With little new info, Davis’ book refreshes old lessons for Pakistan

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The recent release of the pirated version of American contractor Raymond Davis’s book has yet again exposed Pakistan’s relationship with books. They get spread around like wildfire and are even bought and kept in book shelves, and the conspiracy behind their publication is discussed ad nauseam often turning their publication into a catalyst of interesting, often chaotic, new events. However, books are rarely read. Raymond Davis’s 150-page book covering his arrest, incarceration in Pakistan, and miraculous release from prison went viral on the Internet, available for anyone to download. Yet, a senior retired bureaucrat still crooned on social media for a gratis copy. The suggestion was that he was either not bothered or too old to be comfortable with the idea of reading books on a computer.

Yet the inability of many to read the book did not stop them from making expert commentaries and raising questions about how the book had spread so quickly and the timing of its publication – all in the purview of conspiracy theories. The bulk of such comments exhibit how little people in Pakistan are aware of writing and publishing of books.

The book had gone viral because some nerd bought it on Amazon, cracked it and uploaded it on the Internet for others to read an account, which the buyer must have thought, was inherently controversial. Later, the book got picked up by people who didn’t bother to read it. It was spread further by certain political stakeholders who thought it would help them score a point against their rivals. The rest, as they say, is history.

This is not to suggest that the book is a totally honest story about what Raymond Davis was doing in Pakistan. There are many things that he seems to have held back which may come out decades later when the US State Department declassifies some of its records, since we in Pakistan may not be able to access the truth from our side. There are many a secrets that have remained so, despite the fact that they concern essential aspects of our history.

Davis’ book is fundamentally an autobiographical note by a lower-class white American coming from the country’s backwaters who would have lived a listless life had it not been for the adventure in Pakistan. It is not just a matter of earning some money by selling his story, rather it’s about the sense of being the centre of attention; escorted by American ambassador Cameron Munter, spoken to on the phone by the Secretary of State -something he could never have imagined. This was the ultimate story of his life that he would have wanted to tell to fellow Americans. Probably, nothing more exciting that those days spent in Pakistan would happen in his life again.

However, there is very little in the book should be new for Pakistanis, as a major part of the story was reported in the press at the time of the event. It is unfortunate that while discarding the book in the realm of psychological warfare, little attention will be given to the underlying story – the inability of Pakistani political regimes to hold unelected institutions accountable for their acts of omission and commission in the last 70 years. The manner in which a powerful institution of the state operated entirely on its own even during the presence of a political government to negotiate and bail out an American contractor – about whom we’re still unsure if he was just a freelancer or a CIA operative – should come across as the real conspiracy in the matter. Sadly, civilian governments have shied away from strengthening institutional capacity of the Ministry of Defence that would help them negotiate better with the armed forces – while using ill-planned methods such as changing command and control of the premiere intelligence agency all this while. While military’s excessive power is questionable, it cannot be reduced without building structures and layering the relationship accordingly.

The other lesson worth learning from the incident is about our need to introduce some rationality in assessing Pakistan’s centrality in the hierarchy of nations. Notwithstanding our own perception of our military prowess and changing geo-politics of South Asia, the US or any other state is not out there to destroy Pakistan through publication of a book. It contains far less than what Washington already knows about Islamabad and Rawalpindi. It is a fact that we are at a point of extreme divergence of policies that resulted in Donald Trump not even mentioning Pakistan’s name during the recently held Islamic Summit in Riyadh. There is conversation going on in the US Capital about cutting aid to Pakistan or making it conditional. The real issue remains for us to determine what kind of linkages we want with America or the rest of the world. But to perturb our own people and add to their insecurity is just not fair.