This timeless quotation from a famous Shakespearean play has been taken literally by residents of this world. The world is seeing a remarkable story unfold. A story that uncovers many stories. It is like a theatre that has many episodes. Each episode showing characters with character and characters without character. In the next episode those without become with and those with become without. Scripts define, refine, deface and grace the main players. Dialogue bespeaks. Communication conveys. Words provoke. The theatrical performance forms the main theme that induces emotions of affection, vengeance, love and hate. People cry. People laugh. People kill. People die. But the show goes on. In the World theatre these days centre stage is Afghanistan. A country torn apart by scripts written in high places. A country ravaged by dialogues that were phony. A country duped by high sounding intellectuals and low sounding clerics.
Every play reaches a climax and an anti-climax. The problem with the "staged" play is that most of the actors do not know which side of the script are they. From "Russians are coming" in the 1980s to the Americans are running in 2021, Afghanistan has been a guinea pig for politics. Invasions, nation development, war on terror, humanitarian assistance, and finally peace have been various "Seasonal serials" on the 'geo-political Netflix'. Each Season has its own themes. Each theme its own script. These scripts are written in remote highly guarded complexes with the team of think tanks. Players are chosen from the region and from the country. Dialogues are encrypted and coded. But every play has an ending. Every theatre its finalé. For Afghanistan the Script has gone awry. The dialogues have become silent. The words stunned. What has brought this screeching halt to the great narrative machine of America and its allies?
The Saviour, The Rescuer, The Enabler- The US Superman syndrome remained a fantasy. The role of US flying machines landing to recue countries from bad men like Saddam, Qadhafi and Osama worked for a while only. An estimated 241,000 people died directly in this 20-year Afghan war, 6 million displaced and on the run, and millions more perishing due to hunger and lack of health facilities. Perhaps the biggest lie that US and its puppets in Afghanistan fabricated was "humanitarian help". Today poverty is endemic. 54.5% Afghans live below the poverty line today compared to 33.7% twenty years ago. And, guess which industry is flourishing-Yes, Opium. Opium production that was 76,000 hectares in 2002 has risen to 163000 hectares. Yet the story of the poor, wretched Afghans being rescued by Uncle Sam sold for decades.
Make Believe, Believe Make- Seeing is believing. A picture is worth a thousand words. Based on this principle the troika of US, India and Puppet Afghan heads like Ashraf Ghani kept on creating images through the photography, think tank reports and videos that were highly impactful but not totally real. The video of US commandos landing in Afghanistan and declaring victory some years ago was actually shot in some Hollywood Studio. The visual of President Obama and Hilary Clinton sitting in the White House with amazement on their faces watching the brave US forces killing Osama Bin Ladin in Pakistan was also a masterpiece creation.
Exploiters, Spoilers, Scavengers- With US entering, bombing and droning Afghanistan, its allies India and Israel became partners in exploitation. Contracts were awarded to India in huge numbers. India was also training Afghan army. Corruption was rife. The numbers being shown of trainable and trained personnel were inflated. Those who were soldiers and were being trained were not learning fighting but selling. In the "Afghanistan Papers" story published by Washington Post, USIP head of Kabul at that time Shah Mahmood Mikhael asked tribal elders how it was possible that security forces could not defeat the Taliban when they generally outnumbered them six to one in the area. The elders responded that the government troops were not defending the people but selling their weapons and fuel. That was because they were led by corrupt leaders like Ashraf Ghani who are the fake intellectuals prepared by US in their puppetry theatre of academia and think tanks. Polished, English speaking, writer and author-ironically of a book "Fixing Failed States", the likes of Ashraf Ghani are on their own self-serving agendas ready to leave with helicopter full of dollars when their service contract with US becomes "non-productive".
The story has unravelled. The story may be out, but the narrative will be in. The Afghanistan game and its players may look like a losing side but that does not mean that other players like Pakistan have won. Pakistan did not play its game well for 20 years. It now needs to play with wisdom and with its own narrative in mind:
Beware and Be focused- Pakistan needs to prepare for the lull and for the storm. Collect and connect to your own allies, China, Russia and Central Asia. But do not forget Europe, do not forget Middle East, do not forget South East Asia. Create first line lobbies and second line influencers and create the narrative that is voiced by many. A joint voice will resonate, impact and diffuse sole attention on Pakistan.
Build your own Script-Pakistan's script should be an open document adapted daily for proactive adjustment and accommodation of new events. The Prime Minister is going to the UN General Assembly in September. Pre-visit there needs to be proper scripting. During his visit, his address, his visuals, his side line meetings and reporting on them require research, crafting and careful placement and marketing.
Prepare, Perform, Prevail- Homework on what facilitations, connections, workings and trade can be offered in every phase of the new Afghan government should be a continuous work in progress. Consultation on joint bidding with allies, collaboration on consortium services should be a very well thought through process with the objective of keeping Pakistan in the driving seat without appearing to dominate.
Lessons are always based in how principles and values are broken. Lies are not stand-alone minor slippages. They are a direct result of corruption. Financial corruption is the last manifestation of this serial lying. First of all is intellectual corruption. This is the divide between intent and words, between motives and action, between agendas and behaviour. When the intent of the occupier is to invade and exploit, he or she will lie to hide his intent. But his behaviour will belie him and encourage corruption in the institutions and then seep into the individuals in them. The narrative creators will become a victim of their own self-fulfilling scripts. Everybody was lying to everybody till Kabul was taken over. Not even 2 trillion dollars could save the power of a fake narrative to cut off reality. As the USIP (United States Institute of Peace) analyst on "Afghanistan papers" report says "experts say officials hid unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable. That was not the problem. The problem was that for so long many officials believed that the war was winnable".
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021