Friday, 28 October 2011

Reimagining our destiny

Back in 2008 we made it to the cover of The Economist, which warned that “for sometime Pakistan has been the main contender for the title of most dangerous country in the world.” India was the magazine’s cover story this week, and it has been argued that, “with the Western way of doing things under siege, India’s rise offers a dollop of reassurance to anyone who believes in the combination of democracy and is a superpower-in-waiting whose people vote, whose society is raucous, and whose firms are red-blooded and striding onto the world stage.” While one is happy that India has managed to latch on to the path of progress despite its innumerable problems, as a Pakistani it has been hard not to feel a tinge of sadness or envy amid the growing gulf between the fortunes of the citizens of these two neighbouring countries despite the conspicuous similarities in their ingenuity and industry.

Despite India’s poor human rights record, stories of simmering discontent within minority communities and ethnicities and narratives highlighting Hindu prejudice (that get prominently reported in the Pakistani press), vastitude of poverty and tales of corruption, India has managed to take off from the third world and emerge on the global stage as a force that ought to be reckoned with. The continuity of India’s political process, its insistence on retaining a secular state edifice, its investment in education and science, the emergence of a vibrant middle class and a successful business elite, and the influence of an increasingly proud Indian diaspora, have all helped India project itself as a “superpower-in-waiting” and an engine of growth for the global economy, that our formal allies – the US and Afghanistan – have proudly forged strategic alliances with India. 

On the contrary, Pakistan as a nation state remains an entity that both friends and foes worry about. Most states in our neighbourhood, including friends like China and Iran, view Pakistan as a possible exporter (even if unwitting) of religious extremism and violence. Political scientists around the world are positing theories that project failing states as the paramount international security threat confronting global order. Pakistan stands in the company of states such as Sudan and Afghanistan that are held up as examples to argue that the concept of absolute sovereignty of nation states within the Westphalian model needs a rethink. And that new exceptions to the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of nation states should be created by the international community to confront the threat posed by militant non-state actors proliferating within weak states.

Setting aside its role, standing and perception within the comity of nations, the Pakistani state is floundering in fundamental ways to uphold its end of the contract with its own citizens. It has now been judicially determined that the state has failed to protect the life, property and dignity of citizens in Karachi. The health of these foundational rights is even more harrowing in Balochistan. Whether you consider the armed wings of political parties in Karachi, the role of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies in Balochistan, the militants-dominated tribal agencies, or our indigenous jihadi groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Punjab, the state is failing to protect the security of citizens from itself and the non-state actors that it continues to nurture and tolerate.

There seems to emerge a consensus after every thoughtful discussion that if Pakistan is to emerge as a civilised country that is habitable and seen as a responsible partner by the international community, we need to move away from the devastating path that Ziaul Haq led us on. But even after over two decades of his demise, we continue to embrace his political, social and national-security agenda. The thing about harmful social practices is that if continued over a period of time they begin to influence social consciousness, and once accepted by collective consciousness (even if hesitatingly) as part of reality, they get assimilated within the culture of the community. The Lal Masjid episode, the barbarism in Swat, the killings in Karachi and Balochistan, and the murder of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti are all frightening episodes.

But even more frightful is the spectre that we might have internalised violence, intolerance, lack of integrity and depleting ethics and our collective consciousness informed by our evolving national culture is no longer outraged by any of this. A guard responsible for protecting Governor Salmaan Taseer killed him in cold blood and the former chief justice of Lahore High Court has risen up to defend this murderer. One is ashamed as a lawyer and a proponent of the rule-of-law movement to have witnessed the day when a chief justice (one who was projected as a hero of the lawyers’ movement) volunteers to help undermine rule of law. But more perturbing is the fact that the “code of honour” that “incensed” Qadri into assuming the role of God, passing judgment against another human being, and then claiming his life, seems justifiable not just to Khwaja Sharif but a large part of our purportedly “peace-loving” populace.

There is also general consensus across Pakistan that education is the only medicine capable of curing the root causes of our ills. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had declared 2011 as the Year of Education for Pakistan. The education task force put together by him ran a vocal campaign called “March for Change” and placed in public domain some shocking figures exposing our pitiable national priorities and abject refusal to invest in this country’s future. And even after scribbling into our Constitution that free school education is now a fundamental right, between 25 to 30 million kids remain out of school, the allocation of resources to education and our country’s future remains as puny as before, madrasses continue to brainwash impressionable minds (and spew hate) for free, and the threat that an illiterate, unskilled, intolerant and increasingly angry youth poses to itself and the country (wherein the average national age hovers around 21.5) continues to multiply.

And in this backdrop, our khaki guardians remain committed to the national- security mindset concocted by Zia that identified parity with India and an interventionist Afghan policy to achieve strategic depth and prevent India from encircling us as the primary goals of our national security doctrine. Let us assume for a minute that our immediate aims are realised, that the US-led allied forces are forced to withdraw from our neighbourhood without being able to secure continuing military presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban are back in the saddle with majority control in Afghanistan, and the India-Afghanistan strategic pact amounts to naught. Will that end our need to treat hate-spewing violent non-state actors functioning autonomously over vast swaths of Pakistan as strategic assets? Will such favourable outcome in Afghanistan result in liquidation of militancy and violence within Pakistan and make us stronger? 

What vision for Pakistan’s future is defining our national security doctrine? When the lost lives of over 35,000 civilians and soldiers are projected as a sacrifice that Pakistan has made in its struggle against terrorism, the highest officer-to-soldier death ratio in contemporary history is presented as a commitment of our armed forces to fighting militants, and the evolution of the TTP and the spawning militant and jihadi groups within Pakistan is explained as a necessary cost to defend our strategic interests, and yet our legend as a pariah state continues to grow, is it not time to revisit our national-security policy? What is the benefit of successfully implementing a flawed policy – fixated on India and strategic depth and non-state assets – that defines state security in a manner that can only be secured at the expense of its citizens? The need to recalibrate our national priorities and security doctrine and begin treating the citizen and not the state as the prime consumer and beneficiary of security is overdue.

No comments:

Post a Comment