Thursday, March 3, 2011
A passport to dystopia?
Daily Times Thursday, March 03, 2011
COMMENT: A passport to dystopia? —Dr Mohammad Taqi
Professor Ali has taken serious liberties with the facts and has tried to denigrate the Pashtuns by portraying them as a people inherently incapable of living under a democratic dispensation. He simply ignores the secular-democratic Khudai Khidmatgar Movement (KKM) that dominated the Pashtun polity in the first half of the 20th century
When Samuel Huntington and Warren Manshel co-founded the Foreign Policy magazine (FP) in 1970, they felt that “in the light of Vietnam, the basic purposes of American foreign policy demand re-examination and redefinition”. They pledged to do so through “an effort to stimulate rational discussion of the new directions required in American foreign policy”. They described their vision in their first editorial dated January 1, 1971:
“Our goal is a journal of foreign policy which is serious but not scholarly, lively but not glib, and critical without being negative. And we frankly hope that the discussions of these issues in our pages will affect the actions, or at least the thinking, of those in government, academia, business or elsewhere who shape our foreign policy.”
FP has since gone through many phases, editors and management, but has more or less stuck to the original vision of a lively yet serious debate. Even those of us who have never subscribed to Huntington and FP’s US-centric view of the history and future, considered the periodical a sober entity — well, up until last week.
On February 25, 2011 an article titled ‘The Islamic Republic of Talibanisation’, by Professor Saleem Hassan Ali of the University of Vermont, was published online by FP in its section titled “Argument”. The gist of Professor Ali’s outlandish theory is that having failed to rout the Taliban in Afghanistan through military means, the US should somehow arrange for a referendum to be held in Afghanistan and several adjoining parts of Pakistan, in which people would opt for an Islamic emirate under the Taliban rule. If and when such a referendum is successful, the people of Afghanistan and Waziristan subscribing to the Taliban worldview can immigrate to this autonomous emirate. The US and its allies would have to make sure that this entity is encapsulated from the surroundings so as to prevent export of violence but would be induced to trade with the neighbours and encouraged to “try its hand at governing”, which shall eventually result in everyone and their uncle living happily ever after.
Reading the 1360-word piece left me scratching my head. Was this a tongue-in-cheek swipe at both the Taliban and the regional and world powers? I wondered if some political fiction had gone totally haywire. Is this what Huntington and Manshel had meant by serious, rational and lively debate, without being negative? But reading the comment section underneath the article one could almost hear the Twilight Zone music playing: Professor Ali in his responses to a barrage of criticism appeared to be seriously defending an atrociously glib thesis!
Making a case for a fundamental change in the western and US strategy to cope with the Taliban’s ‘staying power in Afghanistan’, Professor Ali starts with a frontal assault on the Pashtun nation itself. In an utter disregard for the history of the region, he writes: “The fact is that the Taliban and other Islamist elements are popular in the region out of which they operate, the Pashtun tribal belt between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This has always been an utterly conservative locale where the local population has generally favoured Islamic fundamentalism. Even going back to the 1930s, Waziristan’s rallying flag against the British was a simple white calligraphic ‘Allah-Akbar’ (God is Great) on red fabric.”
Well, the fact is that Professor Ali has taken serious liberties with the facts and has tried to denigrate the Pashtuns by portraying them as a people inherently incapable of living under a democratic dispensation. He simply ignores the secular-democratic Khudai Khidmatgar Movement (KKM) that dominated the Pashtun polity in the first half of the 20th century. He then mentions the doctored elections of the 2002, stating: “In Pakistan’s frontier province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Islamists were freely elected into power in one recent election.” However, cherry-picking the history, he skips the electoral rout of these same Islamist political parties at the hands of the secular Awami National Party (a continuation of the KKM) in 2008 elections that were widely accepted as free and fair. And even before that, the Pashtuns of the tribal belt have elected people with impeccable secular credentials like Abdul Lateef Afridi (Khyber), Shahabuddin Khan (Bajaur) and Dr Javed Hussain (Kurram) in various national assembly elections.
Professor Ali quotes a New America Foundation poll, which had suggested that the majority in Waziristan opposes the west’s military presence and that the parties (JI, JUI, PTI) with Islamist inclinations would gain almost half of the votes in a free and open election. Ironic that an article published under the section “Argument” would have a deductive fallacy bigger than the Hoover Dam: most Waziris despise foreign presence while all Taliban fight the foreigners, therefore the Waziris want to be ruled by the Taliban!
But this is not it. The article lectures the geopolitical strategists to seriously consider a canton under the Taliban where they may be free to flog and maim people. Professor Ali writes: “Although the west and its allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been terrified by the spectre of a second Islamic republic, there is a way to mitigate the threat: the creation of a semiautonomous region where Islamists can exercise their draconian system of law — if that is what the people agree to impose upon themselves.” In the most blatant manner Professor Ali not only blames the victim but also expects that the Pashtuns of FATA, held hostage by the armed mercenaries and their masters in Rawalpindi, will somehow vote freely in a fair referendum.
Pashtuns are outraged at FP for allowing its pages to be used not just to disparage a proud people but also to propose creating a terrorist haven. FP calls its flagship blog, ‘Passport’. But with this new low in geopolitical discourse it seems more like a passport to a barbarian dystopia, where new techniques of torture and terror would be perfected.
Sam Huntington had said in an NPR interview: “I think clearly the US, as well as other western nations, should stand by their commitments to human rights and democracy and should try to influence other to move in that direction.” This is precisely what Barack Obama has decided to do in the rapidly unravelling situation in the Arab world. But apparently, Professor Ali has opted to stand on the wrong side of not just the Pashtuns but also the history itself. As for FP, it ought to revisit its first editorial.
The writer can be reached at email@example.com