The state of Pakistan

Published March 2, 2023
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.

THE reality of Pakistan, shaped by its wayward masters and bureaucrats, manifests itself each day. Not even December 1971 compares with the listless gloom that engulfs the country today. Ever since the loss of our eastern wing and the judicial murder of our first elected prime minister, our story has degenerated from the tragic to the pathetic to the absurd.

Ways out of this desolation exist. But they are barred by the corruption and cynicism of predatory ‘leaders’ and ‘defenders’ who accumulate vast fortunes through the criminal abuse of public trust; by the resignation of their prey who are preoccupied with getting through the day; and by the confusion of our intelligentsia and the irresponsibility of our intellectuals.

Every major institution and influential group of people has failed the country: the government; the army and intelligence apparatus; the judiciary; parliament; political leaders and parties; the media; the educational and health systems; the civil services; the landed, business and religious elites; etc. Together they have ensured a failed state. The primary culprits are known. They couldn’t care less.

The Quaid, the Pakistan Movement and the people of Pakistan are incessantly mocked. In his last days, the Quaid told the Raja of Mehmudabad “I am surrounded by traitors”. Today, the country is besieged by them. No enemy of Pakistan matches the enmity of its own rulers. They laugh all the way to their foreign banks and talk of national security and economic stability while the ruled sink below the poverty line to wither and die.

The time for questions has gone. Only answers matter, which only actions and organised movements can supply. There are social and rights activists, entrepreneurs and professionals who make a difference.

They need to coalesce and reinforce each other to generate transforming momentum. The people need servants. A populist panders to a vote bank and sees citizens as subjects. A leader serves citizens.

What can be done? Plenty. First, ask yourself what you can do. Then get in touch with someone, anyone, share your thoughts, expand your circle, give your time, discuss, differ, agree, do, and review. Repeat a thousand times all over the country and see Pakistan change, grow, and succeed. Enemies will begin to melt away.

The constitutional/electoral crisis is important but secondary. The primary crisis is domestic governance by malfeasance exacerbated by the threat of climate catastrophe which will mount year by year. Without decent governance, elections will only mimic and insult democracy and existential threats will end our existence.

Governance is a function and process of commitment, competence, priorities, reform, resources, feedback, information, devolution — and ownership. Pakistan has all in actual and potential abundance. They have to be mobilised in the face of systemic and treacherous power elite betrayal. They will be mobilised to save our children and grandchildren, and theirs.

Pakistan’s foreign policy has to contribute to the saving of Pakistan. Principled and realistic policies will contribute to national survival, regeneration and prosperity. Peace is a prerequisite. While Kashmir is a matter of principle, it is also a human rights challenge.

Pakistan has a responsibility to seek a rapprochement with a very difficult India in order to increase the prospects for justice in Kashmir and to render multifaceted cooperation with India politically feasible.

Principled compromise approaches can increase the probability of reciprocity, transform zero-sum confrontation into positive sum cooperation, reduce security expenditures, and with greater interactions allow less mutually hostile narratives to emerge.

There is no reason today why Pakistan should not be willing to negotiate a no-war agreement with India. Reaching a principled understanding on Kashmir could greatly help such an endeavour. Accordingly, playing to the gallery on Kashmir in these circumstances is of no help to the Kashmiris.

Afghanistan is another case where the hijacking of foreign policy has led to policy disaster. Pakistan’s Afghanistan policy has been a gift to India. Respecting Afghanistan’s independence and gaining its confidence is the way towards developing the closest of ties with it and accessing the massive potential for regional cooperation with Central Asia and Iran.

Opportunistic policies towards the Taliban do not help. Nor do policies that vary from furtive support to public hostility. What we want for the people of Pakistan must be what we wish and support for the people of Afghanistan. Within this framework all the issues with Afghanistan can be handled in a mutually satisfactory manner.

Pakistan must act with the generosity of a larger neighbour. It is not enough for Pakistan to claim it is following such a policy. Afghanistan should feel this is indeed so.

The US has reversed the course of globalisation in its effort to pre-empt the emergence of China as a global rival. Within a de-globalising world Pakistan must prioritise its relations within its region which is Asia. China is in Asia. It is a proven friend of Pakistan. But a failing Pakistan will not be able to realise the potential of the relationship.

The ups and downs of CPEC testify to this. In contrast, the US policy towards Pakistan is implicitly premised on Pakistan being a failing state without options, which is just fine for the social and power structure in Pakistan. The importance of the US for Pakistan cannot be gainsaid. But Pakistan needs to change the premise of the relationship.

A word about the economy. The Americans, the IMF and sometimes the Chinese are blamed for Pakistan’s economic woes. The IMF may be part of the Washington Consensus. But it does not impose itself on Pakistan. Pakistan goes cap in hand to the IMF. It has its conditions. Pakistan can take them or leave them.

However, Pakistan’s rulers want IMF cover for not doing the reforms they don’t want to do, and for imposing the costs of their dereliction on the people of Pakistan. Those reforms can be implemented independently, which would enable Pakistan to deal with the IMF on better terms. Similarly, the Chinese cannot be blamed or expected to compensate for Pakistan’s irresponsible economic governance.

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

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2023

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