The schizophrenic existence of the Pakistani ruling elite was on display during the six-day visit of Queen Elizabeth, the British monarch, to the ‘land of the pure’ from October 6 to 12. Accompanied by her husband, prince Philip, and a large delegation of British businessmen, she was given the highest civilian award, Nishan-e Pakistan, by president Farooq Leghari.
What the aging British monarch had done for Pakistan - apart from being there - to deserve such an award was unclear. As if not to be outdone, prime minister Nawaz Sharif laid out a 19-course dinner at the Lahore Fort on October 9. It was a glittering event even if the masses of Pakistan were told, among a looming atta (flour) crisis in Peshawar, to tighten their belts yet again. There could not be a more subservient display of the ruling elite’s behaviour. A week later, the rupee was devalued by 8.7 percent, sending prices of essential commodities ever upwards.
The grovelling before the British monarch stood in stark contrast with the government’s handling of the case involving the murder of five Iranian aviation cadets in Rawalpindi on September 17. The heads of Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) were fired but that did nothing to bring the criminals to justice. Only a month later, on October 18, senior superintendent of police in Rawalpindi, Rao Muhammad Iqbal, announced the arrest of three men accused of the cadets’ murder. The three - Asif Kashmiri, Muhammad Siddique and Khalid - were arrested from a madrassa run by the Sepah-e Sahaba, a terrorist group, in Rawalpindi.
The murder of the Irani cadets, followed on September 27 by that of two other Iranian brothers in Karachi, has soured relations between the two traditionally-friendly neighbours. Last February, the Iranian cultural centre in Multan was attacked in which the cultural attache Agha Rahimi and seven others were killed. When a consciencious police officer, Ashraf Marth, apprehended the culprits of the Multan attack, he was first threatened and then gunned down on May 6, alongwith his driver.
No one has been apprehended for his murder.
The murder of Irani cadets brought a sharp rebuke from Tehran. Ayatullah Seyyed Ali Khamenei warned Pakistan on October 9 that relations between the two countries could deteriorate if Islamabad failed to punish those responsible for the series of attacks. That Iran’s supreme leader should be moved to issue a warning indicates the seriousness with which the Iranians take the entire affair.
‘The government of Pakistan must punish those who have committed these crimes,’ the Rahbar was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying when he met the families of the victims. ‘It is regrettable that in a friendly country our dearest young people do not have security.’
‘If the Pakistani government does not live up to its duties, it will have helped those opposed to friendly ties. This will lead to deteriorating relations,’ the Rahbar warned.
It appears that Pakistani officials have not paid sufficient heed to the seriousness of the matter. For instance, why little has been done to investigate how the attackers obtained precise information about the travel plan of the cadets who were on their way from Wah Cantonment to attend a seminar at the airforce base in Rawalpindi?
The attackers, members of Lashkar-i Jhangvi, a terrorist outfit linked to the Sepah-i Sahaba, seemed to have precise information about the travel route of the van. They perpetrated their crime at a busy intersection in broad daylight and then fled the scene.
There is widespread belief in Pakistan that the perpetrators of this heinous crime, as numerous others before it, have the backing of the United States. While the American embassy in Islamabad issued a denial two days after the attack, few people believe it.
Attacks on Iranian officials and cadets are designed to achieve a specific objective: muddy relations between Tehran and Islamabad. The country that benefits the most from this is the US. Indian hand also cannot be ruled out although it is well-known that Lashkar-i Jhangvi/Sepah-i Sahaba receive material and financial help from the Americans as well as the Saudis.
The murderers of the Iranian cultural attache in Multan had thousands of US dollars in cash, credit cards issued by American banks, and the names and addresses of American contacts on them. It was to recover these that the group had threatened Ashraf Marth. When they failed, the group killed the police officer. If the Pakistan government is helpless in safeguarding its own police officers, how can it claim to offer protection to others?
While some of the leaders of Lashkar-i Jhangvi may be at large, others are in police custody. Also, their training centres are known to the authorities. Why the government cannot deal with a terrorist outfit whose nefarious activities are causing immense harm to Pakistan’s relations with a long-standing friend, not to mention create sectarian tensions at home, is difficult to fathom? If Pakistan’s relations with Iran are disrupted, Islamabad will lose the strategic depth it has relied on for so long.
Pakistan has already mishandled relations with Tehran over Afghanistan. This can only be the result of ineptitude on the part of the foreign office. If this is designed to please Uncle Sam, then it has clearly failed. America is nobody’s friend. Washington is in fact pushing Pakistan to accept the role of a junior partner vis-a-vis India.
The ruling elite are doing little to resist this humiliating position. Instead, they are falling over backwards to appease the Americans. This is an unattainable goal. Uncle Sam is not only ungrateful but virtually impossible to satisfy.
Schizophrenia is a poor substitute for government policy of a country that prides on calling itself the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1997