Pakistan is the geopolitical hotspot of the moment. Everybody’s talking about it and everybody has their own opinion on it. I’ve never been there, but would love to go, but of course that doesn’t stop me having my own opinion! I’ve much to learn about the place and I really have nothing to contribute right now, but someone who knows the country intimately and loves it completely is Fatima Bhutto. Niece of Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Murtazza Bhutto and grand daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, she is part of the Pakistani equivalent to The Kennedy family in America.
Born in Kabul in 1982, she was educated in Pakistan, The United States and England and currently lives in Karachi as a writer and poet. Although having no desire to enter politics, she has strong opinions about her country. I was fortunate to hear Fatima talk a number of times during the recent Sydney Writers Festival and have made a few points about what she had to say.
It is very important to remember that any references to countries concern their government, not the people.
The title of her first talk was “Pakistan: A Country On The Brink Of A Nervous Breakdown”. Although she agrees that this is the case (and also that most of the world is experiencing this state of being at the moment!), she is quite clear as to the reason. It isn’t so much the fact that being a democratic nation is the only way or free speech is the most important aim. Instead, it is a fundamental lack of justice, law and order, overwhelming violence conducted and condoned by the state and an absence of transparency Without it, sovereignty becomes organised crime. When the current government was last in power, Pakistan was the second most corrupt country in the world, just behind Nigeria; and Fatima offers that the government probably just paid Nigeria off to take the title!
The USD20B given to the country from the USA has just magically disappeared. Along with this, Pakistan is one of the most resource rich countries in the world, possessing oil reserves, gas reserves, copper mines, coal, emeralds, diamonds and food, but with so much money going into the military, they continue to beg for aid. Despite all this wealth and aid, the country’s millenium goals to eradicate polio were not achieved because they lacked the money to pay for the electricity to run the refridgerators. The military receives 30-40% of the budget with education receiving 1-5%. Fatima then gave many examples of rife corruption and incomprehensible injustice, including the case of Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani rape victim. A survey in 2009 showed that just 9% of Pakistanis were satisfied with their country, so Fatima is not a lone voice in the 180 million.
She acknowledges that women are very active politically, but they are dispossessed in many ways. For example, to vote one needs an identity card which can be bought from a national identity office. The problem is, these are only in limited areas and women then usually don’t have the money to pay for the card if they ever make it there. This is more common in poorer areas. So is the reliance on fundamentalists which then leads to support of such groups. Fundamentalist groups often supply the people with the basics of life. The first thing set up in a village is a court and people are grateful to at least have their grievances heard. People, all over the world, have the desire to be heard and this allows for that. The fundamentalists are also often the first on the scene during natural disasters such as the 2005 earthquake and the recent floods.
She had stern words for the American Government. She focused on the number of drone strikes on Pakistan. There were 118 drone strikes last year; and this was after the devastating flood. In 2010, a UN report on targeted killings found the US was the world’s biggest user. Fatima was upset that Obama didn’t want drone strikes to capture OBL so to decrease civilian casualties, however five days after the OBL raid, there was a drone strike with 15 dead. For every militant killed, 10 civilians are killed. No one said a word about this. She said that 2ooo Pakistanis had been killed in drone strikes since Barrack Obama had been in power and she condemned the American use of torture and accidental attacks on wedding parties and schools and the street celebrations after OBL’s death.
Fatima was also astounded with her own government’s response to OBL’s death. Instead of addressing his people, the president wrote a column for The Washington Post. Leon Panetta, head of CIA said that Pakistan was either knowledgable or incompetent regarding OBL’s whereabouts. However, he had not considered that they could be both! Added to this, they didn’t know US helicopters had entered their airspace or had left from one of their airbases and didn’t know they were planning it for the last nine months. To this she is speechless but acknowledges the Hot Pursuit Agreement between the two countries. She says that every military dictator in Pakistan’s history has received support from the USA, NATO or Europe and cited the Kerry Lugar Bill.
Even the Dali Lama wasn’t safe! She said that even though he won’t swat mosquitos, he is happy to use force if force is necessary.
Her solution? Pakistan is a young country and nation building takes time and by the people. Everyone has an opinion and happy to tell the world in publications, but the answer is a hundred different little things over many years. But to her, the most importance was law, order, justice and a crack down on violence.
She was very measured in her speech, calm and articulate. She believes the people have the power and the desire that the Arab States have with the Arab Springs. To leave you with a quote from Bhutto, “The true punishment for hatred is that eventually you become the thing you hate the most.”