Date: December 31, 2010
Re: Pakistan the first quarter
Having been in Pakistan since October, I am forwarding a brief review of my first personal impressions.
1) View about America: Survey after survey has shown that the populace at large very unfavorably views US government and policy. The perception in the corridors of power is very different. Given their propensities to focus on conspiracy theories most of them have a notion of US influence in Pakistan that far exceeds our real capabilities. Sometimes I feel as the “Governor General” from a bygone past caught in a historic time warp. From the highest office down to midlevel functionaries, perception becomes reality, when it comes to viewing US as the kingmaker. This mostly helps us in stacking the deck of cards in our favor but also works against us at times when diplomacy is seen as failing. The dilemma for our policy is incongruence between our objectives and the popular sentiment of the people in Pakistan. Changing this is not merely a matter of perception and has to be more than a public relations exercise. It will require a significant change in our strategic trajectory.
2) The Social divide: Having served in Iraq I have experienced the divide between the elites and the common citizen, which is quite typical of the Middle East and South Asian countries. In Pakistan however it takes unparalleled heights. My first private party at a key ministers residence, the opulent lifestyle was in full contrast to the plight of those serving us. White gloved waiters were standing with ashtrays so that the corpulent minister and guests could smoke their Cuban cigars at will, and with utmost disdain flicker the ash at random intervals to be caught by the gloved waiter with unsurpassed skill. Alcohol, which is, otherwise not in public display in this Islamic country was flowing from an open bar. Our hosts were shocked that most of the American guests did not drink. I was taken aback at the presence of so many blond Pakistani women, on inquiring was told by our bemused social secretary about the miracle of peroxide and modern hair coloring which seems to be the fashion statement of the day for well groomed (sic) modern Pakistani women. As we pulled out to leave, the sight of an army of drivers was something to behold, huddled in the frigid night until the wee hours, for the masters to terminate their fracas. Service is legitimate but this smacked of servitude, opprobrium reminiscent of attitudes of European aristocracy and our own experience with slavery.
3) Hypocrisy a new dimension: I was stunned to hear form a very senior political functionary about US interference in the internal affairs of the country. When pointed out that this interference could be curtailed if the Government of Pakistan would refuse to take Billions of Dollars in US aid annually, his response was that monies were for services rendered in the fighting terrorism. Purloin of developmental funds to support the prodigious lifestyle of the ruling elite seems to be the normative. This can be only rationalized as a self-entitled narcissism of a collective of people with a rapacious appetite to loot the country.
4) The common man: My contact has been limited but even with limited exposure they continue to amaze me. In abject poverty and mired in the maelstrom of illiteracy they display a dignity and authenticity that is in stark contrast to the capriciousness of the pseudo westernized elites. Hospitable to a fault and honest despite being in the vortex of poverty the common everyday people of Pakistan display great ingenuity to survive against formidable odds, a gristle of the soul, that must come from a past rooted in spiritual life of a different sort.
5) Democracy: In Pakistan democracy has taken a dimension that borders on mockery of true representative government. The elected representatives come almost exclusively for the elite and privileged class. Rather than representing the populace they are more like local regional ‘viceroys’ representing the federal government and their own vested interests in the regions. Most are in politics not with a sense of public service but more to maximize the opportunity to make money, which they do with total disdain. The mainstream political parties are oligarchies controlled by the founding patriarchs or their heirs. One wonders if this is the model, we seek to perpetuate? Given my background as a history professor I have my druthers.
6) Alchemy of change: The polarization in the society makes significant change likely in the near future but given the deficit of leadership and organization it is not inevitable. This situation is unlikely to be remedied in the short term. If such a leadership were to emerge then conflict between the polarized segments would likely ensue. Under these circumstances we will not be able to count on the Military as a stabilizing force. The Military though a disciplined and well led, is a egalitarian body with much of its leadership and rank coming from middle, lower middle and poor classes. Their support of any move to perpetuate the rule of the elite will be at their own peril. The current military leadership is unlikely to prop the existing structure if such a conflict was to occur and possibly may even be catalytic toward such change. This is in stark departure form the past.
Pakistan is a fascinating place the contradictions are glaring but the promise is great, ironically what may be good for Pakistan may at least in the short term not be good for furtherance of our policy goals. We need to take a long view and it may be worthwhile to cut our losses, uncouple from the ruling elite and align our self with popular grassroots sentiment in the country. This would change our perception in the short term and when change does come we, for a change, will be on the right side.
This is an imaginary piece doing the rounds on the internet circuit. But it is so close to reality that we are reproducing it for the readers’ interest. -.
Date: December 31, 2010