Notwithstanding their dyna­mic mutual relationship, a country’s external policy is essentially an extension of domestic policies going by what some social scientists said long ago.

The more solid the political economy, the less is the chance of a country succumbing to foreign dictation. And to quote an old saying ‘united we stand and divided we fall.’

Taking this above view, for any external strategic policy to succeed a corresponding, supporting internal policy would be a prerequisite. It was owing to strong domestic compulsions that the PTI government shifted its policy focus from stability to economic growth.

Now some ruling party and opposition stalwarts are looking forward to an appropriate policy response by Pakistan to a possible spillover of the evolving Afghanistan situation.

Global power politics based on military muscle has suffered a strategic setback — armed interventions may bring tactical victory but not strategic, political or economic

Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations Major-General Babar Iftikhar says “there is a threat of terrorist sleeper cells of becoming active again.”

Senator Mian Raza Rabbani says the Afghan situation has fallout for Pakistan and its internal politics, and we need to identify our fault lines. These, according to him, include religious extremism and the situation in Balochistan, Khyber Pakh­tunkhwa, especially the merged Federally Administered Tribal Area districts.

Any escalation of violence in the two provinces can adversely impact the country’s nascent economic recovery. Already Pakistan has paid a heavy price for keeping much of the two provinces in the medieval age. Pakistan’s level of prosperity is the sum total of progress and development of the federating units and their districts.

As Balochistan has been hit by a prolonged insurgency, the PTI leadership is now taking initiatives to resolve the political and economic issues of the province. But the move has provoked controversies as it is preceded by government decisions that contradict what is being promised now.

The Leader of the House Dr Shahzad Waseem told the Senate that the government was determined to end the deprivations of the province and politically empower its people.

But critics recall a statement by Chief Minister of Balochistan Jam Kamal Khan Alyani who is reported to have said they themselves came to know about the provincial budget when presented in the cabinet meeting.

Senator Rabbani says Islamabad had no right to make the budget of the province. Refuting his remarks Dr Waseem said ‘no one can take decisions about Balochistan without its elected representatives.”

Prime Minister Imran Khan says he is ready to hold talks with annoyed Baloch tribes so that their grievances could be addressed for permanent peace and progress in the province.

Political observers however doubt the PTI’s capacity to deliver. They point out that PTI was unable to honour its agreement with former coalition partner Mengal’s Balochistan Nationalist Party.

It is a constructive force for justice, not the destructive power of retribution, which will bring peace and prosperity to Balochistan wrote Dr Kaiser Bengali in his recent book A Cry for Justice: Empirical Insights from Balochistan.

To achieve its stated goals, the government also plans to initiate development projects worth Rs731 billion in the province. Given the past experience, analysts are not sure how much of its benefits would trickle down to the locals.

Senator Rabbani points out that “pumping money into Balochistan is not the solution,” as demonstrated in the past, adding that the state needs to realise the mistakes it has continuously been making.

The PPP senator stressed the need for the federation to concede autonomy to the federating units and give them a 50pc share in the natural resources. He regretted that a formula to this effect was yet to be worked out as provided in the Constitution.

Holding similar views, Dr Kaiser Bengali believes that it is imperative to empower Balochistan with control over its resources to enable the province to create jobs for the local population and to make its voice effective in the national political order.

Balochistan has a mere 17 members in the National Assembly of 342 members. Though the Senate provides equal seats for all provinces it does not possess any powers relating to money bills.

Independent political analysts also stress the need for fair and free elections to enable Balochistan to elect its true representatives for the parliament.

To improve the level of coordination with the provinces, the government has also decided that the National Economic Council will meet twice a year (not once as now) as provided by the Constitution when the lapse was pointed out by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah.

But with a much broader perspective, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Dr Asad Umar has come up with the idea of a devolved state.

His remarks reflect a reality generally ignored in policymaking that it is an era of self-determination of individuals and nations. And that finds expression in ethnic self-assertion primarily within the spirit of collectivism.

His observations made at a webinar on ‘the role of the state in economic development’ organised by the Institute of Policy Reforms on July 10 were a sharp deviation from the PTI’s current policies and practices.

He forcefully argued as follows: the option of a very centralised system is not available to the countries like Pakistan which are multi-ethnic realities. Pakistan has to be run as a devolved state and there are no two ways about it. The devolution process should not be held back but needs to be taken further.

The National Economic Council (NEC) and the Council of Common Interests need to be strengthened as a political and administrative platform for a devolved system to come together and do decision-making that works best for the country’s majority. If you have to turn Karachi around you have to have a local government system in place not just in Karachi but all over Pakistan.

These remarks have come on the backdrop of the challenges facing Pakistan from the escalating violence in Afghanistan.

Global power politics based on military muscle has suffered a strategic setback. Military interventions may bring tactical victory but not strategic political or economic.

Responding to a newsman’s question, Mr Umar said Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan’s 13 years ended with the creation of Bangladesh. Zia’s era ended politically with Sindh’s turmoil and the Musharraf era ended with Balochistan up in arms. Mr Umar is convinced that Pakistan cannot be successfully run through anything else except democracy.

One may add national security lies in the democratisation of the political economy.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 26th, 2021

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