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Blood, pride and hope

April 14, 2013

MODERN analyses of the comparative strength of states utilise metrics such as population, GDP, military spending and other ‘objective’ criteria. The ‘human’ factor — the sentiments and emotions of the concerned people — are considered, through pre-set questions, mostly for the purpose of predicting electoral results.

Such analyses are useful tools for near-term policy formulation but not for predicting longer-term trends about the rise and fall of nations.

A broad review of history would reveal that it is the human factor which is decisive in determining the destinies of empires and great nations. Peoples who had a strong sense of self-confidence and pride emerged as strong nations and usually triumphed — militarily, economically and culturally — over their rivals. Among the factors which contributed to such self-confidence were: blood, pride and hope.

How does Pakistan fare in such a ‘human factor’ analysis of the strength of nations? Quite abysmally.

There is no greater glue for national unity than blood spilt by its people defending their freedom against foreign enemies. At Pakistan’s birth, millions sacrificed their lives and homes. But, the groups that inherited most of the power in Pakistan were not among those to have paid in blood for Pakistan.

Soon after the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, an interesting conversation took place between Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and Pakistan’s foreign minister Z.A. Bhutto. Mr Bhutto described how Pakistani forces had broken through the ceasefire line in Kashmir and were poised to proceed to Srinagar but had to be redeployed south to defend Lahore against the Indian counter-thrust along the Wah canal. Chou Enlai asked: Why did you redeploy your forces? Mr Bhutto pointed to the danger of India occupying Lahore.

The Chinese premier observed: “But you would have made your nation.” His reasoning was that while Pakistan would have been welcomed by the Kashmiris, the people of Lahore would have fought and died to throw out the Indians. Pakistan’s unity would have been forged in blood.

Unfortunately, as we review our brief history, the blood we have spilt has been mostly our own: first in East Pakistan; today in the killing fields of Fata, Karachi and Balochistan. Each act of violence — terrorist attacks and assassinations, drone strikes, sectarian and ethnic massacres — drains the lifeblood of our nation and saps the commitment of the victims to the state of Pakistan. Shockingly, the perpetrators of such violence are well-known. Some openly claim responsibility for their gory crimes; others prefer to kill anonymously or silently from the skies. These daily aggressions on Pakistan’s people can be stopped. But those with the capability evidently lack the clarity and courage to do so.

Pride is also an essential ingredient of national unity and resilience. It was such pride that enabled the rise of great empires, states and civilisations — Roman, Chinese, Persian, Ottoman, Mughal, Russian, British and American.

In Pakistan, the pride and self-confidence which made its creation possible, has been steadily eroded by the supine acceptance of a series of humiliations inflicted on the nation. The first major humiliation was the surrender at Dhaka. More recent were those inflicted by a presumed ally: the Raymond Davis affair; the Abbottabad incursion and the Salala attack.

The injury to Pakistan’s pride now extends well beyond the military sphere. Today, Pakistan is equated with failed states like Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is excluded from key forums, such as the Group of 20; discriminated against on peaceful nuclear cooperation and, barring our temporary membership of the UN Security Council, absent from deliberations on global political and economic issues. Our leaders are treated with condescension and contempt. At the borders of even friendly countries, Pakistanis are received with suspicion. We cannot even take pride in our once world-class hockey and cricket teams.

Hope is the third significant ‘human’ element of national strength. It is natural for people to support entities and endeavours which offer the prospect of improving their own condition or at least that of their progeny. Thus, a perception on the part of people that their state can help to advance their economic, social or political objectives, serves to solidify their solidarity and loyalty to the state. Pakistan was created in hope: that the Muslims of the subcontinent would be free, politically, economically and culturally, from the domination of the majority Hindu community. For almost two decades, this hope seemed to be well-placed in the fledgling state, as it grew economically, was governed efficiently and respected internationally.

Today, as public opinion polls indicate, hope has largely faded and the vast majority of Pakistanis are suffused with pessimism about their own and Pakistan’s future. Given the travails of our people — growing poverty; terrorist and sectarian violence; rampant crime; pervasive corruption from top to bottom; the energy crisis — such pessimism is not surprising. Nor are the underlying causes of Pakistan’s plight a secret. Simply put, Pakistan’s ruling elite has consistently sacrificed the common good and the national interest for the protection and preservation of its own interests. There are very few exceptions to the venality and corruption that marks Pakistani society today. Almost every national resource and revenue source has been exploited for the enrichment of the powerful and already rich. Greater poverty and suffering are the most visible dividends for Pakistan’s people of five years of ‘democracy’.

What needs to be done is also clear: improve governance; revive the economy; impose security through state power. But who will bell the cat?

Sadly, the forthcoming elections do not offer hope that the next government will be able or inclined to undertake such steps. Unless something drastic happens on election day, the next coalition is unlikely to possess the strength and cohesion to address Pakistan’s complex challenges.

Unless these challenges are urgently addressed, there will be more blood on our streets and the pride and hope that were the signal feature of Pakistan’s birth will fade from memory. Internal divisions will be accompanied by the danger of external subjugation. The stage would then be set for history to impose its cruel judgement on Pakistan.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.