Friday, May 1, 2009

Has Time Run Out for Pakistan?

Recently I had a long overdue catch-up lunch with a young Pakistani friend of mine, Raji Khan. Raj, as his friends call him is well educated and comes from a highly successful family of merchants in Karachi. The youngest of 5 siblings, he is the only member of his family to have left Pakistan. He’s been in the US for more than 15 years now (almost all of that in Tampa) and is married to an “American” girl- - -a Catholic. Yet Raj is a devout Muslim, practices his faith daily and often quotes the Prophet Mohammed and the Qur’an. His 10 year old son is being schooled in both traditions and will be free to make his own choices as he gets older.

Clearly, Raj is no “hard-liner”. He numbers among his friends other like minded Muslims, a large number of Christians and several Jews. His family in Pakistan doesn’t quite understand Raj’s “multi-cultural life in America” but they do respect it out of the love they have for Raj, their grandson and . . . their Catholic daughter-in-law.

My young Pakistani friend is in the import business and his current “hot item” is “Salt Lamps”. Made from salt mined from the foothills of the Himalayas the lamps, when burned like a candle or heated with a bulb, ionize and purify the air in the room thus providing relief to people with asthma and similar disorders- - -so it is claimed. As usual we talk business first. Raj has never had any formal course work in “sales and marketing” and often uses me as a sounding board and unpaid consultant (which I am happy to be). Today we talk about “Product Life Cycle” and as expected he gets the concept quickly and immediately applies it to his business. Raj is one of the smartest guys I know.

After we’ve eaten and I’m sure all his business issues have been addressed I switch the conversation to what is currently happening in Pakistan, notably the Taliban being on the move and seemingly headed for the Capitol, Islamabad. I’m eager to understand how a group such as the Taliban driven by a fundamentalist and repressive view of Islam can make political and military gains as easily as they do and, apparently, with open acceptance by the general population. Here’s what Raj told me.

The current national government of Pakistan like every government before it for the last 60 years is corrupt and cares about two things only- - -enriching themselves at the public trough and getting re-elected to office. According to Raj the police and military are equally corrupt thus no one is looking out for or cares what happens to the ordinary Pakistani citizen. As a result “justice” of any sort has become a monetized commodity for sale to the highest (wealthiest) bidder. The secular courts are clogged and any attempt by an aggrieved party to attain justice, restitution or even retribution depends solely on how much one can afford to pay police, judges and local politicians.

It is possible, Raj tells me, that you could have six viable witnesses who saw you get robbed and beaten but unless the police are “motivated” (in the form of Rupees the Pakistani currency) to investigate, your case will never make it to court. And unless the judge is similarly “motivated” your case will never be heard much less adjudicated. On top of that, the process takes several years and just as many rounds of “motivation”. But even if you are successful in “motivating” the police and the courts there is always the chance the assailant or his family is wealthier than you are and can “motivate” his release, clearance and freedom leaving you poorer and without any modicum of justice or restitution. Enter the Taliban with its strict and repressive interpretation of Islam and its even stricter imposition of Sharia Law.

If you were robbed and beaten on Friday in a town controlled by the Taliban and had several reliable witnesses to the crime the chances are your assailant would be arrested on Monday and tried on Wednesday. And if the adjudication included punishment, such as a beating or worse, it is likely to be carried out by Friday with little regard for an appeal and no chance to buy a not-guilty verdict and freedom. This truly is "swift justice".

Apparently what we in the West do not comprehend- -and neither do those who have formulated foreign policy for the US Department of State, from Eisenhower to Obama- - is the overwhelming need for the masses to know that justice is available to all regardless of class and not just to the highest bidder. In fact, according to Raj, this need to know your government will protect you from robbers, rapists, murders and thieves is so compelling that even the educated classes in Pakistan are willing to make the trade off that comes with the Taliban. They are willing to reduce their wives and daughters to little more than ‘chattel’. They are willing to revert to a 700 year old standard of living that bans electricity, indoor plumbing and almost all modern conveniences while imposing strict dress codes, dietary laws and rules for doing business. All while the Taliban leaders themselves use cell phones and computers, own TVs and drive automobiles.

Our politicians are proud of giving the people of Iraq and Afghanistan the right to vote and choose their own destiny. But until our attempts at nation building include installing an incorruptible federal government as well as local police and military thus assuring the populace the right to justice and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” the Taliban will always have the edge. Raj thinks we have until the end of 2011 to make that happen in Pakistan- -a nuclear nation- - otherwise the Taliban will walk into Islamabad without resistance. Can anyone say he’s wrong?


secureland said...

Excellent article. I'm going to forward this to others who seek enlightenment. Keep up the good work!

The Sage of Tampa said...

Thanx, Kathy. From the CIA backed overthrow of Mossadiq's government in Iran in 1953 (we put the Shah in power) to the current governments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, US foreign policy, whether under Democrat or Republican administrations, has always backed those who we saw as being less radical and more pro-western REGARDLESS of how corrupt, ineffective and inefficient they might be. And where has that 60 year old policy gotten us? Perhaps it's time to think who we support and how. There's an old business adage that says, "you can't keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results." Maybe it's time to apply this bit of business wisdom to the formulation of our foreign policy.

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