The unsung saviours of the national interest always remain voiceless and faceless….

Pakistan has boldly defied US pressure against pursuing its gas pipeline deal with Iran thereby forestalling the desperate Western efforts to make it the latest battleground in the war to squeeze Iran. Pakistani premier has declared that his country would not compromise on its national interest. In a separate development, Pakistan’s top court has admonished country’s security apparatus for internment of terror suspects who were let off the hook by lower courts. The top court has declared that it is a better custodian of national interest. A similar assertion was made by President Obama in his installation address when he declared that core values of the Founding Fathers would not be compromised for security and that he would close down the infamous Gitmo prison.

The debate of who is the custodian of national interest is on-going and the political class is asserting its role in deciding national interest heretofore being jealously guarded by the Establishment.

What is national interest and is it compatible with political interest of the ruling elite and the rule of law? According to Wikipedia, the national interest, often referred to by the French expression raison d’État (English: reason of the State), is a country‘s goals and ambitions whether economicmilitary, or cultural. The concept is an important one in international relations where pursuit of the national interest is the foundation of the realist school. The national interest of a state is multi-faceted. Primary is the state’s survival and security. Also important is the pursuit of wealth and economic growth and power. Today, the concept of “the national interest” is often associated with political Realists who wish to differentiate their policies from “idealistic” policies that seek either to inject morality into foreign policy or promote solutions that rely on multilateral institutions which might weaken the independence of the state.

While political scientists believe that national interest is not compatible with political interest in the world of power politics where politicians do not see beyond the next elections and can sell their souls to devil in order to remain in power, the majority of the jurists consider that the “national interest” is incompatible with the “rule of law”.

Pakistan’s security agencies are working overtime to protect the national interest and fight the terrorists and separatists who, even if caught red-handed, are let off the hook by the courts for lack of evidence. According to Foreign Policy, Pakistani courts have repeatedly failed to convict terrorism suspects, even when the cases against them seemed clear-cut. In a recent case, they acquitted four Pakistani Taliban activists accused of an attack on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) headquarters in Lahore. This kind of verdict not only undermines the entire struggle against terrorism in Pakistan, but also encourages extrajudicial executions by the police and Army. In this case, all four men were promptly detained by the ISI under special anti-terrorism laws. These verdicts reflect in part both fear of the terrorists and the extreme incompetence of Pakistani prosecutors and police to draw up charges that will stick in court.

Lower levels of Pakistan’s judicial system present a very dismal picture. Lawyers, who have garlanded the assassin of Governor Taseer were frequently caught and filmed beating up policemen who have testified against their clients in court — and have then beaten up the television crews who dared to film them. The lower courts are notorious for their corruption, incompetence, and endless delays, and most Pakistanis loathe and fear them.

This article in Foreign Policy criticizes coverage of Pakistan’s events in the Western media. According to this article, Western news outlets and academics must examine yet again their chronic tendency to analyze developments in other countries according to simplistic Western frameworks and then assign the titles of “Goody” or “Baddy” to the participants. Yes, Pakistani reality is complex. But, then again, the United States (as well as Britain) has now been engaged in the war on terror — and hence closely engaged with Pakistan — for more than 10 years. That should have been sufficient time to develop greater knowledge and a more sophisticated analysis of Pakistan. Western journalists and analysts also need to break out of the trap of talking with educated Pakistani liberals who agree with them. The great Pakistani human rights lawyer and women’s rights advocate Asma Jahangir, so often quoted in the Western media, is indeed a highly admirable figure. Unfortunately, she is not a highly representative figure as far as her profession is concerned.

ISI-bashing has now become a favorite pastime for the media and the politicians. This bashing reasserts the perception being created by the Western and Indian media that this agency is behind every ill in Pakistan. This, unfortunately, is far from the reality. The agency is voiceless and faceless and unable to forcefully thwart media attempts to tarnish its image. Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency is not doing anything which other agencies of note in other countries are not doing. CIA, MI5 and MOSSAD are actively involved in perusing their respective national interest but neither their roles and activities nor the appointment of their chief and their budget is so callously discussed by their politicians. ISI and military establishment are being presented in a bad light for the reason that these institutions have publicly emerged as the major custodians of the national interest. Go and ask the common man; establishment is the saviour of last resort, and first choice, for a majority of people.

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