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Understanding the ‘national interest’?

Raja Saim-ul-Haq Satti

During a recent TV discussion a leading Pakistani historian remarked that the army action in former East Pakistan was in the national interest. According to her it was meant to deter the separatist movement and to preserve the unity of the country. This is a very dangerous argument in favour of the ruling classes and justifies all actions of the State in the name of national interest to kill, massacre, torture, and imprison all those who are against the misuse of political power and privileges. If this principle is accepted then in the sixty years of Pakistan none of the brutalities against the people can be challenged or condemned, be they against the people of East Bengal, Balochistan, Sindh, or the NWFP.

In other words the nation itself is denied the right to protest against injustices ‘in its own interest’. One might as well ask what this concept of national interest is and whence comes the moral authority to crush, subdue and punish people without any qualms of conscience? In modern world the cogent, comprehensive definition of word ‘interest’ is not available. The result is bewilderment, pandemonium and frustration. Likewise, the word the word ‘terrorist’ is used as political tool to use force and intervene for aggression in the boundaries of other nations without halt. Are these two words ground to legalize the illegal act / aggression or international-licence with Uncle Sam to attack and kill hundreds and thousands of civilians, women and children? However, we focus the word interest here, which made the world restless. When this word get colluded with word ‘nation’ and clothed in different meaning then it gives results shocking beyond belief.

Apparently, its meaning is understandable as the concept is not ancient. In early ages, the people talked of small groups like the class, the tribes and the family. They also talked in terms of religious groups. Thus Christendom clashed with Islam, both being seen as monoliths, during the crusades. However, while some top leaders thought in terms of large communities based on faith, ordinary people were more concerned of their face-to-face, small communities. Nationalism came to dominate discourse sometime during the 16th century in Europe. This period is called dark ages and later on European countries stepped into the age of renaissance.

‘Interest’ was never defined either rigorously or strictly. The definition was loose and shifted from time to time. The thing, which I find shocking, is that nationalism is divorced from human interest. The nation is defined as cohesive community, which negates the identity of the sub-groups within nation. It is also defined with reference to other ‘nations’, which means there is always another, which is potential antagonist. ‘National Interest’ is such a disembodied thing that it never refers to the actual, living people living in piece of territory. Indeed, the people are supposed to serve the interests of the ‘nation’, which are recognized by Allah Almighty.

Throughout history; I find that this lack of care for the interest of the people; makes people justify wars. Examine the rhetoric behind any war of aggression and you find ‘National Interest’. It was in Germany’s national interest to start the two world wars. Nobody thought that war means people being killed on both sides. Had anybody given move to human happiness and more value to human happiness and human life as the concept is elaborated in Islam, he would have opposed the wars. Killing always dehumanizes killing. By the way, by killing each other, what kind of interest do we serve to country or religion?

There are many studies of decision-making for the two world wars. In none of them, or at least none I know, were the people even mentioned? The general staff talked of power, of resources, of colonies, of prestige but one thing, which never got mentioned, was the people. I suppose the training given to decision makers, both civilian and military, is such that they think in abstractions not in the concrete realities of people getting maimed, children suffering and so on. Why we cannot act in defiance of USA? At this momentous hour, would we review our foreign policy when our desperate and squabbling political parties forge united front against toppling government by army? Why we do not exert all legal and moral pressure on army to prevent it from coming into power?

That is why it is safe to conclude that what is generally called ‘National Interest’ is generally not the necessary, supporting and compulsory interest of the people of the country as per Islamic law. If one looks at premodern wars, one finds that the instruments of destruction were not very powerful. Moreover, ordinary people were not involved.

Thus, the conquerors got wealth, power, slaves ad territory. Yet, the conquered people hated them. On the whole, the human suffering was, therefore, not worth the gains. Along with the suffering of the conquered people there was the distortion produced in the minds of the conqueror. They became cruel and arrogant and this too was a loss though nobody seems to regard it as such.

Modern wars bring no gains. They are as costly and terrible as to be completely negative. No decision of attacking any other country has paid off. America’s Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Soviet Union’s Afghanistan and Saddam’s Kuwait were colossal mistakes as everyone acknowledges. What was the ultimate outcome? Nothing but destruction and frustration coupled with insecurity.

In all cases national interest was involved but in all cases the people of the aggressor nations, and of course the victims, suffered. Was all talk of ‘National Interest’ completely wrong? Nationally and internationally, another thing, which is wrong with ‘Necessary National Interest’, is that it makes otherwise decent, well organized and disciplined people lie, cheat and make blunders. I do not know any spiritual; figure, any of the initiators of the great religions of humanity, having allowed lying and cheating for any cause, indeed, there are example if their having considered truth and honesty as greater values then anything else but Allah curses the liar. Yet those who preach about ‘National Interest’ believe that it justifies everything however morally reprehensible.

In Pakistan those who advise the Musharaff regime that ‘force be meted out with force’ might not be in Pakistan’s ‘Necessary National Interest’. The killing on both sides stopped economic progress and well-being of Pakistan. We on these vague concepts killed many innocents in Jamia Hafsa on the instance or in obedience of USA but its aftermaths would be experienced so long by Pakistan -not by USA.

It adds salt on wounds of victims whose near and dear one is either killed or forcefully booked by agencies in the name of interrogations. Now when the Jamia Hafsa fiasco and its repercussions are in progress one hears Musharaff commanding its Coup that ‘National Interest’ demands aggression on militants and do riddle bullets in the persons suspected as terrorist. What is a yardstick between ‘nationalist’ and ‘terrorist’? We might not reckon this as sanguine approach or meaningful and pragmatic solution to the issue.

Why recently a group called Mujahedeen-e-Islam threatened that suicide bombers will bring gift of death to soldiers? They also said, “we love live more than you love your five thousand salary, nude pictures of Indian actresses and liquor..” do such elements have the patriotic sense they would have not said so built they have an ordeal to share.

—The Writer is a Corporate Lawyer and Freelance Journalist. 

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