Current events in Pakistan have me thinking of Tariq Mustafa, a friend of this blog in Karachi, Pakistan.
Tariq has been visiting me, at my various blog homes, for nearly a decade now. He is not political. He is a businessperson, a technologist, an expert on Internet and wireless technologies.
He is also an optimist. When I have expressed concern to him about events in Pakistan, he has always said, in effect, stop worrying. Things are never as bad as they seem, he has said.
The most recent posts on his blog include a piece on Urdu support for a WYSIWYG editor, a piece on local tech reporting, and a piece on annoying spam phone calls, which tie up business phone traffic. No matter what government is in power, no matter what their beliefs, it is people like Tariq Mustafa who will be essential to its success. Without creative technologists and businesspeople, a society gets left behind.
The center of the current Pakistani crisis is the capital of Islamabad, which is hundreds of miles away from Karachi. But there have been upheavals in Karachi, too. The very idea of civil society seems to be under attack, and the people are being pulled in two directions, toward either a military dictatorship allied with the U.S., or an Islamic dictatorship which is opposed to the West.
Neither choice offers Pakistan much hope. A military dictatorship would have no economy, and would be an American client. An Islamic dictatorship would also have no economy, and would have to engage in nuclear blackmail and brinkmanship to survive. In neither case would the Pakistani people, or economy, exist.
America has been giving people around the world this Hobson’s Choice
for 60 years now, always calling its own side "freedom." The need
for such choices, by other people, has defined our policy since Harry
Truman. And the unintended consequences have always been worse than the
forced choice. Vietnam. The Iranian Revolution. Osama bin Laden. Iraq.
I know the present crisis is of great moment to Tariq, and his 160
million fellow citizens, but I also believe it’s of great moment to
Americans as well. For too long we have let ourselves be defined by
these false choices. Anyone who noted the falsity of the choices has
been branded a traitor, and against that charge has found no political
The time has come for we Americans to unshackle ourselves, just as
Pakistanis have an evident desire to do. In their case it is the
literal truth, and many have put their lives on the line — lawyers and
journalists among them. In our case it is just the figurative,
Truth must be spoken to power. Those who believe in democracy must take
the risk of embracing it, even if it means a Pakistani government which
is less pliant to our wishes, and which has both nuclear weapons and
the missiles with which to deliver them.
In the last century a word entered our language called Afghanistanism. It meant news that was happening far away and was thus unimportant.
There is no longer such news. What happens in Afghanistan, or Pakistan,
is no longer unimportant to us, and not just because of what it may
mean for American power or status. It’s also important for what it
means for American values, whether we believe in them, whether we’re
willing to risk anything for them, and whether the world finds here a
true supporter of them.
We are now at roughly the same point in President Bush’s second term as
Jimmy Carter was in his first term when the Iranian Hostage Crisis
developed. The lesson we gained from that, that military confrontation
was the only proper way to deal with Asians and Muslims, was the wrong
The right answer lies in supporting people like Tariq Mustafa, wherever they are, and however they choose.