The long view-By Ahmad Faruqui

THERE is an abundance of dire predictions about the future of Pakistan and a dearth of rosy ones. The latest dystopia comes from the US Joint Forces Command.

Its Joint Operating Environment report was issued just as the Mumbai attacks were unfolding, which means that the negative effects on Pakistan’s security of that event did not get factored in. Even then, in its worst-case scenario, there was “a rapid and sudden collapse” of Pakistan.

That Pakistan may succumb to a “violent and bloody civil and sectarian war” was made more dangerous by concerns over the country’s nuclear arsenal. Picking up on the latter theme, David Sanger notes in the New York Times that the many threats to that arsenal constitute president-elect Barack Obama’s worst nightmare.

Another dire prediction is from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), a branch of the CIA which conducts such assessments every four years. In Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, we encounter the following scenario: “The future of Pakistan is a wild card … the North West Frontier Province and tribal areas will continue to be poorly governed and the source or supporter of cross-border instability. If Pakistan is unable to hold together until 2025, a broader coalescence of Pashtun tribes is likely to emerge and act together to erase the Durand Line, maximising Pashtun space at the expense of Punjabis.”

Eight years ago, just as Pervez Musharraf was arriving on the scene, the NIC had sketched a bleak future. It predicted that by the year 2015: “Pakistan will not recover easily from decades of political and economic mismanagement, divisive policies, lawlessness, corruption and ethnic friction. Nascent democratic reforms will produce little change in the face of opposition from an entrenched political elite and radical Islamic parties. Further domestic decline would benefit Islamic political activists, who may significantly increase their role in national politics and alter the makeup and cohesion of the military — once Pakistan’s most capable institution. In a climate of continuing domestic turmoil, the central government’s control probably will be reduced to the Punjabi heartland and the economic hub of Karachi.”

Towards the end of the Musharraf era, rosy scenarios were being mass-produced by his prime minister. Just as political chaos was about to reach a crescendo, 2007 was declared as the Visit Pakistan Year. The bloom on Musharraf’s rose faded as abruptly as it did on Ayub’s Great Decade.

Pakistan’s current situation — not just the dystopian futures painted in the two American reports — is a far cry from the vision of Pakistan ’s founding fathers, Iqbal and Jinnah. They had envisaged a nation that would unite the Muslims, not divide them.

Jinnah laid out a clear prescription for getting there: “If we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses of the poor. If you will work in cooperation, forgetting the past, you are bound to succeed.”

Alas, the advice to focus on the future was not taken as the nation soon plunged into reliving the battles of the past. The storm over Mumbai will eventually pass but what about the gathering storm in Swat and the full force gale that is blowing through Fata? The tussle between the ISI, the army and the civilian government continues. A new tussle appears to have emerged between the civilian president and prime minister, both of the PPP. There are few signs that the judges will be restored or that the nefarious constitutional amendments dating back to the Zia era will be annulled.

Pakistan, one would think, is destined to limp along from crisis to crisis. That was in fact how Herbert Feldman captioned his history, which surveyed developments in the 1962-69 timeframe. A man who made his mark during that period, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, took power saying he was a man of crises. Unfortunately, the crises got the better of him. The decade of the seventies was the worst in the nation’s history.

Thirty years later, the situation has gone from bad to worse. So it is not surprising to see that some experts do not expect Pakistan to survive by the time 2025 rolls around, at least not in a form that even remotely resembles the nation that exists today.

Those who believe in conspiracy theories will dismiss these scenarios because they originate in the US. However, it is time for Pakistan’s leaders to ponder three fundamental questions. Is a meltdown avoidable? Is it possible to envision a rosy future? What will it take to get there?

To avoid a meltdown, first and foremost, a change in political culture needs to occur. Extremism has to be taken out and replaced with tolerance. The government cannot do this by fiat. The clergy, the academics, the literati and the media — they have to bring this about, from the grassroots up.

Secondly, law and order has to be restored on the streets. It is not possible to envision a rosy future if kidnappings, robberies, murders and beheadings dominate the headlines.

Under such conditions, who will invest in Pakistan? Not even the Pakistanis. Without investment, there will be no growth. Without growth, there will be no reduction in poverty. With poverty comes extremism. To get out of the rut, the nation’s priorities have to shift radically. The number one focus has got to be on human, social and political development and not on religion or the military. This does not mean that people have to become irreligious. They just have to expunge religion from politics. Tolerance of differences should be the motto, since strength comes from diversity.

Nor does it mean that there should be no military. It simply means the military should play no political role. Pakistan is a textbook case where the sole focus on the military has ruined not only the territorial dimension of national security, as it did in 1971 and as it now threatens to do in Fata, but also sown the seeds of discord among the people and the provinces.

Given its talented workforce, Pakistan could one day become a haven for foreign investment. Given its natural beauty, it could even become a tourist destination. But barring a change in its strategic culture, such a rosy scenario cannot be envisioned.

The author has co-edited Pakistan: Unresolved issues of State and Society, Vanguard Books.

Source: Daily Dawn, 19th January, 2009

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