When US Secretary of State Colin Powell went to meet Yasser Arafat at the latter’s besieged headquarters in Ramallah on 14 April, CNN reported that the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) had assumed “defensive” positions in the area. The implication, as always, was that Israel was under attack, and was valiantly protecting itself, and Mr. Powell, from Palestinian terror. Most informed people in the world would agree that this was a distorted presentation of reality.
In Pakistan, as in much of the Muslim world, there is fury at what is happening in Palestine, what has happened in Afghanistan, and the potential destruction yet to come in Iraq, Sudan, Libya, and a host of other countries that the United States seems intent on attacking sooner rather than later. There is also a sense of helplessness at the plight of thousands of innocent people, caught in the middle of the deadly assaults by the global hegemon.
This anger is felt not only in the Muslim world, but also in Europe where people are marching the streets against their governments’ complicity in the price that Israel is exacting from the Palestinian population. But there also seems to be growing recognition within the United States itself of something dreadfully amiss, and this is what will ultimately matter. On 20 April, Washington DC saw the largest ever pro-Palestinian demonstration in the United States. As long as such protests continue, it is inevitable that those who turn a blind eye to Ariel Sharon and other perpetrators of injustice against the Palestinians will be forced to sit up and take note.
The pro-Palestine voices, of course, pale in comparison to the massive and organised pro-Israel lobby that has been operating in the United States for half a century. But the voices are being heard, and this reflects a growing sense of responsibility amongst progressive elements of American society. Progressive elements in Muslim countries, including Pakistan, have much to learn from this. The politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict represents a worldwide trend since 11 September, in terms of the mandate that has been given to the powerful to attack the weak under the guise of combating terrorism.
However, what is happening in the Occupied Territories also has much to do with the fact that Pakistan (and other Muslim countries) are obliging George W Bush on virtually every front. For some reason, the rage that Muslims feel against Washington DC for abetting what Israel is doing to the Palestinians does not extend to the fact that the United States has aligned itself with the military and other authoritarian governments in our own countries. In Pakistan’s case, the US has made it clear that it is happy to see General Musharraf retain power.
For all the statements the Pakistani government might issue about the urgent need for Israel to stop the bloodbath of Palestinians, the fact of the matter is that General Musharraf will not go beyond issuing statements. In this, the present Pakistani regime is no different from the Arab countries such as the US-tilting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. The Pakistani military is towing the line that Colin Powell and Dick Cheney have asked it to tow, whether it be in providing bases for the military operation in Afghanistan, or making its firm commitment to implement the neo-liberal agenda.
People from all over Pakistan were bussed to polling booths on 30 April to legitimise the rule of the Pakistani general. How is it that General Musharraf, an international pariah eight short months ago, is now the world’s favourite democrat? What does that tell us about who is committed to whom? Rather than act helpless to the injustices we see in places like the Occupied Territories, Pakistanis have a responsibility to reject the forces in Pakistan that represent the same hegemonic force that is victimising the Palestinians. Pakistanis and the people of the Arab nations who suffer under despots supported by the United States, must learn to fight the tyrant right in front of them rather than lament at the injustice being perpetrated far away.
The whimsical nature of international politics aside, the fact is that General Musharraf has created a distorted reality in Pakistan, and the referendum of 30 April was part of this new unreal world. For the legitimacy that General Musharraf needs to stay in power is delivered not by the Pakistani population, but by Washington DC. While we all understand that the political parties in Pakistan have shied away from their responsibility, this makes it all the more important for the citizens of Pakistan to understand the pawns that they are being made in the Great Game of the 21″ century. It is a difficult path to tread, because of the risks involved. But if we are so convinced that Mr. Bush’s distorted reality of the world must be exposed, then the fight must start at home.