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The tame tiger

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IN the midst of major global transitions, Pakistan confronts multiple challenges: domestic discord, terrorism, Indian hostility and subversion, Afghan chaos and American pressure. The low energy response of Pakistan’s ruling classes to these challenges displays an absence of self-confidence and an assumption that Pakistan’s destiny will be determined by forces and factors other than ourselves.

Such attitudes are ill-suited to the world’s fifth largest country by population; one defended by the sixth largest, nuclear equipped, armed forces; with an economy growing at 5pc annually despite terrorist violence, political turmoil and dysfunctional governance.

It is universally acknowledged that Pakistanis are a resilient and resourceful people. Yet Pakistan has become a ‘soft state’ because its elites have embraced selfish goals nationally and a subservient posture internationally.

Over the decades, our ruling classes have become inured to the patronage of our Cold War ‘ally’, the United States, and other rich ‘benefactors’. They cannot contemplate the consequences of cutting the umbilical cord of external dependency. For most of Pakistan’s ‘common’ people, who do not benefit from this largesse, the impact of the oft-threatened termination of external financial or political support would be marginal and bearable.


Pakistan’s elites have embraced selfish goals nationally and a subservient posture internationally.


If the interests of the elite are set aside and national interest guides policy exclusively, Pakistan has the intrinsic capacity to withstand external pressure, overcome most of its present challenges and exploit the vast opportunities offered by the current strategic transition in world affairs.

In Pakistan today, domestic terrorism and violent extremism can be eliminated if the National Action Plan is implemented without regard to the political umbrellas that protect some of these violent elements.

Action against the TTP safe havens in Afghan­istan is held back by concern about America’s reaction. Yet, unless the US-Nato forces themselves eliminate these safe havens, Pakistan will have to do so if it is to stop India’s subversion from Afghan territory.

The Kabul government can surely be ‘persuaded’ to stop its constant abuse and perfidious collaboration with India against Pakistan if Islamabad utilises its considerable leverage. Once Kabul is cooperative, the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqanis, should be either convinced to join a peace dialogue or ejected totally from Pakistan’s territory. Pakistan does not need ‘strategic depth’; it has nuclear weapons.

India is a hegemonist power. If it is to preserve the rationale for its creation, Pakistan cannot accept Indian domination. It must maintain credible nuclear and conventional deterrence but avoid war with India. However, until the Kashmir dispute is resolved, a conflict could be triggered by a popular Kashmiri revolt like the present one. If India imposes a war on Pakistan, the latter should not rely entirely on the threat of nuclear retaliation. India could also be defeated conventionally — with the help of our people.

Somewhere in our foreign ministry’s archives is the record of a conversation between the then foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and China’s premier Chou En-lai soon after the 1965 war. When Bhutto explained that Pakistan’s offensive on Akhoor had to be halted and its forces redeployed to protect Lahore after India attacked across the border, the Chinese premier opined that Pakistan should not have redeployed. Pakistani forces, he said, would have been welcomed in Kashmir; on the other hand, the people of Lahore would have fought Indian occupation on the streets and, with this people’s struggle, ‘you would have made your nation.’ There is a lesson here for our strategists.

There is considerable anxiety in Islamabad about US policy under Trump. Despite the prime minister’s effusive phone conversation with Trump, Pakistan is likely to suffer collateral damage from the growing US rivalry with China and its strategic partnership with India. However, unless the US seeks Pakistan’s submission to Indian domination or attempts to neutralise its nuclear deterrence, a cooperative or at least non-hostile relationship can be established with Washington. If appropriately negotiated, common ground can be found in combating terrorism, on Afghanistan, reciprocal nuclear restraint with India and mutually beneficial investment and economic cooperation.

China’s emergence as a global economic and military power offers a historic opportunity for Pakistan. It must be grasped with both hands. The CPEC project is critical, economically and strategically, for Pakistan. If pursued with vision, the opportunity can encompass: investment in all sectors of the Pakistan economy; rapid modernisation of Pakistan’s defence capabilities; stabilisation of Afghanistan; and creation of an economic network under the One Belt, One Road initiative integrating Pakistan with Iran, the GCC, Central Asia and Russia, apart from China.

Yet Pakistan should not rely on China or any other country for its development. The Pakistani state has to play a central role. Some important goals that Islamabad can secure are:

One, achieve financial independence. Tax revenues can be doubled, from the present 9pc of GDP to the global norm of 18pc. Savings of 1-2pc of the federal budget can be realised by divesting major loss-making government corporations. Pakistan’s capital markets can be enlarged to provide local development finance. The additional fiscal capacity can be used to eliminate extreme poverty, expand education and health programmes, support small farmers and small and medium enterprises.

