Connecting the dots | Talat Masood

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The last seventy years of our young nation were tumultuous and traumatic with only few occasions to celebrate. Pangs of partition resulted in mass death and destruction of over a million people. Millions were displaced and had to find new abodes. Just a few years into Pakistan’s birth, the Kashmir conflict surfaced and till date we are locked in an ideological and territorial conflict with India. The 1948, 1965 and the Kargil wars were triggered with Kashmir as its root cause. After the 1971 war, the nuclearisation of both countries has prevented them from going to war, but below the threshold serious tensions exist. And India has stepped up its activities to destabilise Pakistan, of which Kulbhushan Jadhav is the current ugly face.

This is consuming enormous national energy that could have been diverted towards more peaceful endeavours in nation-building, had India been more forthcoming on the resolution of problems. India and Pakistan seem to be fighting the Kashmir case on different grounds. Pakistan has relied heavily on the basis of UN resolutions and the right of self-determination. Whereas India has taken cover of the fraudulent accession by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, which was more akin to land grabbing. In the Kashmir tragedy the greatest losers are its people. With India’s dogged intransigence, no solution seems to be in sight which may trigger a larger conflict. If there is any situation where international conscience is dead, it is Kashmir and Palestine.

Implications of adversarial relations with India have had wider implications. Afghanistan is a constant reminder of how the two nations, eyeing for greater influence in a chaotic country, are creating additional problems for it without any gains for themselves. In fact, for us the opposite is true; a lawless backyard Afghan government is treating us more as a foe than a friend. Adding to this complexity is the reality that the US, instead of looking at us as a nation of 200 million people, strategically located and nuclear armed with a dynamic population, has been viewing us through the prism of Afghanistan and India. This gross distortion and Pakistan’s underestimation have led to a Pentagon-GHQ relationship rather than an Islamabad-Washington one, reinforcing the internal civil-military imbalance.

We are, however, fortunate that regional and global dynamics have brought Pakistan and China very close. The relationship has grown from strength to strength and contributed significantly in offsetting New Delhi’s designs to isolate us. In addition, it has been a great source of strengthening Pakistan’s economy and strategic profile. India’s heavy tilt towards the US and its strategic rivalry with China has been a major factor in bringing the two countries closer, which to a great extent has countered Pakistan’s external pressures.

But it is easy to pass the blame or rationalise the prevailing national weaknesses by attributing to the interplay of global powers. Perhaps, to some extent, it could be justified but there is more to what is landing us repeatedly into trouble.

Our democratic institutions are weak, and being a developing country it is not an unusual phenomenon, especially when it had faced great challenges from its inception. But our leaders, whether they are in parliament, judiciary or bureaucracy, have hardly made any sincere attempts at strengthening them. On the contrary, inherent insecurity among the political leaders is so overriding that the state and the political parties are treated as parts of their fiefdom. As long as party leaders are selected on the basis of their hereditary lineage and political parties continue to trample elementary principles of democracy, the country would never be in a position to tackle the multiple internal and external challenges it faces. What is the way out to break the decades-old grip of these dynasties? Political pundits are of the view that if the democratic process is not interrupted, it will be self-correcting in shifting the power dynamic to better quality of political representatives. The risk, however, is that the wait may be too long.

In Pakistan, the big change is that the army has stayed away from seizing power but remains a central actor in the affairs of the state. This is as much a consequence of the failings of civilian leadership as that of the military’s desire to dominate national decision-making. Pakistan’s history and how national events unfolded also have a strong bearing on the current power of the armed forces. We have to be mindful that many among the people and even some political actors favour the army’s influence to serve their ends. This narrow view is highly self-serving and against national interest.

Nonetheless, at this stage what is important is to find solutions to strengthen democracy. It will take several years before Pakistan would become a genuine democratic state, as defined in our Constitution and by international norms.

Above all, Pakistan’s future hinges on how our leaders pursue right priorities for the nation. The present government has accorded higher precedence to infrastructural development. But the real strength of the nation lies in an educated populace and a scientific and technological citizenry, in which Pakistan is lagging behind even by South Asian standards. Will the next elections throw up a more enlightened leadership that gives due weightage to this critical element of national power?

Moreover, no real and sustained progress is possible without removing contradictions between our foreign and domestic policies. If relations with major powers, including India and the US, get better it will contribute towards improving the economy and the security situation. And as these get better, it is most likely that relations with the outside world will improve. It is important for our leaders to understand this interrelated dynamics. And an essential prerequisite for this to materialise is that the civilian leadership should take effective control in defining and executing foreign and security policies.