How a mouse in Pakistan became its Man of the Year
By M J Akbar
In the absence of any serious contender from India, the Man of the Year is surely Muntathar al-Zaidi of Iraq. He made George Bush, already honoured with an enviable place in the history of laughter, immortal with a pair of Turkish shoes. Al-Zaidi wins the nomination because he is the first great Gandhian of the 21st century.
He may not be a Gandhian by Indian ideals, but he is certainly one by Iraqi standards. Intersecting cultural traditions through the arc of anger, we find that a well-aimed shoe just about makes it into the non-violent category. In a recent film with a forgettable name, Akshay Kumar threw a Punjabi jutti at a competitor for the heroine's hand without missing a beat in his song. The well-flung shoe therefore has its place in India's history as a weapon of class-destruction.
If it's Gandhian, it must have a moral. There is one. A single alphabet separates 'shoe' and 'shot'. If al-Zaidi had aimed a bullet, he would have been vilified and his country could have been burdened with another decade of war and misery. A thousand cartoons celebrated the miracle of a shoe ripping up Bush's reputation with a thoroughness no arsenal could have achieved. A hundred American stand-up comics could not have asked for a better Christmas gift.
Sixty years after Gandhi's martyrdom, perhaps without anyone noticing it, non-violence has become the politically acceptable instrument of protest. Irrational, inhuman violence, alas, still has its advocates and clients, as the trauma of Mumbai proves. Curiously, America, which placed terrorism beyond the pale, is in the process of tacitly endorsing terrorism in an attempt to exonerate its ally in the Afghan war, the Pakistan Army.
Pakistan has developed a narrative of denial and justification to explain Mumbai. It runs, broadly, on these lines: we do not know who these ten men are, but if we did then their mayhem had a "root cause", Kashmir.
The Pentagon, shuffling uneasily from the defeated convictions of a fading Bush towards an as yet unrefined alternative, perhaps influenced by an inexperienced incomer's enthusiasm for solutions, seems to have bought into the "root causes" argument. Adm Mike Mullen, chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Generals Ashfaq Kayani and Ahmad Shuja Pasha, head of the ISI, three days before Christmas. Reaffirming Pakistan's role as an indispensable partner in the war against terror, he offered, in exchange, a virtual free pass to Pak involvement in Mumbai. He offered a simplistic "root-cause" formula: Kashmir, the principal source of regional instability, has to be resolved to establish Indo-Pak-US cooperation in Afghanistan. Expect a special US envoy high on good intentions flitting between Delhi and Islamabad soon.
The question that no one seems keen to answer in Delhi is: Whatever happened to the strategic relationship with the US, the cornerstone of the government's foreign policy? Did Delhi forget to include Kashmir in India's strategic map? State-to-state relations have always survived war. India-Pakistan relations have survived nuclear brinkmanship and military catastrophe. But can they survive terrorism? India is in the grip of a frozen anger against Pakistan. Injudicious provocation could convert the thaw into lava.
It is always useful to apply the Agatha Christie principle in any mystery: who gains from murder? Who gained from terrorism in Mumbai? There is only one winner: the Pakistan Army. The disgrace into which it had been dragged by Pervez Musharraf has been erased; it is wrapped once again in the blanket of confrontation with India. Zardari's amateur attempts at a peace deal with India are dead, a prelude perhaps to his own decline. He will no longer attempt to encroach into ISI space. Pakistan's generals are proving to be excellent tacticians. They have manoeuvered impressively through the terror-crisis to emerge with the local Taliban on one arm, and the Pentagon on the other.
Pervez Musharraf used to talk too much. General Ashfaq Kayani has been accused of talking too little. For philosophy he clearly turns to Clausewitz rather than Gandhi. But Pakistan's Mouse of the Year in January 2008 has emerged as its Man of the Year by December.
Appeared in Times of India - December 28, 2008