Two, adopt a ‘Pakistan first’ industrial policy and reverse the unilateral disarmament of the country’s trade regime. Nascent industries need to be nurtured through higher tariffs and a clampdown on smuggling. They can meet the high domestic demand for consumer and durable goods, which is the main driver of Pakistan’s growth and, once competitive, contribute to expanding Pakistan’s dismally small exports.

Three, support agriculture. This sector still supports 60pc of Pakistan’s population. Our crop yields are one-eighth of those in industrial countries. With adequate financial and technical support, especially to smaller farmers, Pakistan can emerge as a regional breadbasket.

Improved governance is essential. In today’s globalised world, no country can progress without an efficient bureaucracy. Pakistan’s administrators should be functionally competent, competitively chosen, handsomely remunerated and fully accountable.

None of these goals can be adequately achieved without decisive national leadership. Our electoral democracy, chained to feudal and industrial power structures, requires to be reformed to enable clean and competent leaders to secure office. Only then will the Pakistani ‘tiger’ be able to leave the cage in which it has been confined. 

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn December 25th, 2016

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (31) Closed



Jawaid kamal Dec 25, 2016 04:37am

Govt term must be reduced to 4 years ,and two terms maximum for PM, senat, and parliament members , It really needs new thinking in Pakistan electoral system.otherwise no matter whatever you say won't bear any fruits.

Shahid Dec 25, 2016 04:55am

Sir, in theory everything is possible but in the present scenario where evil forces have such a unbreakable control over politics, bureaucracy, accountability bureaus, investigative forces and intelligence collecting organization that there seems to be no hope for such a leadership which can achieve any of these goals which you have named in your article.

Mann Dec 25, 2016 05:59am

Pakistan is not a caged tiger. It is a paper tiger. You have to thank your establishment. Thank you.

Khawar Saleem Aslam Dec 25, 2016 06:57am

Very well articulated articles about ills of Pakistan and how to overcome. Our leadership must keep self interests subservient to national interests.

jawaid Dec 25, 2016 07:16am

A true analysis. Thank you.

Wish our policy makers and leaders would have absorbed the fine points and acted, accordingly.

Ayub Dec 25, 2016 09:22am

Good suggestions.

Mansoor Dec 25, 2016 09:51am

Taxing a nation has its problems. State of public hospitals and schools leaves much to be desired. Government cannot and has no capacity to provide these services which the tax paying public surely would demand. Much easy is to in-bedt the country and rely on foreign aid/loans, who is asking or looking. Foreign aid is money taken from the poor of rich nation to be given to rich of poor nation. Loans are taken now and grandchildren of the nation will pay. Happy medium.

ATif khan Dec 25, 2016 10:02am

Always a pleasure to know your thoughts and suggestions on how Pakistancan navigate forward...

Ishfaq Dec 25, 2016 10:53am

Good article...true analysis with Genuine recommendations..

Abbas Naqvi Dec 25, 2016 11:00am

You need to change the mind set that believes in maintaining the status quo. To stand on its own, cut foreign dependence and take independent decisions in line with its national interests, Pakistan needs to regain its self confidence, evolve effective strategies and work for national unity and cohesion. We can confront all challenges by staying together and working honestly for Pakistan. The writer's suggestions are sound and practical in guiding Pakistan to overcome the challenges.

kamal pasha Dec 25, 2016 11:15am

What a great article yet again, you Sir are the most brilliant diplomat,academic, member of intelligentsia the world have ever known.

Aftab Hashmi Dec 25, 2016 11:37am

You write from the core of your heart. I wish someone in high echelons of power listen to you from the core of his heart.

Lalit Dec 25, 2016 01:10pm

The problem with likes of this author is that they hold the key to every problem plagueing their hapless nation...so, broad brushstrokes are suggested as solutions to complex problems be it economic or strategic...defence related social or religious...author's tenure in US coinsided with the deterioration in relation between both countries....so his solutions should be accepted at their own peril...

Irad Dec 25, 2016 02:28pm

Every country needs a "Critical Mass" to elect better leaders & demand accountability from them. In Sub-Continent this Critical Mass is not only absent, This will take decades to emerge. SE Asian nations are the real tigers, now even Vietnam & Indonesia have become part of Asian tigers. The key is Quality Teachers, more Education to the masses, then only the uncaging process can even start.

