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This mess we’re in

July 12, 2018

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PAKISTAN today suffers from a crisis of governance. The radical right is ascendant. Institutional decay is advanced; the state’s writ is eroded. We soon go to the polls in a divisive, belligerent and to a great extent despondent environment. It is time for serious reflection and introspection.

In the past decade, our governments have been unable to produce a comprehensive national security policy. Instead of strategic, visionary long-term policies for both external and internal security challenges, there was a reliance on short-term, tactical (ie reactionary) responses to a myriad challenges on account of economic mismanagement, corruption and a convoluted policy of using religious extremists as tools of the invisible state. This mess can only be cleared through an effective charter of governance based on security and justice.

Our struggle against terrorism, militancy and extremism is not over. The foremost factor behind such violence is the state’s failure to recognise that there are no ‘pro-state’ or ‘anti-state’ elements among those who pursue a violent agenda. Similarly, the failure of governments to reform criminal justice is a major reason people lost trust in the system and look elsewhere for protection. Above all, a lack of political will turned NAP into a plan of inaction. The cumulative effect has been a dangerous drift towards lawlessness. As such, the following six-point national agenda requires consideration.

Only an effective charter of governance can help us.

First, Pakistan must stop harbouring a massive insecurity complex. As a nuclear state with the world’s sixth largest army, we should be confident and end our garrison-state mentality and constant worrying about survival. Rather, we should be a trading nation that takes advantage of its geographic location for economic prosperity. Second, there is no doubt in my mind that the relevant stakeholders in the state security establishment have finally undertaken to end support for erstwhile militant jihadi groups that was given on account of some strategic compulsions that are counterproductive in the present milieu. The time for proxies is over; being blacklisted by FATF would result in international isolation, sanctions and the stigma of a pariah state.

Third, we must adhere to rule of law and guarantee individual rights. The issues of missing persons and enforced disappearances are of grave concern, as is the fact that dissenting voices are being muzzled. This is disturbing, especially when elections are round the corner. Any attempt at a ‘controlled’ democracy would result in a fake mandate. Fourth, social justice must be ensured for all citizens, irrespective of caste, creed or ethnicity. The elite have pushed the poor into deplorable conditions that cultivate violence and crime, and leave the youth vulnerable to manipulation by extremist forces.

Fifth, we must cultivate tolerance for national harmony. Our strength lies in being a diverse polity. Its potential can create a dynamic human resource, but channelling such energy requires a guiding hand rather than a draconian fist. The state should show magnanimity and grace in order to resolve disputes through tolerant dialogue. Similarly, the state should enable citizens to practise their religions freely. Our Constitution’s framers consciously avoided giving enforcement powers to the state in matters of faith. They must resist becoming a theocratic instrument of a dogmatic brigade. Leaders must set the tone for a national narrative that shuns violence and promotes tolerance.

Sixth, institutions must take precedence over individuals. The police, judiciary, civil armed forces, intelligence agencies and the military must have the courage to uphold the rule of law and eschew any individuals who think themselves above the law. All these institutions need to get together and carve out a charter of governance that defines their roles and restraints within their constitutional mandate.

In conclusion, such a framework revolves around security, sovereignty and sustainability. Security implies the state’s monopoly over the use of force, and elimination of domestic threats like terrorism. Sovereignty implies effective reach of law enforcement throughout the country, use of armed forces in aid of civil authorities, and parliament taking the lead on national security. Sustainability entails socioeconomic justice, quality public education, a counter-extremism narrative, good governance and the rule of law.

In October 1947, the Quaid-i-Azam stated, “We should have a state in which we could live and breathe as free men and which we could develop according to our lights and culture and where principles of Islamic social justice could find free play.” In another address a few days later, he said to our fledgling nation, “My message to you all is of hope, courage and confidence. Let us mobilise all our resources … and tackle the grave issues that confront us with grim determination and discipline worthy of a great nation.”

Let his dream not go sour.

The writer is a former IG Police and author of The Faltering State.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2018