The path of isolation

Published April 24, 2012

PAKISTAN remains in the dog house of the international community mainly because its rulers refuse to accept that violence and conflict within the country are escalating and have serious ramifications for the entire region.

Pakistan’s friends fear a severe economic meltdown and there are widespread concerns over continuing corruption which has also partly impaired governance.

Amazingly, while militant non-state actors are knocking down our doors and have successfully solidified their networks, our civil institutions are busy rubbing each others’ noses in the dirt — perhaps for sound reasons but the rubbing is excessive.

Constant political bickering keeps policymakers, the media, the judiciary and the public distracted from the risks we face.

Corruption is rife in all governments and institutions. Sadly, selective investigations often remain inconclusive. Ironically, most of those accused of corruption brazenly say they have been singled out, rather than plead innocence and prove it too.

Other well-intentioned spectators argue that accountability should be all-comprehensive and not limited to monetary corruption alone. It should be across the board and judged by an institution or body of people who have an unblemished past. There is no doubt that intellectual corruption or oppression can often be far more devastating for its victims. It demolishes societal values too.

But how far back can Pakistan dig into its past without being ripped apart? Or indeed do we still have honest brokers? While impunity must end so that the country’s wealth is no longer plundered and oppressors or dictators who play havoc with the future of a nation are not endorsed by unscrupulous civilians, such a venture will spare hardly anyone and sap all national energy.

These are tough decisions for any society, but must clearly be taken by the people of the country, rather than by former collaborators or those accused of corruption. Initiatives towards transitional justice only triumph when a society is prepared to accept its mistakes.

At the moment, claims of righteousness abound and exhibitions of greed have reached sickening heights. Any hope of arriving at the truth will only add to the heap of historical propaganda accumulated by us. Presently, the more pressing need is to secure a future that may be less painful, rather than go down with a swansong of half-truths.

The greater challenge for Pakistan is to keep the democratic cycle running, along with improving the abysmal state of governance. Most importantly, our leadership should fully comprehend, admit and face up to the challenges thrown at the country by militant non-state networks. The latter rule through divisions while the former is conceding territorial and political ground to jihadis of all types and nationalities.

It is reprehensible that any country should violate the territorial integrity of another; but it is even worse for a country to allow non-state intruders to dictate state policies under the threat of violence and for the government to swallow it meekly.Under the present circumstances, there are greater chances of the transition to democracy rolling back, rather than an improvement in this climate of political bickering. A reversal of the system will sweep with it all the so-called citadels of free expression, the rule of law and political democracy unless urgent and sustainable political and economic measures are taken.

Pakistan is slipping into isolation. Fatigue with the inertia shown by Pakistan’s leadership in putting its house in order is clearly visible in the international community.

Foreign investment has dried up and local industry is barely surviving without the supply of gas and electricity. The economic gains made by other countries in the region have simply passed us by because we have no policy to thrive on and instead live from day to day.

Growing economies produce the glue that strengthens nationhood, while depleting ones invite conflict and external intervention. The fissures in Pakistani society are once again apparent. The internal fracturing of the state as well as the external factors responsible for this must be urgently addressed and a few entry points identified for a solid start.

Pakistan should revisit its foreign policy with its neighbours at the regional level and with the US. This exercise must be realistic and aimed at improving the quality of life of ordinary Pakistanis, rather than be tailored to appease the right-wing.

At the national level, massive restructuring is required but priority must be given to monitoring and fine-tuning the process of devolution under the 18th Amendment. There are examples: Brazil had to put in place a federal investigating body to ensure that law-enforcement under the command of the federating units did not get away with human rights violations.

Similarly, the centre should retain policymaking on education and health. At another level, a constitutional court as promised in the Charter of Democracy should be seriously considered. Small causes courts, which are limited to addressing minor offences and disputes, should be reactivated at the union council level. The rising crime graph is disturbing. The professional skills of our police, especially in investigating crime, have to be sharpened. Resources spent on defence must substantially, though incrementally, be reallocated towards improving governance.

Elections should be held every four years so that there are ample opportunities for a fresh, more visionary leadership to get into the political loop. This could also rejuvenate the present archaic style of running political parties. Mechanisms set up for accountability and conducting elections should be completely autonomous and impartial.

The inclusion of Gilgit-Baltistan as well as Fata in mainstream politics should be thoroughly discussed and effectively implemented. The political leadership of Azad Jammu & Kashmir should be permitted to run its own affairs without constant dictates from Islamabad. The issue of Balochistan is complex and it deepens with each day of vacillation.

There are no easy solutions to the formidable challenges we face but the least people expect from those in positions of power is to keep the interest of the people above personal ambitions at a time when the country is almost collapsing.

The writer is a prominent lawyer and a human rights activist.

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