Pakistan faces three major threats at the present time: the threat posed by the growing power of the extremists resorting to terror tactics; state terrorism from the US across the international border with Afghanistan and in cahoots with India, with a long term agenda to undermine the state and its nuclear assets; and, the unchecked spiralling of prices and a growing anarchy. Faced with these major crises, any state would require a strong government with a clear vision and clearly enunciated long term policies. At the very least the government of the day would show some concern and responsiveness in confronting these issues but Pakistan has always been an exception to all norms of rational expectations.
Where else, at a time of economic crisis, would one find the leadership busy travelling the globe and worse still, often chartering planes rather than going on regular flights. But then today we have a unique situation in the country where there is a government but power is exercised from outside. The ridiculousness of the situation was exemplified by the whole black comedy of the prime minister's address to the nation, which had to be rescheduled to await Mr Zardari's arrival and then offered late night comic relief to a stressed out nation – there is little else to say about this prime ministerial venture. But the nation does not seek comedy from its leaders. Instead it seeks responsible and responsive government – at least in a democratic set-up.
That is not happening. The state continues drifting and it now seems that this is by design. So if there are complaints that there is not enough criticism of the extremists resorting to terrorism, the complainants should ask why these violent groups are gaining space in the first place. The answer is not very complicated. The lack of the writ of the state has created a vacuum which is now being filled by these groups. The local people, without the protection of the state, cannot resist the power of the terrorist gun. Certainly the majority of Pakistanis can declare "Hum wo naheen" ('We are not them' – i.e. terrorists), but if the state cannot protect us, we cannot resist "them". Additionally, the failure of successful 'liberal' and 'moderate' governments to deliver to their people has also increased the space for more intolerant and regressive groups. When the government is unable to offer basic protection and food to its people, even as the leaders continue their extravagant shenanigans, the nation becomes easy prey for its detractors in all forms.
Also, where the state seeks to assert itself, it is seen as doing so at the behest of the US. The reality today is that if the nation is to own the policies of the state, the latter will have to delink itself from the US at all levels – especially in combating terrorism. Without creating this space between itself and the US, none of its policies will gain credibility and ownership from the people of Pakistan.
Which brings one to the second threat facing us today – that from the US itself, with India being drawn in. As long as the US continues to attack targets within Pakistan, new supporters for the militants will be created. Also, the manner in which US politicians, including , talk of Pakistan reflects a mindset that is at the very least hostile to this country. In any case our long-term strategic interests in the region simply do not coincide with those of the US; be it in terms of Iran, China, India or nuclear weapons. Yet we continue to pay homage to America, and our new leadership, at the party or the state levels, wastes scarce resources trying to woo what is in reality becoming a hostile if not an enemy state. But then, as stated earlier, our rulers have always defied the rational. Or can one assume that there is a rational design in our drift to eventually allow external actors like the US to fulfil their negative Pakistan agendas?
As for India, nothing has displayed our sense of the absurd more than our new approach to India – which cannot yet be called a policy, given that it lacks an overarching cohesiveness but then perhaps that is the hallmark of all our so-called policies. While India continues to accuse us of the Kabul bomb blast outside its embassy and continues to contravene the Indus Water Treaty by not only filling the reservoir of the Baglihar hydropower project in Occupied Kashmir but also expanding it, our leaders formulate an India-specific trade policy and seek greater Pakistan-India interaction on all fronts! Perhaps the absurdity of our leaders is best reflected in the ridiculous statement by our minister of many hats, , who declared that Pakistanis should get over their India phobia! He seems to be as clueless on this count as he is on defence matters – judging by his utterances in that field highlighted in earlier columns – because if any body is phobic about their neighbours it is India and one has only to see their hysterics against Pakistan over the Kabul blast as well as earlier acts of terrorism within India. So perhaps the minister should be telling the Indians to get over their Pakistan phobia.
As for our absurdities on the nuclear issue, I have already discussed the Dr Khan issue in earlier columns. However, our state continues to hold on to a bizarre notion that if they give explanations ad nauseum about our nuclear laws and safeguards, the US and its allies will stop targeting our nuclear assets. Does any other nuclear country lay its nuclear soul bare to the world as we have been doing? Is any other nuclear state "reaching out" with explanations by all and sundry about our safeguard systems? Little is achieved by such efforts – it would be far better to continue to comply with our international treaty obligations, be active in seeking criteria-based international norms and protect our interest in arms control and disarmament forums rather than giving explanations that are not required. If the state feels that we need to inform the world about our systems, publish the laws and other information in a cohesive book and be done with it so that unlimited resources do not continue to be wasted.
At the end of the day we all know that our nuclear status will sit uncomfortably with the US and its allies simply because we are a Muslim state – so they will eventually have to learn to live with this reality and we have to ensure they cannot alter this reality. The Islamabad High Court has silenced Dr Khan on the nuclear issue – but the state also needs to maintain a dignified silence on this count.
Finally, coming to perhaps the most serious internal threat in the immediate time frame – that of spiralling prices of basics and artificially created crises of essentials like wheat. The government has traumatised the people by a massive raise in POL prices – the pretext being that international prices have spiralled. However, the new price rise includes a hefty margin of profit for the government (through GST) and oil marketing companies combined – Rs21.55 per litre of petrol by one estimation. As another news item clarifies, the international market rate of petrol comes to around Rs53 per litre – far higher than what the federal government is asking its citizens to pay. Add to this the multiplier effect on other goods – from food to public transport – and one really has to wonder when the people will become desperate and come on to the streets. After all, economic hardships are being accompanied by rising crime across the land.
The government is obsessed by removal of subsidies to please international agencies dominated by the US like the IMF, but as usual our leaders are going beyond removal of the same and seeking state profits at the expense of the nation. But then as long as we follow US diktat, their Congress will pass aid and assistance bills. Is this what our state drift is finally all about or are the rulers living in a different world from that of the ruled?