PAKISTAN is in the grip of bad news. While much of it is fake because the detractors of Pakistan are at work, some of the bad news is also real. Decades of bad governance has shaken the confidence of the people in the rulers they elect or even in the system which brings them to power. The elite capture of the country has left the teeming majority wondering if this country can deliver even the basic amenities of life. A vast segment of the population is slipping below the poverty line. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer. Society is also deeply polarised. All this bad news has created a sense of despondency.
How did we reach this sorry state? Foremost, we must recognise that whatever has happened is of our own doing. We don’t work hard enough to deserve the riches we aspire to. Our political governance has failed to rise to the expectations of the people. We spend more than we earn and evade taxes. Corruption is rampant. Moreover, for far too long, our rulers have looked for easy money from outside the country. All through the decades, we have preferred to leverage our strategic location rather than build our productive capacities.
We also want others to adjust their stance towards us rather than changing ourselves. For instance, we expect India to reduce its hostility towards Pakistan, Afghanistan to be more friendly than it is, China to invest more, the Saudis to liberally share their abundant wealth with us, and America to maintain a steady partnership with our country. In short, we want all our key relationships to change in the way we desire them to. But this is not how inter-state relations work. It is Pakistan which should adjust to the evolving global and regional geopolitics, and not the other way round. A ship cannot change the direction of the wind; it must adapt its sails to continue its journey.
That means that a change of attitude is needed in how we Pakistanis see ourselves as a nation and how we view the outside world. The Creator has been more than generous in granting nature’s bounties to the territories that constitute today’s Pakistan.
The elected government must lift the morale of the nation.
The country is the 10th largest producer of rice in the world, the eighth leading producer of wheat, and the fifth largest producer of sugarcane. Our land is home to the three highest mountain ranges, and has an irrigation system that is both efficient and extensive.
According to the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan, the country has the sixth largest reserves of marble, the second largest salt mines, the fifth largest reserves of copper and gold, the second largest coal deposits, and vast reserves of gypsum.
With such abundant wealth and a young energised population, we have every reason to be hopeful about the future of our country. Even during the harshest of times for the Muslims of India under the British occupation, our founding fathers never lost hope. Allama Iqbal’s advice to us was as valid then as it is today. To translate his words: ‘Don’t despair, as despair is the decline of knowledge and wisdom, the hope of mard-i-momin is among the secrets of God’.
As a new elected government takes office, it must lift up the morale of the nation by setting the stage for good governance. First and foremost, we need to stabilise political governance, which is so fractured. A new charter of democracy and tolerance is required, which provides for treating political opponents with respect and dignity, for today’s opponents could be tomorrow’s rulers. No one should consider himself or herself as an angel or a patriot, while treating opponents as evil and corrupt.
Second, there needs to be a much stronger commitment to local governments. The devolution of power and resources agreed upon in 18th Amendment should not have stopped at provinces, but needs to reach the grassroots level.
Third, a charter of economy is required to forge a consensus among political parties on key economic issues and priorities.
Fourth, national security should be viewed more comprehensively than it was in the past, with equal attention being given to traditional, economic and human securities. To that end, the new government should announce its national security policy, a sequel to the one issued in January 2022, establish a national security council (not committee), and appoint a full-time national security adviser.
Fifth, on the external front, we must view all our relationships, including with neighbours, through the lens of economic benefit to Pakistan and by building stakes in the stability of Pakistan. We must engage with, but not depend on, the outside world, because the fountains of wealth and prosperity lie within.
The writer is a former foreign secretary and chairman Sanober Institute.
Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2024