Are Pakistani Liberals Sellouts?

Dear Pakistanis,

Consider this a "Jawab-e-Shikwa" (a reply) to the comments I got from my recent article criticizing Pakistan's obsession with the nuclear arsenal.

I think that nuclear arsenal has not been beneficial to Pakistan as it has resulted in a faulty security policy and a false sense of national pride. If my country Pakistan had fared well in social and economic indicators, then this would have been the source of pride for me. But somehow or the other, we as a nation take more pride in a device which is supposed to kill millions. And the biggest irony is that in the end, instead of nuclear arsenal protecting us, we are guarding it against possible purge by US or India. The article was basically an analysis as to how nuclear arsenal has ended up shaping our security policy, civil military imbalance and collective psyche of knitting conspiracy theories.

Yes, I admit that nuclear arsenal has been a "good" deterrent, but it has not ended up making Pakistan reduce its military budget. At best we have avoided a full scale war against India. And yes, the threat to Pakistan' security is now emerging more from religious extremism, and nuclear weapons cannot address such problems. Nuclear weapons have merely allowed us to get more foreign aid as the West does not want a destabilized Pakistan, but is this what we really want to do on a sustainable basis? Moreover, nuclear weapons have also increased international scrutiny too much and this is not something which is favorable to Pakistan.

Having spent almost all my life in Pakistan, I am fully cognizant of the fact that it is a conservative country and the dominant narrative is overwhelmingly right wing and is basically sustained on conspiracy theories. However, despite that knowledge, I was still taken aback after seeing some of the comments on my article. I was called a "sellout" and an Indian agent. Many of the Pakistanis did not even bother to read the article properly and started to show a typical knee-jerk reaction.

It is, of course, completely right to disagree with the analysis and also call it "biased." However, rather than countering the arguments, most of the commentators were trying to prove that I was a "traitor." Some commentators wrote that all my articles are anti-Pakistan and I am being paid to write such stuff. Now in literally all my articles, I have stressed upon the need to curb extremism and promote tolerance. I have written in favor of Ahmedis despite the fact that I am not an Ahmedi, because I think we should not impose our will on minorities, and secondly it is up to God to decide as to who is a Muslim.

I have written against conspiracy theory mindset which ends up giving soft support to extremists. How this ends up being anti-Pakistan is beyond me. Yes, I have been critical of the situation but you cannot hope to address the problem without frank acknowledgement of the reality. Yes, admitting problems on an open forum can lead to potential embarrassment but do you really think that the world does not know? What world are we living in?

We confuse patriotism with fake and hyperbolic pride. Patriotism in the end means caring for the country and many a times those who are critical care for Pakistan much more than the emotional crowd indulging in hollow sloganeering. It is easy to cry loud and throw out words like "I love my country" and doubt those who are critical but really difficult to wriggle ourselves out of a state of denial and do an honest self-introspection.

I can take "solace" from the fact that I am not the only one to be accused of being an India or a CIA agent. Many who are way better than me and who identify themselves as liberals have been accused of the same, including but not limited to: Raza Rumi, Asma Jehangir, Pervaiz Hoodbhoy and a few dozen ( yes only a few) have faced the same type of allegations. Raza Rumi whom I consider my mentor was almost killed merely a year ago and despite this near brush with death, many Pakistanis continue to call him a sellout.

In fact anyone who points to Pakistan's problems (except when he is talking about a politician's corruption) is generally considered a "sellout" or anti-Pakistan.

Rather than going to the source of the problem, we start getting angry at who points it out. It is no wonder that Pakistanis hate Malala, a 16-year-old girl, despite being shot in the face. Her ordeal was picked up by international press and highlighted the plight of ordinary Pakistani girls under Taliban. Many Pakistanis thought that West was deliberately using it as a reason to insult them and Islam. They took that as an insult and ended up hating and abusing a little girl. In fact, on the FB page of Pakistani politician Imran Khan's PTI, many of his supporters were openly abusing Malala when she got a Nobel prize.

Likewise liberals are also hated in Pakistan and mockingly called "Psuedo Liberals" or outright sellouts just because they are critical of the situation.

Let me make it clear that as someone who identifies as a liberal, my sole agenda is a tolerant and liberal Pakistan which is devoid of religious extremism. However, I believe that path towards doing that starts with the acknowledgement that perhaps there is something wrong with the way we approach religion, security policy and domestic politics.

Today Pakistan's majority of problem are home grown. However, we have always tried to come up with weird conspiracy theories to shift the blame to outside forces. Even if foreign powers are involved, but the nature of the problem is still home grown. Foreign powers ( assuming if they are indeed involved) did not create Taliban but may have ended up using them. Taliban are the outcome of the way our Madrassa system is indoctrinating students and the way our own state tried to use them as "strategic assets'. This kind of policy has its blow back, a fact that was conveniently forgotten.

However, rather than acknowledging our mistakes, over the years we first tried to portray the atrocities by Taliban as some kind of reaction to USA's war in Afghanistan. People like Imran Khan were at the forefront of that narrative. Eventually when the barbarity of Taliban reached such an enormous proportions, our national narrative has now changed to blaming India. If TTP are indeed Indian agents, then can anyone explain as to why Mr. Imran Khan was hell bent on giving apologetic defense for them? Or for that matter why at one point he was also in favor of giving them ministries?

Our opinion about TTP only changed on a massive scale after the Peshawar attack and that too after our media started to blame India! So Malala was hated for bring "bad name" to Pakistan whereas TTP was actually not loathed for a considerable period of time. Today the same people are being Kharjis and yet we forget how a huge bulk of Pakistanis was once calling them "our people".

Likewise I would like to clarify that being critical of political role of armed forces is not treason. I think one of the major problems is that in our collective psyche respect of army has become completely intertwined with patriotism. What people are completely forgetting that army is merely a part of state and it is NOT a holy cow. As an institution it should be held accountable just the way rest of the institutions are. Here you can literally abuse elected leaders but merely questioning army has assumed the status of a sin.

In a developing country like Pakistan, the reality is that army is calling shots in many areas but particularly security and foreign policies. Due to their heavy involvement, it is only natural that they should be questioned when things go wrong. Many of today's militancy owes its existence to Pakistan's security policy- a fact that cannot be just brushed aside - and therefore army cannot be simply excused from criticism.

In any civilized society, army is under civilian control and is properly accountable. In our national narrative, being critical of army has become synonymous with high treason, truly sad state of the affair as it leads towards army becoming completely insulated from accountability.

What exactly is patriotism here? Is being critical of our missteps treason? Do Pakistanis really think that Pakistan's bad name is NOT caused by those who kill in the name of religion but by those liberals who point the obvious? Are my Pakistani brothers and sisters actually aware as to where exactly Pakistan stands in various global social, economic and political indicators? Are they aware that we are ranked among countries like Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan and several Central African dysfunctional states? Are they aware that Bangladesh ( formerly East Pakistan) is ahead of us in many indicators?

Let me ask you politely here: Do you really think that some liberals are causing Pakistan a bad name? Are these rankings caused by people like Asma Jehangir, Raza Rumi etc? Do you really think that world only finds out negative things about Pakistan through some liberal journalists whom you mockingly call "Pseudo Journalists" or sellouts. Do you really think that being silent about our flaws would, somehow or the other, deceive the world into believing that Pakistan is a great country?

Pakistan's problems can only be solved through candid discussion and frank acknowledgement. Calling a few liberals as "Pseudo liberals" or worse sellouts won't solve anything. They are NOT causing Pakistan a bad name but our own follies are.