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Of Political Gaffes And Forced Uniformity

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Shooting from the lip needs more care than shooting from the hip. For one thing, a good gun slinger may still get-in another shot, but those who shoot from the lip would get no second chances. Words spoken in the troposphere go around the world in 80 nanoseconds.

Gorbachev might have been the father of glasnost, its first practitioner was none other than our own Aslam Beg; once the Army Chief, and thus the arbiter of ultimate wisdom. With a microphone in his hand, in his own words, he was unstoppable. His famous treatise on strategic depth has haunted us for nearly three decades. Indeed, Pakistan has always provided one to Afghanistan. We have been the landlocked country’s window to the world; source of much of its ‘duty-free’ imports; and a safe haven for millions of its citizens who come over for all the right or wrong reasons. Afghans, when not under foreign occupation, return the favour by ensuring peace on our western front, if we have a problem on the eastern. Both acting as good neighbours – if you ask me. But when Beg strategised this phenomenon as was his wont, his statement became a tool in the hands of all who were unhappy with our Afghan policy, or with the army’s larger than life role.

Our elected leaders on the other hand can fire verbal salvos with impunity.

UNSC resolutions provide us the locus standi on Kashmir, and Pakistan was therefore well advised to stick to them even while exploring other options. Mulling over the Dixon Plan, the Chenab Formula, or the Trieste Model, we were doing precisely that. But when Nawaz Sharif, as the prime minister in his first incarnation, hinted that these resolutions were only for the birds, some hell was expected to break loose – but didn’t. There were also no fireworks when Zardari using his presidential immunity put our nuclear doctrine on its head. India’s no- first-use posture is to show its confidence in its conventional edge, and Pakistan’s no-no-first-use essentially serves to convey that if needed we would have the courage to press the red button. Yet, when Zardari suggested that the NFU was also good enough for Pakistan, hardly an eyebrow were raised.

No wonder, Imran Khan too believes in the divine right of politicians to speak first and let the devil take the hindmost.
We acquired nukes to deter war – also a conventional one – with the big bad brother, and to guard against nuclear black mail.

This capability however does not help resolve disputes – if anything, it freezes them. Use of force beyond skirmishes across the LOC, because of some serious consequences, is no longer a viable option. We cannot even threaten the use of nukes unless we can be seen hell bent to cross the critical threshold. For all India cares, we can keep our nuclear weapons as long as we do not try to change the status quo in Kashmir by other means.

On Afghanistan too, Imran Khan does not seem to be much impressed by its complexities.

When he complained about our diminishing leverage with the Taliban after the withdrawal of foreign troops, one could only be amazed, or amused. To start with, our clout with this militia was always limited – and we often used this argument to rationalise our inability to rein them in. More importantly, getting the foreign military out, as it destabilises the neighbourhood, was one of our core objectives. Post 9/11, we have shared this goal with many of our regional allies.

What actually took the cake was when our prime-minister expressed anxiety over the future of our strategic ties with America after it exits Afghanistan. That our relations with the US were never strategic, and only issue based, may not have been widely understood; but isn’t it obvious that these would now be driven by the US-China rivalry? Time to learn how to play in the big league – a role that our geo-strategic location has thrust upon us.

Not to worry, all such gaffes will not make it in to the history books; though some will certainly leave behind a bad taste.
In the mid 1990s, Imran Khan went around raising funds for his hospital. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, already a big name and recipient of many national and international awards, performed pro bono to help the noble cause. Mercifully, he died before Imran Khan bragged that it was his global circus that introduced the maestro to the world. Our people do not like chest beaters. Pervez Musharraf’s book, since it was all ‘me me me’, barely survived his time in office.

Shooting from the lips was still not as bad as sealing them.

None of our efforts to bring uniformity in the country ever did any good. Quaid’s forcing Urdu on Bengalis, so proud of their own language, sowed the seeds of separation. Mainstreaming well run states like Bahawalpur and Swat brought their inhabitants under a corrupt and inefficient administration. Creating one Balochistan from three assorted components has rendered our strategically sensitive flank vulnerable to external intrigues and internal wrangling. And now we want a single curriculum to be imposed on people who are as diverse as flowers in a bouquet. Even that bitter pill one would have swallowed, if – as many of our educationists have painfully pointed out – the new order was not aimed at strangulating critical thinking. Those who learn by rot would only parrot what has been drilled in their mouth.

If we must have uniformity in our education system, someone please dig out the curricula of the two hundred years old Indian madrasahs that taught logic – and were acknowledged at par with the standards accessible only to British aristocracy. Or, find out how in a Bukhara seminary, Ulugh Beg learnt to explore the space.

That this unkindest of all cuts was to be delivered by the produce of western education, can only be understood as some cultural hitmen finishing the job started by Macaulay.

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Naya Daur