THIS week was another sad episode in Pakistan’s chequered history, when enraged PTI supporters stormed military and other state installations in various cities. While warning the miscreants, the Inter-Services Public Relations issued a strongly worded statement censuring the PTI chief and declaring him an embodiment of double standards. The statement reflected a paradoxical reality that generally pervades Pakistani society, and which has given it a self-centric character.
The exact words of the statement were: “On one side, evil elements incited public sentiments for their self-serving purposes, on the other hand, they used to highlight the importance of armed forces for the country, which is an example of double standards.”
Certainly, the PTI leadership would have offered a rebuttal, but this problem is not peculiar to a particular party or institution. Pakistan collectively suffers from the syndrome of duplicity, which leads to anxiety and phobic disorders in individuals, and double standards in the national character. The entire system is duplicitous and its operators have been afraid of being honest with themselves and their institutions. Double standards may have different connotations in politics and diplomacy, but it is not positive for a collective image of society.
Duplicity may be the mother of all the crises in Pakistan. This was the observation of a Chinese friend in Shanghai, who spent decades in this country and still has extensive interaction with its power elites. The Chinese tend to mind their own business and do not often speak their mind to their friends unless they deem it necessary or have developed a certain level of comfort with them. As well-wishers of Pakistan, the Chinese are concerned about the country’s ongoing political and economic crises. Indeed, so frustrating did the situation prove to this Chinese friend that it forced him to open his heart. Surprisingly, his understanding of the Pakistani system and the mindset of the power elite was astonishingly correct and comprehensive.
The duplicity in our society manifests itself in many forms, which are palpable in Pakistan’s internal and external relationships. For one, the Chinese friend cited earlier recounted several personal interactions with Pakistani officials and leaders who always make tall claims about national interest, but ultimately give priority to their own interests. This further causes mistrust among the institutions. He continued to peel away the layers of Pakistan’s collective and individual character and suggested just one remedy for all the crises: be honest with oneself.
Our national character resorts to fancy terms to justify duplicity, such as ‘balance’.
No doubt China and Pakistan’s relationship is unique: both nations are linked in strategic, economic and political alliances in the global and regional context. But the relationship will become even stronger if both sides invest more energy in understanding each other better. A common observation in Beijing is that the Pakistani power elites are pro-West at heart. The evidence that is usually presented to support this contention is that the Pakistani diplomatic missions take no interest in understanding Chinese culture, nor do they acquire Chinese language skills. Even ambassadors who served in China for several years can only speak a few Chinese words. In comparison, Indian diplomatic missions have officials who have highly professional language skills and understand Chinese values better.
The same applies to the level of scholarship on China, which is of low standard in Pakistan compared to our South and Central Asian neighbours. Currently, China is the top destination for Pakistani students, with some 28,000 students studying in that country, mostly in medical and physical sciences, but none in Chinese philosophy and language. They focus on the language of their host country only to the extent necessary to pass their exams, and have little interaction with their Chinese teachers and fellow students. One can find dozens of Pakistani doctoral candidates who have been studying in China since undergraduate level, who still need help in fully communicating with the Chinese. Most students see China as a launching pad, and look to the West for further studies and employment opportunities.
Ironically, despite their fascination with the West, many Pakistani students love to preach their religion, which irritates the campus administrations. Such behaviour is bound to negatively impact the prospects of students waiting for Chinese scholarships and educational opportunities.
Bilateral exchanges and enhancing people-to-people contacts are significant components of Chinese diplomacy. However, despite being served halal dishes, Pakistani delegates often need more time to attune their taste buds to Chinese cuisine. But they do love to be involved in all sorts of fun activities.
Many Chinese scholars see the rise of extremism in Pakistan as a major threat to the country and to CPEC-related projects. A recent incident in Dasu, where a Chinese engineer was arrested for allegedly committing blasphemy, raised many concerns in China. It is hard for the ordinary Chinese to understand how a state can be soft on extremist tendencies and believe in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ extremism, which is certainly the worst form of duplicity entrenched in the system.
The solution suggested by the Chinese scholar — ie, to be honest with ourselves — is difficult to put into practice. The reason is that honesty cannot be injected into individuals, institutions and leaders, nor can it be imposed through an executive order. Our national character resorts to fancy terms to justify duplicity, such as ‘balance’, which is often used in a geopolitical context, or ‘reconciliation’, for political manoeuvring and to sustain ideological interests with the objective of safeguarding the parallel economic structures of the security and religious elites. Despite the apparent disagreements within them, the power elites appear undivided when it comes to maximising their advantage, and, to that end, they don’t hesitate to even trigger a crisis. After securing their interests, they return to their positions and prepare themselves for another crisis. No one wants to sacrifice their interests. The ‘saviour’ rhetoric is deployed to the maximum, making democracy and personal freedoms appear irrelevant in the eyes of the ordinary person, and further enhancing the country’s global image as an unstable state.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2023