In the line of Fire


Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

When an ordinary individual becomes a victim of misconceived notions about his place and position in the Universe, his fallacy can be tolerated because he cannot do much harm. The situation changes radically when the one afflicted is someone who guides the destinies of a country and its people. This spells disaster for all. The consequences are there for us to see and rue.

Coveting the mantle of statesmen and historical legends is the easiest part of the job and donning it too may not prove an insurmountable obstacle given the compliant nature of courtiers, but doing justice to that position and status is not within everybody’s ambit. It is in the crucible of practice that unrealistic dreams evaporate.

The spineless sycophants and eloquent courtiers who inevitably gather round fonts of power weave their magic on kings and autocrats, they being vulnerable to the extreme because of their yearning for becoming living legends and their desire to leave benchmarks for history. Sooner rather than later they ardently begin believing what is said to them. Sycophants can convince a person to become a Field Marshal without his having seen a battle.

Praise and flattery would lead anyone astray but when practised on a susceptible subject who already has idealistic notions about his status in the plans of Providence and obsessively believes in his ‘tryst with destiny’, it proves devastating. It becomes his firm belief and an integral part of his psyche that without him the Universe would come to a standstill.

Illusions become permanent, especially when worked upon by eloquent courtiers of matchless ability and calibre who are abundantly found in the corridors of power in the Land of the Pure. Their survival depends on the survival of the object of their unremitting attention and with time they become indispensable.

The book In the Line of Fire, though it has become a bestseller for various reasons, will certainly put the General ‘in the line of ire’ of the people because of his confrontational opinions and assertions about people, events and situations. Many have been irked by the needlessly disparaging comments against them. Not many have been amused by incidents that made the General chuckle. This book is but a symptom of the deeper fault lines within the system.

The General’s book will continue to be the object of interest as the pearls of wisdom in the sea of words are chanced upon and analysed. I on my part would just like to restrict myself to two points. The first is regarding the attempt by the General to prove his unflinching loyalty to the US and his usefulness in the ‘war on terror’ by handing over suspects for money to the CIA. The second regarding our lack of spine and Richard Armitage’s comment about bombing us back into the Stone Age if we did not fall in line.

The former was retracted by the author and the latter refuted by those to whom it was attributed. In both cases the value and worth of the book depreciates significantly and raises the spectre that a lot more will be recanted and much more will be refuted with the passage of time. When something is stated in a book, it assumes an aura of finality because down the road in time not many will know what was recanted and refuted. The onus is on the author, the ‘ghost writer’ plea notwithstanding.

Bounty hunting is a contemptuous calling but here it has been accepted as honourable and is paraded with pride. Aimal Kansi, Yusuf Ramzi, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and hundreds of others were handed over to the CIA for bounty money. To quote the General: “We’ve captured 689 and handed over 369 to the United States. We’ve earned bounties totalling millions of dollars. Those who habitually accuse us of ‘not doing enough’ in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the government of Pakistan.” Shouldn’t we give these words a standing ovation?

No self-respecting person or government would wish to be branded as bounty hunters but we have the audacity to praise ourselves and even conceitedly give figures of our sordid and dubious achievements. Those who have a ‘tryst with destiny’ act differently. Extraditions even if necessary have to be civilized and justified; you can’t buy and sell people like cattle for bounties. Little wonder so many unaccounted disappearances blight the country.

We have to suffer these chosen ones. Their ideology is power and pelf, be it supporting the Taliban or the war against them.

In the 1980s the persons, now handed over for bounty, were a source of income as the US and the Arab world footed the bills and sent their unwanted elements here to pursue their agendas. When the tables turned these same elements became a source of income but in another way. They were the first to recognise the Taliban and the quickest to drop them like a hot potato. Not that they deserved to be supported, but going back on your avowed policy so fast is a feat achievable here and nowhere else.

As hard as their spin doctors may try, nowhere will the element of principles or moral values creep into the equation. Here self-respect, sovereignty, dignity and pride, all are commodities for sale to the highest bidder. Principles and values be damned, give us our much cherished dollars.

Now to the subject of the threat by the US. Is this the spine that we never tire of flaunting and parading with examples of valour of past Muslim personalities? The preposterous claim: “I war gamed with America as an adversary” is childish, naïve and ridiculous.

To war game the US as an adversary, a certain type of psyche and training is required and our institutions certainly do not nurse and nurture that kind. It requires a Che Guevara or a General Vo Nguyen Giap to war game the US and defeat it in the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam. Our leaders aren’t made of that stuff. To acquiesce is our second nature, particularly when acquiescence tends to add longevity and lucre to our political lives. Dreams are made of different stuff.

Those who have a ‘tryst with destiny’ transcend the ordinary; they have characters that distinguish them from run-of-the-mill leaders. They rise above the pettiness of power, its glamour, misuses and abuses and its accompanying trappings. They enlighten the world not with enlightened moderation or some such ploy but with the force of their unimpeachable and untarnished character and integrity. They need no garb, military or official, to stamp their authority on the world and move it forward; they move it by force of example. They exercise authority but sans armed hoodlums to back them up. Their personal integrity and propriety and decorum in use of power or finances are unquestionable and unimpeachable. Their sagacity in decisions and in conduct is impeccable; the veracity of their words is unchallengeable. Does anyone know anyone in the Establishment here with these characteristics and virtues?

Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara and Nelson Mandela come to mind as examples. They are true role models. Such people deserve to rise and should rise here too. But unfortunately there is an incontrovertible truth in the laws of physics that it is ‘hot air’ that rises the fastest. Sadly this law also holds true in the laws of politics as practised here in the Land of the Pure.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at mmatalpur@gmail.com

This article was first published on 09 October 2006 in The Post

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