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A different worldview: From Japan with compassion

By Imtiaz Gul

The Express Tribune, October 17, 2011

TOKYO: Unlike the acrimony intermittently poured out from Washington, Tokyo resonates with compassion. Pakistan, after all, is too important to be left on its own. Without it, there is little hope for peace and stability in the region, and thus it would be suicidal to sidestep the country in the current circumstances. It is also naïve to expect a turnaround in Islamabad’s strategic outlook without providing it a certain level of comfort. This is how one could sum up the thoughts of Professor Isezaki Kenji, a pragmatic Japanese academic who has led two major disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration campaigns.

Kenji advocates “caring” for, and not blaming Pakistan. It may be a part of the problem but it is indispensable part of the solution, and that is why Pakistan deserves dispassionate and realistic handling.

As Kenji uttered these pronouncements on Pakistan at a public seminar organised by the International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, I began reflecting on the public spat involving Pakistan and the United States following frontal accusations by former US Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in Washington and Afghan President Karzai against the ISI and the army.

The furore that a report by the United States Institute of Peace/Jinnah Institute caused in the summer also flashed through my mind for the simple reason that Prof Kenji was saying things that contrasted sharply with Mullen’s or Karzai’s narratives.

Unlike either Mullen or Karzai, Kenji has shown more warmth and empathy towards Pakistan than even those who are critical of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) report on the country’s foreign policy.

Many commentators dismissed it as a pro-establishment narrative. The USIP had “simply” asked participants to discuss what they think is happening in Pakistan. How in their view Pakistan – the government and the military are approaching the current situation, and how they see the US approaching it. It was a candid assessment of what the situation “is and is likely going to be in the next three years. Panelists included internationally respected experts. The criticism centred on some of the views that were taken as being pro-military. But my issue with that relates to the blanket condemnation of many, even reasonable positions as “pro-establishment”.

I am surprised that not many Pakistanis draw a distinction between the American administration’s and the establishment’s narratives on countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. They take everything that comes from people like Christina Rocca, Michael Hayden, Michael Rolance , Mark Sageman, Bruce Riedel. These academics do wield influence in Washington, but nobody dismisses them as pro-establishment.

I wonder why we cannot have a similar dispassionate and realistic debate and assessment process in Pakistan.

For their views, Japanese friends of ours would probably also earn the ire of some Pakistani commentators, probably end up being branded as “establishment stooges.” But we need to dispassionately look at the broad picture of present-day Pakistan; the military is battered (in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s recovery), the higher judiciary is assertive, private print and electronic media are vibrant and ever monitoring and the civilian ruling elite hanging on to power.

At the end of the day, Japanese officials sound much more sympathetic to Pakistan’s present-day predicament than those in Washington or elsewhere in the West.

However corrupt and inefficient, we would like the democratic process to continue and take roots, say officials. They are even ready to defend internationally “if Pakistan can justify the rationale of its current Afghan policy.”

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk