But Where is the Beef?
By Dr. Haider Mehdi
Let us all applaud Islamabad for its overwhelming eagerness to strike absolute and lasting peace with New Delhi. The Pakistani incumbent Prime Minister, in his first televised address to the nation, has claimed that he “sees his election victory as a mandate for peace with India.” Indeed, we can all understand and appreciate the Prime Minister’s desire to revive a late-90s “bus diplomacy” doctrine under his stewardship and get onto the business of a good neighbor policy with India. Nothing wrong with it.
But the vital question is: Why accord such paramount priority to Indo-Pak relations when this nation is amidst mounting economic, social and political crises domestically? Considering the Pakistani PM’s keenness, the other question that comes to mind is: Is Pakistan at war with India? Obviously, it is not. Border skirmishes and time-to-time LOC violations are regular features that the two nations have not come to terms with in defining a strategic concept of permanent peaceful coexistence over the last 6 decades. Then why such urgency on this issue at this time? The question begs a reasonable and rational response. Or does it not?
Let me attempt to clarify some of the basic procedural concepts in the national policy-making and decision making process. Three factors are imperative: 1) Analysis and absolute clarity in assessing historical realities and present-day ground factualities, 2) An in-depth evaluation of existing policies and alternative policy options available at the time of occurrence of a specified event, and 3) Is it a crisis situation – does it require crisis management?
Let us call a spade a spade: Public animosity between the two nations will continue indefinitely. Such has been the historical experiences of people of the two nations since the time of their independence. Some political elements in India will continue to lament the loss of “Mother India” and demand “Akund Baharat” indefinitely. On the Pakistani side, some will remain endlessly suspect of Indian designs to destroy Pakistan as a nation, and the psychological barriers of Hindu mistrust is not likely to vanish anytime soon. But the fact of the matter is that these public attitudes, on both sides of the divide, do not pose serious political or military existential threats to either nation.
The existing military status quo between India and Pakistan, in terms of military preparedness in both countries, is a persistent assurance of a permanent deterrence of military conflict between the two nations. A war, be it limited or all-out, is an impossibility between India and Pakistan now. It is beyond the realm of possibility that the political or military leaderships in both countries could ever, given the reality that both nations are nuclear powers, opt for a military political strategy of mutual destruction. Hence, the present border skirmishes present no crisis situation and the alarming threat rhetoric emanating from India is simply psychological warfare against Pakistan to continue to subjugate this nation to India’s planned domination of its neighbor and of entire Southeast Asia. Pakistan, as a country and as a nation, is here to stay – no matter what some Indian political “pundits” and military “warriors” daydream.
However, the fact of the matter is that threats to Pakistan’s political existence as a viable, independent, sovereign and self-reliant nation continue to emerge from within.
The tragic cycle of Pakistan’s political mismanagement continues unabated. Let us examine this country’s and its unfortunate people’s recent history, both during a military rule followed by a so-called democratic dispensation.
Here are some facts: Gen. Musharraf gave violent military solutions to this nation’s political problematics that deserved composed political discourse and conciliatory political approaches to nation-building. The General pursued his personal vested interests and conducted his politics to accommodate a foreign power’s global objectives above Pakistan’s national interests. Consequently, the General’s era gave this nation terrorism, extremism, drone attacks, death and destruction, and a divided nation torn from within itself.
Zardari’s so-called democratic regime gave Pakistan a “Farsooda” and financially unprecedented corrupt administration unparalleled in the history of this nation. Consequently, the 2008-2013 democracy further tore this nation from within. Poverty multiplied, terrorism became the modus operandi of our existence, the socio-economic gap widened to an extent where social justice completely disappeared in the society, mafia ruled everywhere, law and order became non-existent, common citizens were killed on a daily basis, foreign agents roamed all over the country, and this nation since then has been on the verge of an economic and social meltdown. Thank you, 2008-2013 democracy – the democracy that has been hailed by the Pakistani ruling class as “Democracy Saved” – whatever that means.
And now it appears that Islamabad, the post-May 11, 2013 democracy in Pakistan, is hell-bent on giving pure commercial and trade solutions to the nation’s societal and developmental problematics.
Amazingly and ironically, grandiose developmental plans and projects are falling out of the sky in a grandiose style. There is a project for a bullet train that travels 120+ km/hour. Then there is the Khunjerab to Karachi motorway. Gwadar is being identified as the new free port irrespective of its political consequences on this country’s future. Plans are in the works to buy electricity from India without a proper assessment of the political fallouts of such an agreement. Privatization programs are being discussed for major national commercial institutions. Peace with India is a top priority and Pakistan’s “stated position” on Kashmir, which is based on the Security Council resolution, is being debated and projected in a suspect manner. It appears that Islamabad’s nascent democracy is way out of its depth at this moment.
The fact of the matter is that on a national priority scale, the bullet train can wait. So can the plans for new motorways. Gawadar can wait to become a free port and India can wait to sell electricity, gain the most favorite nation status and embrace a one-sided peace plan with Pakistan, and so on and so forth. In fact, there is no urgency for most of the massive grandiose commercial plans and projects envisioned by the Islamabad democracy.
What cannot wait any longer and needs to be addressed on an urgent basis is the growing deprivations of the Pakistani citizens, the rising levels of poverty, the ever-widening socio-economic gaps in society, the threats to public safety, the lack of essential educational and health services, and the prevailing general perception among common citizens that political leadership in this country is apathetic to its people’s plight – that in itself is the fundamental cause of tearing the nation from within.
No wonder then, one is tempted to ask: “Where is the Beef in Islamabad’s conception of democracy?!