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Not really a banana republic

Not really a banana republic

Author: Ayaz Amir
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 2, 2002

What's a banana republic? A state without a spine of its own, dependent on foreign capital, subject to foreign influence and politically unstable. A state where, typically, the predominate influence is that of the United States. This term originated from the Caribbean where small island states grew bananas, robbed and oppressed their people and listened carefully to the American ambassador. To the present set-up in belongs the credit of transporting the concept from afar and giving it a wholly new, South Asian meaning.

For all the brave talk, because of the role it has performed since September 11, is fast acquiring the characteristics of a state in which the ghosts of Central American dictators would feel at home. American planes and helicopter fly from Pakistan airbases in Sindh and Balochistan. Parts of Karachi airport have been handed over to 'coalition' forces. Pakistani troops are strung along the Pak-Afghan border to help catch fleeing Al Qaida fighters and hand them over to the Americans without any questions asked.

The hapless Zaeef, the Taliban's former ambassador in Islamabad, Was handed over to the US military even though, misguided, soul, he had asked for political asylum in Pakistan. When Gen Tommy Franks, the Cent-com commander, visits Islamabad the fawning attention he gets from his hosts is a treat to watch on television, Pakistan's military chiefs hang on his every word, smiling effusively as he makes his points. The US ambassador here gets the kind of press reserved for royalty or screen personalities in other countries.

In the extended exercise in arrogance which was President Bush's State-of-the-Union address to the US Congress, only two foreign leaders came in for mention and praise: Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. In a different era, say in the 1950s and 60s when the fires of national liberation burnt bright, such American endorsement would have been seen as a kiss of death, a confirmation of the client status of the leader concerned.

Pakistan's singular achievement since being press-ganged into service for the American assault on Afghanistan is to turn ingratiating behaviour into an art form. India does not speak with a client-tongue to the US. Iran is on the fist of America's enemies. Even Saudi Arabia, the most loyal of allies, is getting restive under America's shadow, chafing at the double standards the US applies across the Middle East. Along this are of restiveness Pakistan stands out for its readiness to accede, at whatever price, to American wishes.

With our 'jihadi' policies we were at one extreme. Averse to any half-way house, we have now swung completely in the other direction. What is the justification being given for this dramatic shift from super-truculence to super-loyalty? That we are leaving the past behind and entering the modem world. Since we never spare Jinnah even in our most audacious ideological leaps, his figure is again being invoked: that it is to his vision of modernism that Pakistan is returning. The military is still at centre-stage, only its Greek chorus replaced, the battalions of so-called liberalism taking the place of the discomfited mullas. The irony is delicious but lost on Pakistan's English-speaking literati.

General Musharraf finds himself a strengthened figure, his former isolation transmuted into international approval, his Afghan and Kashmir clothes cast aside for the robes of statesmanship. Forget Bush's' endorsement. In recent days one English language columnist at home has said that being with him was being in "the presence of greatness". Another, that behind his calm demeanour lay an iron resolve and a penetrating mind.

But what's the national advantage been? Pakistan's handout economy has been rescued, fresh credit coming in and old loans being extended. While no doubt a triumph in the short-term, when was the last time a hand-out economy prospered or laid the foundations of long-term growth?

Second comes the putative shift to modernism. How does this make any sense when the military refuses to let democracy grow? Modernism is not simply about restricting the space around the mosque and the pulpit. It is more about participatory democracy. 'Except lm where the ayatollahs hold sway, no Muslim country, from Morocco to Indonesia, is ruled by a priesthood. So if we are finally getting rid of our mulla aberration, we are getting rid of a frenzy, not breaking revolutionary ground.

The problem with our polity is not the dominance of the mulla - who has always been a creature of one thing or the other - but the dark shadows of military rule. Unless the man in khaki returns to his rightful place, and allows the rest of the nation space to breathe - and unless, let it also be said, the political class improves its hitherto depressing performance we'll be no closer to Jinnah's vision now than under General Zia 20 years ago. (Dawn)

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