Friday, February 11, 2011

Why Hosni Mubarak Is Still Better Than Pakistani Rulers

Hosni Mubarak in his speech a few minutes ago has proven he and his regime, including his new Vice President, do not understand and respect their people.

But there is one thing he said that resonated with me because I've seen it in his government for the past three decades.

I'd like to point out this one thing because it is very relevant to Pakistan's political and military leaderships.

Mubarak said at one point in his speech, 'I will not allow myself to be subject to foreign interference'.  At another place, he added, 'I will live and die in Egypt.'

Great words and they certainly don't justify his three-decade long tight grip on power, the corruption and now the refusal of the regime to understand its people.

But I watched President Mubarak say these words and thought about Pakistani leaders who, since the 1990s and until now in 2011, have become shameful instruments of foreign meddling in Pakistan. Mubarak is supposed to be a bigger foreign stooge and yet he never allowed foreign meddling in his country, and he won't now even in his defeat.

Even in his defeat Mubarak declared he will not subject himself to foreign diktat. And that he will die and be buried in Egypt and won't escape for safety and in some haven in Jeddah, Dubai, London and New York.

For Pakistan's ruling elite, these cities have become alternate capitals of Pakistan.

Mubarak refused to entertain offers to move to Germany or Saudi Arabia or Dubai. Sure, things can change in the future, but I read in the Arabic-language media that if worse came to worse, Mubarak thinks he could hand over power and move to his house in the resort city of Sharm el Sheikh, but never leave and die outside Egypt.

This is significant and let me explain why.

Even when Egypt under Mubarak was very pro-American and pro-Israel, it kept its national pride. Egypt was taking American aid but refused to accept American meddling. Mubarak knew Washington needed his country in order to protect Israel. So he delivered on that count but never permitted the Americans to meddle in Egyptian politics. When President George W. Bush rolled out his democracy agenda in the Middle East after 9/11, Mubarak was instrumental in failing it [along with the Saudis]. He just won't have it. Mubarak refused to allow the Americans to establish direct contact with Egyptian politicians or engineer any kind of internal change.

Egypt made peace with Israel but only because Egyptian nationalists were disappointed at what they saw as stabs in the back by Arabs and Muslims [For example, rich Arabs refused to bail oput Egyptian economy enough despite Egypt fighting Israel in four wars on behalf of all Arabs. Egypt was also shocked to see Pakistan in 1956 supporting the British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, and other Muslim nations like Turkey and Iran not supporting Egypt in wars with Israel.]  All of this shaped the psyche of the Egyptian ruling elite and intelligentsia and helped push Egypt toward peace with Israel under American guarantees.

But Mubarak didn't allow his people to become American or Israeli puppets, and limited all forms of political interference.

I can recount many occasions when there were frictions between Cairo and Washington over one thing or the other and the mainstream US media was unleashed - as usual - to ridicule, harass or intimidate Mubarak and Egypt. But Mubarak won't have any of it. The Egyptians have always been very protective of their national pride.

Compare that to Pakistan. Every regime, from Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif to Pervez Musharraf to Asif Zardari, has handed over Pakistani citizens to foreign governments without an iota of national pride.

Some of them moved to Jeddah, Dubai, London and New York. Most of them have their wealth and properties abroad. Mr. Musharraf added something new to this shameful history when he launched Pakistan's first political party on foreign soil, in London and Dubai. And now most Pakistani politicians consider it kosher to conduct important political meetings outside Pakistan. Mr. Zardari has introduced another first: high-level meetings with foreign governments that relevant Pakistani government departments, like the Foreign Office, know nothing about. We have ambassadors and national security advisers who are appointed to protect the interests of foreign governments.

The regime's corruption and ruthlessness are the reasons why Egyptians want change. But Egypt progressed a lot under Mubarak's regime, unlike the Syrians or the Iraqis. 

For all of his ties to the Americans and Israelis, Egypt under Mubarak remained staunchly proud. As a Pakistani, I certainly don't want to see a Mubarak in Pakistan. However, we do need a Pakistani ruling class with the same sense of pride and history, one that won't turn its country into an experimentation zone for foreign powers. 

Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian regime made peace with Israel but never allowed any foreign power to come and abuse Egyptians or bomb them through CIA drones. This honor exclusively belongs to Pakistan's ruling elite.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

America's Aid To Pakistan Is Not 'Massive' Nor 'Lavish'

You have to love the language the US media uses when discussing American aid to Pakistan.

There is no new aid. But the latest coverage pertains to a report released by the American inspector general's office on the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid bill.

The inspector general has released a report criticizing US aid's limited impact on improving civilian services in Pakistan.

This civilian aid was approved in 2009, $7.5 billion over five years, beginning in early 2010.

The new report questions the aid's impact, which is negligible. That's not news to us.

But there are bigger myths that surround this aid package to Pakistan in the US media. It's a classic case of US government spinning to itself and its people and then believing its own spin.

I was reading a Fox News report on this aid that described it as 'massive' and quoted unnamed commentators who opposed 'lavishing' US aid on Pakistan.

Massive and lavish? Hardly.

This aid package is not massive and not lavish. Pakistan has been undersold to US interests by two US puppets, Pervez Musharraf and Asif Zardari. If Pakistani nationalists were in power, US officials and media would have heard more frequently about more than US$ 64 billion that Pakistan has lost directly and indirectly because of America's war in Afghanistan.

Washington has knowingly hurt Pakistan's geo-strategic environment and interests in ways far worse than how it abandoned Pakistan after the Soviet defeat in 1991, leaving Pakistan to deal with thousands of militants that CIA gathered to fight the Soviets.

US officials are still hung on 1991 when analyzing Pakistani estrangement but are unaware of the new estrangement that has emerged because of the American mess since 2002.

