There is widespread misconception among Muslims that their countries are free. They make this assumption on the basis that they have their own president, prime minister, king or even a dictator as ruler. Further, some countries even have a parliament where their so-called elected representatives pontificate on issues of importance. The picture is completed with the notion that the country has its own armed forces, that turn out in smart uniform to participate in parades on important days, such as the country’s Independence Day.
All these are undoubtedly true but the concept of freedom must be properly understood. There are certain fundamental conditions that have to be met for a country to be considered “free”. Let us look at political decision-making. Are Muslim countries free to make decisions that benefit their people without having to worry about what predatory powers like the US or its allies might say or do?
Events in the immediate aftermath of 911 provide useful pointers. On the evening of September 11, 2001, a visibly irate American President George W. Bush warned on television: “You are either with us or against us,” demanding that countries join America’s war against the alleged perpetrators.
Without any investigation, the US immediately accused Osama bin Laden of being responsible for the attacks. How could Osama perpetrate the attacks while sitting in a cave in Afghanistan? Was he also responsible for making the entire US Air Force to stand down on that fateful morning? Beyond media propaganda, the US never formally charged Osama bin Laden for the 911 attacks.
Based on this ludicrous allegation peddled through the media, the US demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden to them. To their credit, the Taliban refused and asked for proof of Osama’s wrong-doing. They did more. The Taliban leadership said that if Osama is actually guilty of what the Americans accuse him of doing, then he should be tried in a Muslim country.
Readers need to keep this in mind while we consider the example of two other countries: Pakistan and Iran. Following Bush’s threatening speech on the evening of September 11, US Secretary of State, General Colin Powell called General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani dictator, and repeated Bush’s threat.
Before we consider Musharraf’s response to Powell’s threats, let us ask whether the US made a similar threatening phone call to the leaders of Iran as well. After all, both Pakistan and Iran are Afghanistan’s neighbours and share long borders. There is no evidence that the Americans even contemplated making such a call to the Iranian leadership, much less threatening them. They knew what the Iranian response would be.
The Americans also knew how the Pakistanis would respond and the reason behind such thinking. In his book, In the Line of Fire, Musharraf writes that the day after the 911 attacks, “… I was chairing an important meeting at the Governor’s House [in Karachi] when my military secretary told me that the US secretary of state, General Colin Powell was on the phone. I said I would call back later, but he insisted I come out of the meeting and take the call. Powell was quite candid: ‘You are either with us or against us’,” he told Musharraf (p.201), repeating the words of his boss.
Quite aside from the content of the call that will be considered shortly, it was against protocol for an American secretary of state to call the president of a country [Pakistan] and issue such threats. Powell should have called the Pakistani foreign minister. Yet Musharraf not only left an “important meeting”, he surrendered to his demands without consulting anyone.
Musharraf put forward the excuse that he “war-gamed the United States as an adversary” and came to the conclusion that “there would be a violent and angry reaction if we didn’t support the United States.” He claimed that he took this decision in Pakistan’s “national interest” given his own military’s weakness, and the country’s economic and social weaknesses.
Such excuses are advanced when one is not free and cowardice is the overriding determinant for decision-making. It is true that the Pakistani military was and is no match for the US; it is no match for any adversary. The military’s pathetic performance in successive wars against India provides ample proof.
The most shocking excuse was to claim that he had to take the decision in Pakistan’s “national interest.” Let us analyze this. In America’s 20-year war on Afghanistan from which it fled in disgrace in August 2021 with its tails between its legs, it murdered an estimated 6.8 million Afghans.
These figures come from Dr. Gideon Polya, an Australian researcher, who maintains a website Afghan Holocaust, Afghan Genocide. He breaks down the figures: The US is responsible for 6.8 million Afghan deaths, consisting of 1.6 million deaths by violence and 5.2 million by deprivation, during its 20-year occupation.
True, these are colossal casualty figures for a country whose total population was around 25 million at the time of the US invasion and occupation in October 2001. Already five million Afghans were living as refugees in Pakistan and Iran.
The important point to note here is that when people are prepared to stand up for their principles and are willing to die for them, they earn the right to live. No power—superpower or other—is likely to attack Afghanistan in the near future. Now that is what is called dignity.
Compare this to Musharraf’s cowardly decision to surrender to the Americans. Let us also examine whether his decision was truly in Pakistan’s ‘national interest’ as he put it. At least 80,000 Pakistanis were killed in America’s war of terror. The overwhelming majority comprised innocent civilians. Pakistan’s economic losses were even more horrendous: some $170 billion.
If Pakistan is reeling from economic devastation today, Musharraf’s policies have much to do with it. He and his fellow generals made tons of money acting as America’s bounty hunters. The people of Pakistan paid the price.
The question that must be asked is: what led Musharraf to choose the course that he did and how did the Taliban and Iran stand up to US threats and bullying? This is related to one’s mental outlook. Musharraf was mentally a slave. Mental slavery is a peculiar characteristic of the Pakistani elite. They will sell their souls for a fistful of dollar, or in the insulting words of American diplomats in Islamabad as per Wikileaks, “they will sell their mothers for a few dollars.”
The Afghans have never been enslaved. The Iranians broke the chains of slavery when they drove the Shah out of Iran in 1979. The Islamic revolution ushered in an era of honour and dignity.
These are concepts completely alien to the Pakistani elite. We witness these on a daily basis in their conduct. They are beside themselves if Americans, or any white man, says something positive about Pakistan. They are gripped by a frenzy of grief if the Americans express displeasure at their behaviour.
In order to gain genuine freedom, one must first break out of mental slavery. Only then would true freedom be achieved.