusion but then that would require providing some evidence, something Mr. Fatah seems not too bothered about.
"For years, the Pakistani army received billions of dollars in direct American aid while it backed the Taliban and staged faked armed encounters to deceive the Pentagon."
Such as? Come on, give us something tangible, dammit. Oh, ok, we should just take your word for it.
"Mr. Zardari also is being depicted as the epitome of corruption and thus unworthy of governing Pakistan. Working from within the government, military intelligence was able to coax a junior minister to release a list of thousands of supposedly corrupt politicians and public officials in the country. Leading them was Mr. Zardari himself – notwithstanding the fact that before he was elected president, he had been imprisoned for more than a decade by the military without a single conviction."
Yes, of course, and NOBODY in the world ever accused Asif Zardari of corruption ever before. And look, it was a hassled JUNIOR minister who released the lists, not a credible SENIOR minister. And the Supreme Court and Pakistan's parliament itself never ASKED for the lists of people who benefited from the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO). And the NRO only wiped out cases that were already decided in Zardari's favour anyway. You know, Mr. Fatah, you should work with Jahangir Badar. You'd make a good team.
"What irks the generals is not just that they are now answerable to a civilian but that Mr. Zardari belongs to an ethnic group that is shunned by the country's ruling Punjabi elite. Mr. Zardari is a Sindhi."
No, scratch that. You should work with Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza on the next Topi Drama.
"The hysteria among Pakistan's upper-class elites demanding a military dictatorship is best reflected in an article written by a retired military officer in the right-wing newspaper The News: “Military rule should … return. … The problem with democratic governments is that they remain under pressure to go with what the majority of the citizens want, not what is best for them. … People of several South American countries that have returned to civilian rule after a long time are now beginning to feel they were better off under dictatorships.”
Ah, the smoking gun! Except, this was no article in the "right-wing newspaper The News" (as opposed to left-wing Dawn?) This, ladies and gentlemen, is a quote from a Letter to the Editor by a mad fauji who keeps writing such letters regularly. The same guy sparked off a whole debate in the paper about the term "bloody civilians." If I had two cents for every loony letter to the editor published in left-wing, centrist and right-wing newspapers, I'd be as rich as Zardari now. This the best you could come up with Mr. Fatah? I mean, it's not like you had scarce material to work with.
"If Mr. Obama wishes to succeed in bringing the Afghan war to an end, he had better make sure Mr. Zardari's elected civilian administration is allowed to govern until the end of its term."
Sheesh! Talk about cringe-worthy. "Mr. Obama... better make sure"? Even Asif Zardari might find being compared to a puppet like Hamid Karzai unsettling.
Moral of the Story: Stupid, clueless friends are worse than stupid, clueless enemies. Especially if the friends are NRPs.