MEMBERS of Pakistan’s strategic community were jubilant earlier this year with the launch of the first ever submarine-based nuclear-capable ballistic missile followed by a long-range missile capable of carrying multiple nuclear bombs. The two events were characterised by some as nothing short of historic.
And yet, a spate of recent terrorist bombings, notably the carnage at the historic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in Sehwan Sharif in Sindh, have exposed an uncomfortable truth — that securing Pakistan internally has become a bigger challenge than the country’s external front.
The idea that Pakistan will be able to launch a ‘second nuclear strike’ following one by India in a future war, has cemented Pakistan’s ability to forestall such a devastating future exchange, goes the argument in support of the submarine-based missile. And yet, the recent tests and other similar events don’t have the capacity to forestall Pakistan’s downhill slide, amid a continuing crisis of governance, political disarray and a selective narrow economic uplift surrounded by weak prospects all around. In brief, Pakistan remains as insecure as it was before the missile tests in January.
Even the attainment of a nuclear ‘triad’ — the ability to launch nuclear weapons via air, land and sea — cannot overcome Pakistan’s deepening security challenges. Though the democratic framework is set to remain in place barring unexpected developments, there is plenty more at stake beyond the matter of who gets to rule Pakistan after the next elections in 2018.
Missile tests won’t forestall our downhill slide.
The Sehwan Sharif attack has been quickly followed by claims, with considerable justification of such attacks emanating from elements in Afghanistan. And yet, the major internal gaps in governing Pakistan cannot be detached from the way Pakistan’s ability to defend itself has systematically weakened over time.
Since last year, the sorry saga of the Panama leaks and its focus on Nawaz Sharif’s three children, says much about a wider malaise. Though it’s impossible to predict the outcome of an ongoing legal battle in the Supreme Court, what’s happening outside in the political arena is very telling.
The PML-N has lost no opportunity to link their leader’s future over this saga to the future of democracy. In a country with a chequered political history torn between emerging civilian rule and military interventions, it’s all the more vital for the prime minister to quickly and decisively put this issue to rest.
And for mainstream Pakistanis, there is no equally convincing way than a public disclosure of the full documentary evidence surrounding the sources of the family’s wealth that led to the purchase of property on London’s very exclusive Park Lane.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s real-life challenges have continued to evolve as never before with little evidence in sight for a dramatic uplift of the country’s outlook. Though surrounded by an escalating security challenge for more than 15 years since the 9/11 attacks forced Pakistan to join the US-led war on terrorism, the political mainstream, notably the federal and provincial legislatures have yet to sign off on a comprehensive new national security policy. Once evolved, the next goal of selling it to the Pakistani public will pose what could rightly be described as the biggest political challenge in the nation’s history.
And while getting the public on board remains a major challenge, other equally daunting tasks are those of tackling Pakistan’s crisis of governance and gaps on the economic front.
In the aftermath of the Sehwan bombing, gaps in the security fabric such as reports of ineffective walkthrough gates and far too few policemen on duty are alarming but not surprising. Over time, Pakistan has become a state which primarily caters to the well-endowed linked to the ruling structure. The crisis of governance hits those at the grass roots, be it in matters of dealing with the police or the municipal authorities or another branch of government. And while the finance minister has pronounced that Pakistan’s economy has emerged from the woods, nothing could be further from the truth.
Tweaking numbers of poverty-stricken Pakistanis or playing around with definitions of what is poverty or not, simply will not change the reality. During the current prime minister’s tenure, Pakistan’s large employers of labour — agriculture and industry — have suffered badly. While the former has suffered from an unprecedented fall in commodity prices, the latter has borne the brunt of sluggish exports and continuing challenges such as electricity shortages.
And for those who choose to celebrate matters like the rise of the stock market and growing car sales, mainstream Pakistan remains unimpressed. The succession of recent terror attacks leading to Sehwan Sharif has exposed a terrible truth — Pakistan is slipping internally even if it has been secured externally.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2017