Twenty reflections for 2020

Published December 28, 2019
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

A change is gonna come — By Sam Cooke

PAKISTAN must save itself from plunging towards state failure. It is existentially threatened by climate catastrophe; the risks of nuclear conflict; unmanageable population growth; growing food insecurity; criminally corrupt and nationally polarising governance; institutional capture and degeneration; external economic dictation; appalling socioeconomic indices; indifference to human resource development, human rights and humanitarian protections; arrogant and incompetent decision-making etc.

These threats overwhelmingly emanate from domestic pathologies rather than external military threats. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has a notional global Doomsday Clock. Currently it shows two minutes to midnight. Midnight is the end of organised human existence. What time would it be on a Pakistan Doomsday Clock?

Indian hostility adds to the challenge. But with minimally decent governance, a longer-term perspective, and a policy backbone the Indian threat can be limited and managed without betraying Kashmir with irrelevant and insincere talk. The ideology of Hindutva may be advancing India’s own degeneration. But this is no consolation for Pakistan.

It is well said that a nation of sheep begets a government of wolves.

Pakistan must fearlessly address its fatal weaknesses and integrate solutions to them into its national, external, economic, political, economic, financial, security, educational, social, health, housing and environmental policies. Over 70 years, these policies have generated oceans of narrative but mere droplets of relevant action.

Tackling this challenge is a collective whole-of-the-nation task. Whether this is regarded as an inconceivable and impossible undertaking or a massive and unprecedented effort that simply has to be made will determine whether the people of Pakistan have the will to have a nation.

A nation that is satisfied with a tiny minority of winners ruling over a huge majority of losers cannot have a future. Its demise will not even be a tragedy. Will this be our nation’s tribute to Quaid-i-Azam? There are far too many Pakistanis who are unperturbed by such questions.

Religious leaders know when they use the moral, ethical and human meaning of a universal faith for their wretched personal and political party agendas they deny the faith they allegedly safeguard.

Military leaders must know when Pakistanis wilt under their misguided and overbearing interventions Pakistan withers. Any subordinate institution that overpowers civil and political society stifles national development. No peace, no war is not policy. It is class warfare, resource misallocation, economic exhaustion, and eventually state failure.

Politicians similarly know when they cease to be representatives, let alone servants, of the people who elect them and, instead, become creatures of power centres and financial mafias they destroy the national purpose. Tragically, far too many of them are happy to live in the contempt of the people they betray.

Business leaders should know if they accept being a little less superfluously rich they can help enrich all. No amount of charity can ever compensate for unearned and undeserved personal wealth at the expense of the quality of life and prospects for the people. They do not have to be class enemies of the people.

Rural elites, spiritual and secular, must see the servility that binds their followers in blind and self-denying allegiance as a question God will put to them to which they shall have no answer.

Diplomats must communicate the best their country has to offer to others, educate their own about the national image projected abroad, and advise as best they can whether it please or displease their ‘superiors’. They may suffer. But their country will gain. So too is the case with other civil servants whose undoubted abilities are either misused or rendered useless. Diplomats and bureaucrats can become a strong force for good policies.

Decision-makers who pretend to a wisdom they do not have undermine the national interest often more than an enemy.

The people must begin to realise their own power and potential to bring about a radical change in their situation through speaking the truth to each other, demanding their forfeited rights and entitlements, and organising themselves for movements and struggle. Charismatic ‘leaders’ are irrelevant unless they serve such struggle.

The people need not look for permanent class enemies. They need to develop their own power and leverage to compel and elicit understanding, opportunity and justice.

A Muslim who ruthlessly exploits another Muslim or human being has no right to pray for forgiveness unless he or she first ceases to exploit others, be they Muslim or not. This is not something whose mere acceptance is virtue. Only its practice is virtue.

A judge who sleeps too easily amidst the wreckage of justice has reason to stay awake. The less said about lawyers and the police the better.

Knowledge is information and experience. Insight is how they may be used for a purpose. Wisdom is the moral imperative to use them for the general good.

It is well said that a nation of sheep begets a government of wolves. It is just as well said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Questions asked over 40 years ago still persist: What is it that ails my country? What is it that I may do? Why is it I fear an answer, that all I fear may be true? Sincere questions, even if seemingly pessimistic, can be preludes to necessary actions. But fake optimism precludes decent outcomes. God bless Pakistan!

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn, December 28th, 2019



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