OLDER readers will recall that there was a time when Pakistan punched above its weight, and was taken seriously in international forums.
Now, our green passport is listed at fifth from the bottom by the Henley Passport Index that ranks the acceptability of passports by other countries that permit their holders entry on arrival. Thus, Japanese passports, at the top of the index, are accepted at the airports of 190 countries, while 33 nations extend a similar courtesy to Pakistani passports. Even this number seems a bit high, considering the hoops Pakistanis are made to jump through when applying for a visa to most countries.
So when did the slide to the bottom begin? And how and when did Pakistan lose its mojo? I addressed these questions in a column three years ago, and used cricket as a metaphor to capture our decline. But now as our team is getting thrashed by South Africa, while the Indian team has become the first team from South Asia to achieve a series win against Australia on its own turf, cricket will no longer serve as a metaphor.
So when did the slide to the bottom begin?
The harsh reality is that Pakistan is now regarded as a bankrupt country that mistreats its minorities and women, and is a violent, dangerous country to visit. The PTI government has been touting Pakistan as ‘an investment hub’, but who are we trying to kid? The sight of Imran Khan travelling to friendly countries with begging bowl in hand is a national humiliation, although given fiscal realities, he really had no choice.
So why have things got so bad? Wars have consequences, and this is something past generals did not manage to grasp. The 1965 war over Kashmir under Ayub Khan, the 1971 war under Yahya Khan, and the absurd Kargil conflict unleashed by Musharraf all had one thing in common: they were led by generals who had seized power through coups.
Out of the three wars, the 1971 conflict with India has left the deepest scars, and not just because we lost on the battlefield. The bloody civil war and the widespread killing of Bengalis tarnished Pakistan’s image around the globe. This event was followed by decades of increasing levels of extremism that led to terrorism on a huge scale. Minorities and foreigners have been targeted, and the state and security personnel challenged as never before.
As a result, the abiding image of Pakistan abroad has been that of a breeding and training centre for jihadis. Although the security environment has improved considerably over the last year, many still see the country as ground zero for the global jihad. Every now and then, televised images of ferocious, bearded men holding the country to ransom are beamed around the world.
And with a population that has exploded to some 220 million, rampant poverty, widespread illiteracy and unpredictable policies, Pakistan is perceived as a nation on the brink. We may think this is an unfair picture, but like it or not, this is how the world sees us. And ever so often, cases like those of Malala Yousafzai and Asiya Bibi remind the world how women and minorities are treated.
Constant political upheavals have not helped in changing this perception. Elected governments have either been turfed out by the military establishment, or destabilised by ambitious rivals. A hyperactive judiciary has added to the political uncertainty.
With all these negative factors, the positive elements get overlooked. Above all, Pakistan is a very resilient country that has withstood a host of problems, many of them are of our own making. Futile wars, support for extremism, and a limitless appetite for loans to pay for our defence forces have pushed us into a corner.
Before 1971, our diplomats demanded — and received — ‘parity’ with India from foreign states. They were consulted by other Third World countries at the United Nations, and respected in the chanceries of global powers. Those days are long gone. Now they have the single-point agenda of Kashmir that they try to push with no success.
Indeed, the rest of the world is tired of the 70-year-old Kashmir problem, and even our closest friends no longer talk about implementing the old UN resolutions on the Valley. This may seem unfair, but who said life was fair? The reality is that India is a huge market, and its soft power gives it a clout few countries can match.
And our two-faced posture towards the Taliban in Afghanistan has served to lose us friends in the West, with Nato soldiers being killed and wounded by fighters who allegedly found shelter in our tribal areas. Small wonder our stock in Washington is the lowest it has been in decades.
So if you wonder how and why we have lost our mojo, look no further.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2019