Monday, April 25, 2011

Pakistan: The Meaning Of Peshawar Anti-CIA Sit-In

Ahmed Quraishi
International Analyst Network

Pakistanis break a psychological barrier. This begins a shift in politics. 

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A memorable moment came on the second day of the massive anti-CIA and anti-NATO sit-in in Peshawar right next to the Pakistani tribal belt.

As young urban Pakistanis joined their tribal brethren in condemning rogue CIA operations, a Pakistan Army helicopter passed above a sea of participants blocking a route that NATO trucks use to reach Afghanistan.  The soldiers waved and smiled as the crowd grew in excitement, according to eyewitness accounts.

It was a coincidence. But the excited crowd took it for something much more. To them, seeing the soldiers waving in approval meant that the cause of hundreds of innocent Pakistanis killed in our tribal belt by CIA drone attacks has the support of a majority of Pakistanis, including the soldiers who waved and smiled at protesters.

And you can’t blame the soldiers if they felt excited at seeing this outpour of nationalist sentiments. This was not your typical rent-a-crowd show that Pakistan’s stagnant political parties master. The young men and women who blocked the NATO supply were not hardened political activists but ordinary Pakistanis who came from their homes for a cause. This crowd represented a raw voice of collective Pakistani conscience, giving a clear verdict on Pakistan’s 10-year-long involvement with a duplicitous American ally in Afghanistan.

So what did this two-day sit-in by Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf [Movement for Justice] really achieve?

Here’s a summary:

1. For the first time, NATO supplies are blocked by urban Pakistani youth, as opposed to religious militants or the Pakistani government. The US military headquarters at Bagram base and the NATO mission in Afghanistan were rattled by the massive protest across the border in Peshawar. This was the first time since the United States occupied Afghanistan ten years ago that young non-political Pakistanis came down to the streets and blocked NATO’s main supply line for three days.

2. Urban, educated and moderate Pakistanis want their government and military to exit America’s disastrous Afghan war. The US government and CIA had successfully created the impression over the years that only extremists oppose the American war in Pakistan. The positive response by Pakistanis to this sit-in has come as a shock to US diplomats here and to US embassy’s proxy lobby inside our government and some parts of our media.

3. The sit-in signifies a shift in Pakistani politics. Pakistan’s new generation of young, politically aware new voters are not galvanized by the ‘democratic revenge’ of President Zardari’s PPP, or by the narrow regional politics of ANP, MQM and PMLN [the parties that are currently in power in federal and provincial governments]. The younger Pakistanis whether in Orakzai tribal agency, Karachi, Nowshera or Quetta, are interested only in national politics and refuse divisions. The sit-in, with nationwide support, proves Pakistanis are not divided as self-serving politicians and the country’s foreign ill-wishers contend.

4. Pakistani nationalism is the new name of the game. Pakistanis have tested and tried political parties that espoused a range of ideologies. None worked. Now a new class of aware citizens wants Pakistani politics to be nationalistic and independent.

5. Finally, the best evidence of all of the above is the party behind this event, Imran Khan’s PTI.  This party, which did not even run in the 2008 elections and was dismissed as a one-man show, managed to create excitement among the most influential segment of Pakistani voters, the youth. Probably no other party can pull as many urban and educated middle- and lower-middle-class Pakistanis from across the nation with this level of excitement as PTI did.  Endorsing this new development, several more established parties and politicians rushed to join the sit-in.

The last time Pakistanis showed a unified nationalist public outpour was after the devastating November 2005 earthquake in Kashmir and northern Pakistan. After that, ordinary Pakistanis became demoralized as they watched their governments enchain the nation to foreign agendas and destroy the country’s political and economic stability. The sit-in marks a return to that landmark national unity that we missed for six years.

An important psychological barrier has been crossed in Pakistan. This sit-in has targeted NATO, CIA and the US this time. Chances are it would be the Presidency and Parliament next.

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