AWAY from the gloom of governance, there exist some genuine reasons to smile. Here are 10 happy ones:
— The Pakistani state is finally, really, actually, seriously fighting to eradicate monsters it had spawned decades ago for national security objectives. Regardless of whether they served any purpose or not, they had become a huge liability for the country in every sense of the word. The state was, sadly, the last to realise it. Or was the realisation forced upon it? In any case, the battle to put the demon/genie back in the bottle started some years — perhaps after the APS tragedy — and was speeded up after the FATF threat of blacklisting. Gone are the days when duplicity was a policy tool employed to maximum effect in order to deflect criticism, divert pressure and distract local and global opinion. Today, it seems, the state strategy is on the same page as state belief.
— This is a remarkable turnaround. Within a surprisingly short span of four years, terrorism has been contained to a degree where it is no more a central threat to life. The state has also effectively cracked down on terror funding (courtesy FATF pressure) and even the social network that nourished extremist ideologies is now feeling the pressure. How many countries in the world can claim to have defeated terrorism of such magnitude in under five years?
Today, it seems, the state strategy is on the same page as state belief.
— FATF is a threat and a blessing. If Pakistan is blacklisted, we are in serious trouble. The IMF programme will come to an end, remittances will be severely affected, foreign investment will start drying up and the economy will nosedive. But it is also a blessing because the threat has forced the state to realise the folly of its orientation and take measures against terror funding and money laundering (including legislation) that it would not have done so swiftly. FATF will decide next month if Pakistan is to be blacklisted or taken off the grey list. It could also decide to keep Pakistan on the grey list for longer. The state has in the meantime undertaken reforms that will help us tremendously in forging a new direction for the future by jettisoning the baggage we have been lugging along for decades.
— For once, we are seen as the sane voice on the subcontinent. While Modi’s India has plunged into an orgy of communal violence, bigotry and state-sponsored, sanctioned and legislated religious persecution — and while its civil and military leadership spews provocative and dangerously escalatory threats towards Pakistan — we are the ones urging caution, sense, and dialogue in return. India is suddenly seen as the bratty, immature, unstable, and flabby teenage thug while Pakistan is the sensible, reasonable and mature adult that wants to stop the teenager from becoming a menace to society and ending up harming himself and everyone else.
— Remember Balakot? India bombing our trees and wreaking vengeance on a crow? Remember the red faces in New Delhi? Then our response and how PAF hunted down two Indian aircraft? And Abhinandan and his chai and our gracious gesture of releasing him unconditionally? In those few days, Pakistan displayed many traits that should uplift our spirits: giving Indian military arrogance a bloody nose, finding new heroes among our armed forces, revelling in our prime minister being a much taller statesman than his Indian counterpart, treating a prisoner humanely while India wallowed in hate, and telling an anxious world that our restraint against Indian aggression should not be taken for granted. The danger for conflict is very real today, but the last engagement has given us confidence that we as a nation really needed.
— Peace and confidence has created space for Pakistan to open up to the world. The gradual revival of international cricket and the phenomenal success of Pakistan Super League (PSL) has created a feel-good factor for Pakistan. These are initial gains that need to be consolidated in a planned and coordinated manner. The upcoming PSL should reinforce this trend and the state should pay particular attention to weaving a powerful narrative out of it. Cricket is often more than just cricket.
— Academic and literary festivals are growing in scale and ambition every year. These events are attracting a galaxy of international women and men of accomplishment to Pakistan and allowing the best and the brightest in the country to gather on a platform and produce fantastic discussions, debates and dialogues. The ThinkFest 2020 held in Lahore last weekend was one such event that had a huge impact not just on our domestic landscape but outside our borders too (full disclosure: I was a participant on discussion panels). The ThinkFest has become a venue for deep policy discussion that generates ideas which are hugely beneficial for state and society. Citizens of all ages mingle with authors, academics, specialists and policymakers in an arena that stimulates healthy exchange of ideas and opinions. The organisers of the festival struggle with funding and sponsorships despite the attention such events attract. The state should support such festivals (and all others that accentuate the world of ideas) so they can scale up and become magnets for positive regional and international attention for Pakistan.
— Tourism is finally centre stage in our policy. Long neglected due to lack of vision, international tourism can put Pakistan on the global map where we can counter the negative stereotype built over decades. Prime Minister Imran Khan may have mishandled many big ticket items but on tourism he deserves all the credit. Single-handedly he has pushed this into mainstream policy and in such a short time the sector is waking up to its tremendous potential. Thumbs up.
— Infrastructure for inter-city travel is world-class. As work on motorways gathers pace, it is not long before you would breakfast in Lahore and reach Karachi by road in time for dinner. Economic benefits will not lag behind.
— Increased governmental and social awareness for more vulnerable and underprivileged segments of society is a welcome trend that is translating into policy. If sustained, this will prod us in the correct direction.
So cheer up. Things are bad, no doubt. And yet there are visible silver linings. May they increase with each passing moment.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2020