Fazal taimoor Dec 25, 2016 02:37pm

May your suggestions comes true and no doubt,this all is practicable but needs a strong political will.

zak Dec 25, 2016 02:38pm

Excellent article, that expresses the sentiments of the people truthfully. Leadership either leads or it bleeds. We need a good honest leadership and PTI should be tried out with IK as leader. Then a tiger will be out of the cage to lead.

Abbas Dec 25, 2016 02:54pm

All brilliant points that many technocrats, academics have been saying for years. Importantly, the elites must realise that they have to stand on their own two feet - economically this is most important.

KH Dec 25, 2016 03:00pm

It looks like Akram sahab is asking behavioutal change or replacement of the entire admin machinery including top to bottom beaurocracy and the political and the establishment for a meaningful change. The question is why should they change for they enjoy today a cosy life!

merit Dec 25, 2016 03:41pm

Governance reforms are needed to be implemented without further delay.

As far as Kashmir issue is concerned, only subject that can help bring India to negotiation table is direct land route to Afghanistan and Iran. But unfortunately, Pakistan doesn't have any strategic think tank who could think about Pakistan's place in future.

Pakistani Dec 25, 2016 04:38pm

Amazing article! Simply class. Each and every sentence is just right. If only the remedies mentioned in this article could be followed; and for that the last paragraph really sums up what needs to be addressed first and foremost.

"None of these goals can be adequately achieved without decisive national leadership. Our electoral democracy, chained to feudal and industrial power structures, requires to be reformed to enable clean and competent leaders to secure office."

Riaz Ahmad Dec 25, 2016 05:01pm

Although what you have pointed out is borne out by reality, the elite is wholly and solely motivated by its narrow selfish vested interest to enrich themselves at states expanse, and gross disregard of their duty to serve the country and the people, the electorate never the less endorse their rule time and again with the sanctity of their vote. The rulers are the problem, but the electorate are the cause of the problem.

BBW Dec 25, 2016 05:48pm

The assessment of Pakistan's elite is probably correct: they hold a weak hand and so their subservient position on the world stage is probably justified. Just possessing nuclear weapons does not materially change that weak position. In left theory, Pakistan's elite is a "comprador class," acting as junior partners to western elites.

Agha Ata Dec 25, 2016 09:16pm

The elites of the whole world have done the same thing. The difference is that some people have learned how not to expose themselves.

Memon Dec 26, 2016 12:59am

The two party or limited party system allows you to have limited choice of leadership as it is true for Pakistan. In the case of Pakistan, I do not see any change in leadership for next twenty years at least. How would a visionary leader can get to the seat of power under the prevailing conditions when only two leaders have staked the claim to the seat of the power. Since the political parties are almost owned by these leaders, it will be their brothers, sons or daughters after the present leadership retires. Unless the political parties become democratic, there is no hope a visionary and courageous leader in Pakistan.

IVAN the terrific Dec 26, 2016 01:00am

Nationally the poor masses are helpless and afraid because the machinery and muscle which should be used for external clout and prestige, is being deployed to crunch the fragile bones of the masses, international meekness is the modus operendum of the elites as they are afraid of losing everything to a more aggressive and powerful external foe.

Alec smart Dec 26, 2016 01:39am

I love Akram sirs articles They make me smile Such natural clear headed brilliant thinking Any country in the world can learn and prosper with his wisdom

Chaudhry Nasir Ahmad Dec 26, 2016 04:25am

Objective,,logical analysis and doable solutions as always by Munir Akram,excellent analysis of problems this great country is facing,the only problem is this ruling elite and this so called democratic system is not self reforming .

Muhammad Omer Dec 26, 2016 11:57am

Sense of pessimism is increasing with each passing day as state actors are pursuing to undermine and weaken state institutions .Nexus between mercenary industrialist and legislative body should be disconnected to uplift the suppressed nation.

boobie Dec 26, 2016 07:55pm

every great nation puts its own interests first before that of its neighbours and patrons. This is the kind of thinking that we need in pakistan. excellent review of the current situation and the great potential that Pakistan possesses!

Saleemullah Khattak Dec 27, 2016 11:06am

Well written. The Writer presented an optimistic view provided the change in nature and intent of our ruling elite. If, ever, it happened Pakistan, like a tiger uncagged will pound the problem it confronts.

Fried Chillies Dec 28, 2016 12:28am

"They can meet the high domestic demand for consumer and durable goods, which is the main driver of Pakistan’s growth and, once competitive, contribute to expanding Pakistan’s dismally small exports"

Authors support for CPEC and his above observations are at odds with each other. He then goes on to state the need where nascent industries need to be sustained with higher tariffs!!

How do you protect your industries when your iron brother is the mass producer of the world and you are not even collecting tolls on their trucks!