Quo vadis, Pakistan?
PAKISTAN’S population is probably 200 million today. It will be 350-400 million by 2050. Given climate change and the trend lines of our vital national indices the country’s future is in serious question. Karachi’s wretched plight is engulfing the rest of Pakistan where low lives in high places callously contrive to win zero-sum games against their own people! The people suffer indescribably every single day because of them. Corruption, whether political, administrative or military, is institutionalised and systemic.
Political leaders alternately challenge and pander to the military as part of their degenerate strategies. They treat ordinary citizens as ‘cockroaches’. Those who can stop them, but do not, are complicit. The people desperately want to get rid of them. But they are constrained by political circuses, economic crumbs, intimidation and hopelessness. An informal economy, external inflows and private charity merely delay the day of reckoning.
Pakistan is still manageable. It can survive, even flourish. But not without fundamental and sustained structural change. Incremental approaches are covers for inaction. Specific transformation strategies can be evaluated. But our parasitic elite will never consider good governance which requires them to see Pakistan as larger than themselves. Instead, they prefer being tax cheats, making false promises an art form, stowing away ‘untold billions’ in safe havens abroad, and updating their exit strategies.
Military rule — overt or covert— has no answer to the nation’s challenges. Criminal civilian rule leads to military takeovers, as is happening once again. The concept of civil-military relations is meaningless without civilian supremacy and good governance. In Pakistan CMR is based on the military’s political supremacy which is unconstitutional. Fake “democracy” does not evolve into genuine democracy. It perpetuates the rule of deceit and plunder.
Pakistan can survive, but not without fundamental and sustained structural change.
The military, moreover, cannot become a national institution if it remains a political institution. Pakistan’s interests and Punjab’s interests remain out of joint. That is why the original Pakistan died an early death. If this situation continues, either Punjab will conquer the rest of the country, or the country will break up because of domestic resistance and external intervention. A soft and failing state can never become a democracy. The situation is indeed dire.
During the Long March Mao Zedong wrote “So little time; So much to do!” In 1949 he proclaimed “China has stood up!” Look at China today! Deng Xiaoping believed democracy is what it does, not what it claims. Lee Kuan Yew observed “Democracy is the Rolls Royce of politics provided you can keep it. If you cannot it is the worst investment you can make.” He also noted: “If you give a man a vote without providing him a stake in the nation he will ask for the moon.”
Professor Ernest Gellner observed that Islam is more compatible with modernism and democracy than any of the other great faiths. But unfortunately our faith has been hijacked by wily professionals and extremists who mislead and terrorise honest believers. They have friends in high places.
It has been said ‘one step in the right direction and a journey of a thousand miles is a thousand miles no longer’. We have yet to take that first step although we have travelled far in the wrong direction. The journey today is longer than ever.
We must plan specifically and implement rapidly and resolutely. This requires constant public communication and inclusive feedback to maximise ownership of policies. No one person, party or institution should presume to impose a particular view of the national interest. That has ensured national disunity. Discussions and recommendations are, however, essential.
The national interest: To transform Pakistan from a dysfunctional and failing state into an effective, inclusive and participatory state and society. This is the Transformation Imperative. It requires national priority for human resource and institutional capacity development. It entails the maximisation of the quantity and quality of economic growth based on equitable distribution, the maximum mobilisation of indigenous resources and the full range of rights protections. The security and defence of the country should be optimised within this transformation paradigm. Economic policies must be pro-poor while encouraging responsible and profitable private enterprise.
Democracy: The Constitution does not mandate democracy’s systemic mockery based on the exclusion of the people through irresponsible parliamentary government.
Terrorism: This is a product of a lack of good governance, justice and opportunity. Counterterrorism, without addressing this situation, increases terrorism instead of checking it. Short-term operations outside the context of longer-term nation-building strategies add up to nothing.
Balochistan: The Baloch people have been denied their rights and entitlements. The government — civil and military — remains in denial. A Baloch-Pakhtun divide is being created to facilitate exploitation and dominance. Indian interference is a consequence of this pathological situation. The Baloch narrative is one of alienation and exploitation, not external interference. The murder of non-local residents and workers is a crime facilitated by political exclusion and repression. A truth and reconciliation commission is indispensable to facilitate solutions to the tragedy of all ‘missing and murdered people’ and the creation of social and economic conditions for political stability.
Foreign policy: This largely consists of policies towards India, Afghanistan, China and the US. Rational and coherent policies on these fronts will create conditions for foreign investment and an improved international image. It will maximise Pakistan’s options.
A peaceful neighbourhood and conflict-free relations, even with countries with which unresolved issues inhibit full normalisation, are essential. An improvement of ties with India can significantly facilitate Pakistan’s transformation.
This does not mean unprincipled compromise on Kashmir or any other issue. However, policies towards India and a Kashmir settlement must not obstruct Pakistan’s domestic transformation. Otherwise, it will only disguise class conflict, betrayal of the people, and continuing failure to meaningfully support the political and human rights struggle in Kashmir.
Our Afghan brethren must begin to experience the credibility of our highest level undertakings to them. Otherwise, we will once again outsmart ourselves. Rhetorical assurances and statements may satisfy for a while. They cannot substitute for consistent policy.
Pakistan cannot strategically partner a globally emerging China without transforming itself.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.