Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2018: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1807494/6-reminder-pakistans-efforts-war-terror/
Pakistan has, for years now, been under a disparaging media microscope of which a majority of the state’s failings has been emphasised.
The media constantly bombards us with reports of religious extremism, militancy, gender discrimination, yet overwhelmingly fails to acknowledge Pakistan’s efforts – particularly as it relates to the War on Terror.
To be fair, after a decades-long struggle to obtain its independence and establish its own unique identity, Pakistan still has much to improve. As someone who has travelled the region extensively since 2009, I have witnessed many challenges and success stories: I’ve experienced everything from misogyny, ethnic divides, frightening encounters with religious fundamentalists to stories of hope against all odds; war orphans growing into successful entrepreneurs, women defying cultural norms to become fighter and commercial airline pilots, and efforts towards de-radicalisation programmes. I’ve seen some of the worst humanity has to offer and some of the best… right here in Pakistan. And it reminds me of America. Sure, the cultures are diverse, the languages vary, the spices have distinct aromas and flavours, but we have far more in common than differences.
Which is why I find it incredibly disturbing that the mainstream media (MSM) continues to perpetuate this warped narrative against Pakistan, as if it continues to be a rogue state.
In a recent form of twisted tribute to the 9/11 anniversary, Bill Maher, host of Real Time on HBO (air date 9/14/2018) brought up “the legacy [of] the war in Afghanistan… which is still going on…” Maher claimed he’s always been against America becoming “an empire” yet seemed to rationalise America having “14,000 troops next to Pakistan which has nuclear weapons.”
Richard Clarke, a former White House adviser and guest on the show, replied, “I made a promise after 9/11 that we would never again allow a country to become a sanctuary for terrorists… if we leave [Afghanistan] it goes back to becoming a terrorist sanctuary… Trump… did one thing right… he cut off aid to Pakistan, because they have been serving as a sanctuary [for militants], who cross the Afghanistan border, kill American troops and then go back [to Pakistan] and the Pakistanis let them do it.” This language is, at the very least, inaccurate and disgraceful – especially coming from a former adviser to the White House.
Minutes later, Maher mocked Trump for criticising the commander in Afghanistan. “When are we going to start winning some wars? I don’t think [the commander] knows how to win. I don’t think he’s a winner… you should be killing guys. You don’t need a strategy to kill people.”
Bizarrely enough, Clarke stated, “if you have a strategy, you don’t have to kill people.”
Maher jokingly pointed out that Clarke’s “hair is still on fire and… was on fire trying to get people to understand the danger before 9/11,” and asked if “enough of the public’s hair is on fire – is enough of the media’s hair on fire?”
Clarke: “People need to be reminded.”
Yes, Mr Clarke, people do need to be reminded.
The world needs to be reminded that Pakistan has made many sacrifices in a war it did not ask for, nor did it initiate. The movie, Charlie Wilsons’s War, speaks to America’s battle against the Soviets for territorial gain and in the process left Afghanistan, and much of its basic infrastructure decimated. America spent billions of dollars destroying the region but practically nothing to rebuild, forcing millions of Afghan refugees to flee to Pakistan where, according to UNHCR reports, approximately 1.38 million registered and one million unregistered remain sheltered to this day.
At what cost? Countless lives lost, generations of tribal people uprooted and their way of life irreparably damaged. Then there’s the approximate $120 billion financial burden. Where is the American taxpayer’s return on their investment, years later? Do any of us sleep better at night now, versus when this war began?
Mr Clarke, people need to be reminded of the human and financial sacrifices Pakistan has made, including approximately 70,000 war-related civilians and security forces injured or killed; the development work the state is contributing towards, even as elements within Afghanistan continue to destabilise the region and fragment society, particularly in the tribal belt; and recent delays in $300 million reimbursement (not aid) from the Coalition Support Fund.
Yet Pakistan is beginning to assert itself. The past year, construction began on an 830km fence, and over 400 border forts, along some of the world’s harshest terrain – the Pak-Afghan border. Work is expected to be completed by 2019. Why would Pakistan exert such monumental effort, allocating thousands of troops and required logistics for this undertaking? Perhaps Pakistan grows weary of waiting for other ‘vested’ interests to fulfil their promises. Perhaps Pakistan is taking more initiative and relying less on others to assist where – clearly – conflicting interests converge and – clearly – interests in conflict remain.
If one takes a closer look, through a less ‘clouded’ lens, Pakistan may well be the only country in the region to turn the tide against militancy – despite being sandwiched between a couple of neighbours hell-bent on creating an amorphic fog of chaos and fear.
The talking heads driven by one-sided views – ironically, most of whom are generally based in the West and appear unable/unwilling to travel the country and witness for themselves – seem desperate for Pakistan to not succeed, and for an alternative perspective to not be shared in the MSM. In fact, I’ve been attacked by so-called liberals, human rights activists, scholars and former diplomats because I believe Pakistan should be given far more credit than it has. In a rational world, one might think ‘liberals’ and ‘human rights activists’ might appreciate positive news coming from a historically challenging region.
Admittedly, Pakistan has not been good at telling its story; at times it has failed to adequately articulate its position in geo-politics – this is where true friends of Pakistan can assist. As an American, I believe both our interests and Pakistan’s interests would be best served by first acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices. Clearly, a relationship reset is in order.
In the meantime, as a friend of Pakistan, I will continue to remind our global community of a more objective, ground reality.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2018.