Ten years ago, rumor has it that a phone call arrived from an unknown American number at Presidential Palace in Islamabad. The tone and demeanor was particularly intimidating; somebody was threatening the President to destroy something very dear to him – no, not his regime (which he would nevertheless lose), but the very country that gave him this high chair which he relishes every day.
The threat went like, that unless Islamabad cooperates on a list of objectives duly facsimiled, the country will be bombed to stone age. Today, ten years down the line, one looks at the affairs of this country and wonders whether the President ever switched on his fax machine. Could the US have managed to inflict such damages on Pakistan had it not complied? For many strategic experts (which Pakistan has many), It might make for a satisfying argument over evening tea.
We are talking about 33,213 casualties on Pakistani soil from 2003 to early 2011. What has initially been localized, walled off conflicts in several FATA agencies have disseminated countrywide, effectively putting State into the back foot as festering wounds erupt all over the country –Baluchistan, Karachi and Punjab.
For the industries, it needs colossal amount of determination to operate in such security situation. And yet, the State continues to asphyxiate whatever industrial base remains. The country’s energy security remains dire –its principal gas fields are located at the hub of Baloch insurgency. Friends in the international energy trade are increasingly become wary of Pakistan’s commitments, and no new sustainable energy development appears in sight.
For much of 19th century, the Indian subcontinent experienced a gradual deindustrialization in the face of Industrial revolution in Europe. For Pakistan, the phenomenon strikes back –this time due to local follies rather than foreign conceit.
The State itself remains remarkably insinuated to the gravity of the situation. Locked in horns with its political foes, pitching legal battles over corruption cases and appeasing the military the terrorists alike, its sole purpose of existence seems to remain in office for as long as it can. The President regularly settles lowly disputes between party politicians and allies. He also takes precious time-outs to carry out international diplomacy of first order, flying from one capital to the next, exporting his version of politics of appeasement and mutual benefits.
The indicators back home couldn’t be grimmer, if the President cares to inquire. Pakistan is slipping back on many of its health initiatives –it has fast become the world capital of hepatitis; Polio is resurfacing again, and population programs are suffering governmental negligence. Social unrest in large cities is palpable; in Karachi, it has already crossed the threshold and morphed into a low-intensity civil conflict. Will Pakistan hold on, or slip further down the steep cliffs that challenge the nation’s spirits?
The challenges to Pakistan’s foreign policy are no less acute. Pakistan is losing in its bid for control in Afghanistan. What has been a realistic aim for regional parity with India has morphed into a subtle realization that Pakistan will have to shrink its strategic interests. Great Power games which Pakistani high command once excelled in (the fond memories regional treaties, facilitating Sino-US relations, conducting American war on the Soviets) have now left Pakistan desperate for a new role. But sadly, all countries are busy at the moment –resolving domestic issues, advocating its trade and improving the well being of its people. May be Pakistan should do the same.
Pakistan today needs a realization as to what should be its real engagements. It needs a sobering reality check that ignoring the rights and wellbeing of its millions of populace will neither bring it international prestige nor riches. The path to national glory lies through painstaking investments in the lives and futures of the nation’s very population. The odor of contempt for the distressed people of Pakistan which hangs needs to be dispelled from our corridors of power.
Pakistani State has tried formidable international alliances, Great Power Proxy games, and ‘strategic’ relationships with world’s major capitals. Now is the time for it to step out in the open, embrace its own countrymen and take a genuine interest in the lives of those that make up this nation. The people in turn will not disappoint this country, because for them it’s their home –their most primary and personal strategic interest. For this nation and the State, the only way forward that remains is to recollect the national spirit and tread through the rubbles of its modern stone age. It might well be the ultimate test of our national resilience.
Hasan Iftikhar is a student at Dow Medical University of Health Sciences who likes reading, writing and commenting on socio-political issues of Pakistan.