Compared to a loss of $64 billion in eight years, the Kerry-Lugar-Berman aid package is peanuts. It is not massive nor lavish. It is nothing compared to what US is spending in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt and Israel. All of them prove that Washington has been paying lip service to its Pakistani ally while doing things that harm the interests of this supposed ally.

The list of things America has done to harm Pakistani interests is long. Many US officials know about this list but pretend it doesn't exist because the pro-US government in Islamabad never raises it, leaving the Pakistani public opinion to worry about it.

The result is that the US discourse on aid to Pakistan is couched in myths and will not help further US interests on the long run.

And despite all the noise to the contrary, US doesn't appear much worried about this. The Obama administration has resorted to gimmicks in how it uses the 2009 aid package. The flow of funds from the package is slow. Each cash installement released is geared toward creating positive headlines than having any real positive impact on the ground. Since 2009 Washington has been making aid announcements to meet various Pakistani needs as if these announcements indicated new aid. But in all of these announcements US officials forgot to mention this was not new aid but a reallocation of Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds.

In short, the US government has been recycling old aid pledges repeatedly to make them look new, and then embellish the story to make aid to Pakistan appear 'massive' and 'lavish'.

This is what the Obama administration did during last year's epic floods in Pakistan. The much touted US helicopters arrived only when pro-US politicians begged Mr. Holbrooke and Mrs. Clinton to cover up for their incompetence in view of the excellent performance of Pakistani NGOs and the Pakistani military.

This shows the level of US disinterest in genuinely helping its Pakistani ally. No wonder this is a troubled relationship. A pro-US government in Islamabad worsens this relationship by not addressing these issues because it needs US help to counter the Pakistani military and can't afford to talk tough to its protectors in DC.

So my advice to US commentators, especially those who toe the official line: Please spare us the spin.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why Conquer India, Again?

Some young Pakistanis marking the International Kashmir Solidarity Day today got carried away. I noticed some of them circulated emails and wrote posts saying they don't want to stop at Kashmir but want to seize the rest of what is known today as India, was known during Muslim rule as Hindustan, and as Bharat when the Indians ruled themselves.

I didn't want to spoil the joy of anyone, especially this year when all signs indicate that Pakistan and Pakistanis are marking the Kashmir Solidarity Day with a vigor not seen in at least a decade. [You must read the analysis in that link. It's a must read for those following relations between Pakistan and India.]

So when a very good friend posted a remark about conquering India on my Facebook page, this is how I answered, hoping to make some of the young Turks understand that what Pakistani medieval warriors like Shahab al-Din Ghauri and Qutb al-Din Aybak did was great, but that seizing India nowadays may not be such a great idea. Here is how I said it:

"Of all the lands conquered by Muslims, the Indian conquest was the most useless. Everywhere else, the new land and people added to the richness of the Muslim empire and civilization. Except Bharat. That was a black hole where Muslims went in ... and never came out. Muslim rule in Bharat was detached from the rest of the Islamic world. No interaction, no contacts, no nothing. Muslim Bharat was another world, never reacting to critical points in history in Palestine, Arabia, Turkey and Andalusia. The only thing we benefited from havng our ancesotrs conquer Bharat is to learn the ritualistic Mehndi wedding functions, invent Qawwali, the art of practicing religion by singing, and create two religious schools called Barelvi and Deobandi that no one else in the entire Islamic world knows about, understands or has any interest in.

Defeat Bharat. Fine. Delhi is a city created and established by Muslims before the Brits occupied it and handed it over to native Indians, so take that too. Fine. But the rest of India? I think I will pass."

Interesting, isn't it? Light, but full of real history.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tough Times For America's Friends In Pakistan

Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to brazenly mislead members of the Senate of Pakistan on the American hired-gun Raymond Davis. Addressing the senators on Wednesday, 2 Feb., Mr. Malik told the house that the murderer working for the US Embassy in Islamabad 'holds a diplomatic passport.'

Mr.Malik tried to confuse 'diplomatic immunity' with 'diplomatic passport'. While the accused American was issued a diplomatic passport by the US government, the Pakistani government refused to recgonize him as such and only granted him a business visa.

Now the Zardari government and its key figures are trying to hoodwink the Pakistani nation by confusing diplomatic immunity, which the murderer doesn't have, with a diplomatic passport that he carries without a Pakistani diplomatic visa.

The most ridiculous statement that Mr. Malik made in the Senate was this: "We have to live in this world and we have certain treaties with other countries.'

Basically the Zardari government is in big trouble. Mr. Malik is on record telling former US ambassador Anne Patterson that his government looks to Washington for support and protection. Mr. Zardari has told US officials he doesn't mind if CIA increases drone attacks and kills innocent Pakistani civilians in the process because 'collateral damage worries you Americans, not me.'

So this Pakistani government considers serving US interests its highest aim in life and the reason for its existence. Pakistani citizens shot in their backs by a military-trained officer who claims to be a diplomat and who concocted a story about armed robbery, all of this doesn't matter to Mr. Malik and his government.  What is more important in his view is for him to serve a foreign government with loyalty.

But the bad news for Mr. Malik is that this time Pakistanis have had it with US meddling in Pakistan and have had it with a rented Pakistani ruling elite serving foreign interests.

Independent Pakistani political activists and civil society members intend to keep the pressure on this government. The families and loved ones of the three murdered Pakistanis have also resisted all pressures by Mr. Malik's men to bribe them with offers of a US Green Card and stacks of hundred-dollar US bills in exchange for pardoning the murderer.

But the real issue here is to stop the practice of allowing US covert agents into Pakistan that Mr. Malik's government is deeply involved in at the expense of Pakistani interests.