Chaos is ultimately a story line that’s easier to recount with insurgencies than mass democratic politics. Hence, articles about the democracy protests regularly re-frame the story to focus on the insurgency. For example, a New York Times analysis dismisses the uprising of civil society as an interruption to the real task of counterinsurgency. “The way ahead is likely to be messy for everyone, including the United States, and could turn out to be a major distraction from efforts to counter the insurgency, which is spreading closer to the main population areas.” Pakistanis, in other words, are a nuisance to their own history.
The article explains that this is Washington’s view, too, as it tries to “convince Pakistan that the insurgency, not internal politics, was the most important challenge.” Everything else is just the distracted meanderings of a civil society with a massive attention-deficit.
Official opinion turned news turned judgment: A New York Times editorial on the protests begins by observing that it took “huge street protests and the threat of chaos” to compel a resolution. Chaos. Check.
The editorial continues, sidelining the protests to shift the story towards insurgency. “Mr. Zardari will have to do a lot more to calm the political turmoil and confront the extremists who threaten Pakistan’s survival.” Existential threat. Check.
Next, it discusses police officers’ reluctance to enforce the house arrest of Nawaz Sharif, who was to help lead the final stage of the Long March. Had the police complied with the house arrest, it was likely that protesters would clash with them as they had been doing throughout the march. The Times had this to say:
“Yet the process was flawed. It was unsettling to watch police officers in Lahore, Mr. Sharif’s power base, allow Mr. Sharif to escape house arrest. Pakistan’s coup-prone Army did not try to seize power. Instead, the chief of staff prodded Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif to compromise. That is certainly an improvement over the past. But it is also a reminder of the weakness of Pakistan’s democratic institutions.”
Granted, the Times editors have been drinking their own Kool-Aid, but it takes special people to be unsettled by police officers refusing to shed the blood of civilians demanding the rule of law. Sharif is a crook and a corrupt politician, but insofar as he stood in support of the lawyers’ issue, it’s very possible that demonstrators would have confronted the police and demanded his release.
Second, is the army’s unwillingness to seize power part of the “flawed process”—since that’s what the paragraph purports to discuss—or an “improvement” or a “reminder of the weakness of Pakistan’s democratic institutions,” or all three? The declaration of an all-out war on logic is ultimately necessary to pummel the story of the democracy movement into an account of crisis and failure.
Pakistanis are now debating their movement. Some, like Dr. Alvi, are chagrined about the closed-door deal making in the final hours of the protests. Others say it’s just the beginning. “This mobilization and consciousness should now translate into other constructive avenues,” says Siddique, currently pursuing a PhD at Harvard.
But while Pakistani civil society debates what’s next, it may be derailed by the American Tourette Syndrome. The enduring ‘failed state’ narrative, deployed by Washington, repeated and popularized by the mainstream American press, has worked in narrowing the debate on Pakistan to security-talk. Paradoxically, the U.S. may be exacerbating problems by acting on the ‘failed state’ story it endlessly repeats to itself.
The American military has been recklessly bombing FATA. Recent figures by Pakistani authorities said that of the sixty U.S. drone attacks between January 2006 and April 2009, only ten hit their targets. In all, the strikes have killed fourteen Al Qaeda leaders and 687 innocent Pakistanis, making the success rate of the attacks not more than 2 percent.
This belligerent policy appears incapable of delivering anything but insults to the very region from which General Petraeus has said that the next 9/11 is likely to come. But, the American press, rather than opening a sphere of discussion has been—intentionally or unintentionally—building consent for questionable government policies that are now expanding the theatre of war into Pakistan.