The state of general affairs
Given our internal rifts, political, religious, sectarian, government-military related heartburns, bad governance and with foreign policy in a shambles, Pakistan is becoming increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. While the opposition, the army and the judiciary hound Zardari & Co. and call the US policy in Afghanistan a threat to Pakistan’s security and even integration, the world just walks past us.
Any news emanating from Islamabad on the global grid is expected to be bad news or ‘news of the weird’ at the very least. All this while we have a tireless ability to put out more and more of the same variety and then cry ourselves hoarse about our tumbling image abroad.’
It has come to the point where we take pride in our notoriety, fancying ourselves for all the wrong reasons: the world worries about our nukes; no peace shall return to Afghanistan if we are not part of the US-led endgame next door; if we’re allowed to sink economically, jihadis, whom our interior minister thanked profusely last week for allowing us to have a peaceful Ashura this once, will go out in all four directions to avenge our downfall; and so on and so forth. Today’s Pakistan simply defies logic, internally as well as externally. One longs to hear a voice of sanity from any of the relevant quarters.
At 64, the country has no plan to rescue itself out of make-shift, ad hoc arrangements that serve as fire fighting tactics to put out fires that keep re-igniting, and are of our own making for sure. The problem is that we keep waiting for an elusive messiah, who at best exists only in imagination. The truth is that no such messiah comes to rescue a people steeped up to their ears in ignorance of the outside world; leadership, for better or for worse, is only born of the circumstances and the universe that surrounds it.
Our circumstances have slipped to the point where there can be no consensus on any positives today, whilst we all agree on all the negatives that stare us in the face. What to do that we haven’t done and discarded in the past to rid ourselves of our demons? Get rid of one corrupt elected government and you are stuck with a decade of dictatorship in which corruption only grows until you are back crying for the will of the people to prevail again, even if that means reinstating the same corrupt politicians at the helm with a fresh mandate to rule.
Reinventing the wheel every few years has clearly not worked. The army’s intervention in politics has only led to more fissures in society along ethnic, religious and provincial lines instead of bringing unity and cohesion in our collective conduct. It has created new ruling classes with seething appetite for corruption to fill up their coffers while the sun shines on them. It has weakened the armed forces’ professionalism and the ability to comprehend, let aside deal with the shifting sands of the threat posed to national security from external forces.
Who needs external enemies when we have become self-sufficient in creating armies of enemies from within, most with a divine mission to wage jihad on one another, or running over our borders in utter desperation to raise a spectre of horror in our neighbourhood? As Khaled Ahmed, a senior analyst deftly puts it, and one adds to it, living in the controlled, sterile environs of the cantonments, mentally or physically, has a debilitating effect on one’s thinking process.
The military mind thus has a limited intellectual capacity to cough up solutions outside the war arena; which is not to say that even in a war arena an inept military strategy will not lead to a sure defeat. When similar minds assign themselves the task of delving in civilian affairs and because they have power as a tool of enforcing their limited vision, the lethal combination can play havoc with society as it sets out to redefine civic norms, of which governance of a nation state is an inalienable part.
Faulty as our democratic dispensation is, faulty it will continue to be anywhere in the world unless some genius somewhere comes up with a hitherto non-existent Utopian system of representative governance, the process must go on unhindered. Whilst a military mind is seldom able to learn from the wrongs it commits, politicians, due to self-interest they find in being part of the ruling clique via the process that keeps sending them back to the voters every few years, are more likely to learn from the wrongs they commit.
If the process continues, democratic system overtime can reform itself to the point where it is both responsive to public demands and needs, as well as, accountable before the electorate. The same cannot be expected from a group of generals who define national interest and security prerogatives in complete isolation from public scrutiny. However, in their professional capacity the generals must continue to undertake that exercise and advise the government as and when such advice is sought, and must leave it at that.
Generals and politicians are both human and liable to err whilst making decisions. But because politicians have a greater capacity to learn from their faults and make amends due to the sheer nature of their self-interest and how it is achieved, it is they in Pakistan as elsewhere in an imperfect world, who must be trusted more than the generals for making decisions in national interest.
The democratic process must not be derailed in the hope of finding a divinely guided messiah who only exists in the imagination.
The writer is a member of the staff at Dawn Newspaper.