An ad hoc country?

Published May 25, 2017
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.

A RARE gathering of civilians at the army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on May 18, to discuss the role of youth in battling extremism, could not have been a more timely reminder of the mounting policy gaps surrounding Pakistan. 

With a rapidly growing population of young people, Pakistan’s failure to curb the ongoing militancy and its subsequent influence on coming generations could unleash potentially far more dangerous challenges than the ones witnessed so far. Gen Qamar Bajwa, the army chief, used the GHQ event to outline the need for defeating the “deceitful message” and the “narrative” of militant groups.

And while the organisers of the event cannot be faulted for seeking to push for a badly needed consensus on one of the most pressing challenges, the event yet again threw up a centrally tough question.


We continue to roll along without a distinct road map.


Since Pakistan joined the US-led global ‘war on terror’ following 9/11, there have been a number of similar attempts to build a badly needed consensus against extremism and terrorism. Tragically however, such events, hosted by one regime after another with plenty of brainstorming, have largely failed to translate ideas in to real-life reforms. In effect, they became ‘nashistan, guftan, barkhastan’ or ‘gathering, speech and disburse’.

One of the more alarming revelations during the GHQ gathering came from former a inspector general of police Shoaib Suddle, who claimed that progress on the much-publicised National Action Plan had taken place only in three areas while many more were waiting to be addressed. Given that Pakistan continues to be run practically from week to week or month to month without a clear long-term direction, it is hardly surprising that NAP has succumbed to the ways of the present-day ruling structure.

And prospects for the future appear hardly promising in spite of frequent official claims of ‘sub achha’ (all is well). As Pakistan witnesses the build up to next year’s elections, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his coterie of ministers are all too busy seeking to convince Pakistanis that their country is heading for better times. The downside risk to this is indeed that of further complacency kicking in to an already weak commitment to undertaking robust reforms.

Consequently, Pakistan continues to roll along without putting in place a well-thought-out road map to a more promising future. For instance, battling extremism among the youth requires a series of bold measures in areas ranging from education to healthcare, with the promise in tandem of ensuring jobs for new graduates. But achieving this objective may indeed remain an unfulfilled dream with Sharif and his team determined to step up the pace of developing new infrastructure and transport projects.

And with the number of income tax payers remaining a distinct minority in Pakistan, there appears to be no end in sight to the ruling structure relying on a narrow band of taxpayers to run the revenue system. With the strings surrounding the national purse remaining tight, it is hard to imagine the inflow of resources for undertaking costly and imaginative new ideas for ensuring stability. Consequently, as widely reported, Sharif and his government appear determined to rely primarily on adding to the national debt by borrowing money for their pursuit of development rather than finding affluent new individuals to help fill the gap.

The disconnect between Pakistan’s most pressing needs and the government’s direction has wider repercussions too. As long as Prime Minister Sharif fails to appreciate the reality and change tack, Pakistan’s ability to protect its younger population from radical ideas will remain in doubt.

In sharp contrast to the days when some of Pakistan’s public-sector universities and government run hospitals stood out as model examples of a caring state, that fundamental reality of yesteryears has indeed transformed for the worst. Though there may be more universities across Pakistan today than a couple of decades ago, their ability to become centres of progressive learning has indeed changed for the worst.

Recent cases like that of Mashal Khan killed by a mob at a university in Mardan over allegations of posting blasphemous content online, or the discovery of students enrolled in higher degree programmes and found connected to militant groups, should hardly be surprising. Exactly why should the mood across higher education campuses be any different at a time when the state appears obsessed with bricks and mortar for road networks, rather than initiatives to create fertile minds?

The situation is set to become further alarming just after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and the promised large-scale delivery of arms in Pakistan’s neighborhood. Is the ground being set for another armed conflict whose fallout will spill into Pakistan? That is indeed a pertinent question. And yet, given the preference for ad hocism all around, who will give the wake-up call before its all too late again?

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.

farhanbokhari@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2017

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