the eternally optimist would disagree that we as a nation are sinking rapidly in a self-induced bottomless quagmire of problems. The pessimism grows further as the less than inspiring breed of politicians, government ministers, parliamentarians and the countless members of the establishment display a strange casualness, indifference and even contempt towards the performance of their duties, while the country is on fire. Decisiveness, innovation and sense of urgency are nowhere to be seen.
The mundane budget speeches revealed the usual unrealistically manipulated figures and unachievable targets. Unpopular but necessary measures that were urgently needed to accelerate the economic growth, build investor confidence and motivate the people to work harder in these difficult times were swept under the carpet.
Our parliamentarians missed a golden opportunity to invoke their grip on the armed forces, as they presented themselves for accountability in an unprecedented gesture. The in-camera session that should have been a sober, bold and meaningful inquest to fix responsibilities and to unambiguously define the modalities of future mutual relationship was downgraded into an emotional exchange of personal grievances. An eyewash resolution was passed that no one ever believed had any chance of implementation. The business of drone attacks, target killings, the politics of statements and petty mutual recriminations among political rivals go on as usual.
Five grotesque incidents rocked the nation, just during the last two months viz the Abbottabad and Mehran Air Base vigilance and security lapses, the brutal killings of an unarmed young man in Karachi and five Russians in Khoratabad by undertrained trigger-happy Rangers and the mysterious abduction, torture and murder of a journalist in Islamabad. The government played politics by employing technical tactics to delay the constituting of acceptable inquiry commissions, as demanded by the opposition parties and supported by the media. The government eventually succumbed to the pressures of the avoidable sit-ins and agitation, as has been its hallmark and appointed the consensus judges to head the two commissions. Meanwhile, the demands for inducting the armed forces within the sphere of civilian accountability are on the rise. The media has treated the Saleem Shahzad case as the last straw in the increasing frequency of the persecution of investigative journalists, alleging the involvement of the intelligence agencies and is determined to discover the truth.
The scale of the despondency of the people has never been so high, nor the image of the armed force so tarnished since 1971, when 90,000 prisoners of war and half of our country (East Pakistan) were surrendered to the Indian army. Once again, Pakistan has been under attack externally by the American drones and Afghan militants, and internally by homegrown militants and insurgents. The deep-rooted social unrest, expanding gulf between the rich and the poor, injustice and mutual mistrust are once again leading to a troubled environment. The government is too weak to protect and promote the institutions. The armed forces that were the pride of the nation prior to May 2 are being subjected to a systematic defamation campaign. The immediate challenge for the government is to restore that pride.
Our country and our people neither deserve, nor can afford to be in the dumps like this. Especially, when we have all the basic ingredients for good democratic governance in place. Our country is blessed with abundant natural and human resources. The people have freedom of speech, the judiciary and media are independent and vibrant.
All major political parties have a share in the government and the armed forces are on the same page as the civilians. We have firebrand religious leaders with oratorical skills that can penetrate the hearts and minds. We have God-fearing and kind-hearted reformers and philanthropists among us that devote time and money to help the less privileged with no desire for acclaim, recognition or return on investment. Most of all, we have industrious workers waiting to be mobilised. All we need are visionary political leaders that can convert this pool of individual excellence into a collective force.
Unfortunately, our society has evolved with a temptation for good living, admire and obey the rich and powerful, and to neglect the downtrodden and the poor that has been a major cause for financial corruption. Our economic policies follow the dictates of the international financial institutions that envisage our role as raw material suppliers and not towards industrial self-sufficiency, which creates jobs resulting in a few prospering disproportionately. The state has been unable to contain expenditures and to devise a progressive tax structure that will redistribute wealth and promote equality. Inequality has been the single major cause of the decay in our society, which has given rise to deprivation resulting in extremism.
A bulk of our budget is dedicated to defence in an interminable arms race and to service the ever mounting loan repayment and its interest costs, which now exceed the defence budget. The obsession of the armed forces with the possible Indian aggression and the need of a strategic depth in Afghanistan to regroup if overrun by India still form the basis of our foreign policy. We have long lost our leadership of the Islamic world and the status of an emerging economy. The friendly countries that had traditional warm relations with us are now giving us a cold shoulder. We stand isolated in the world community, as we nurtured militants that have now turned their guns against us and have occupied our land.
Our leadership is not receptive to the demands of donors and our own people to end corruption, discipline our crippled economy, strengthen the state institutions and eliminate extremism and religious fundamentalism. Foreign assistance and trade facilities have been held in abeyance or curtailed as a result, until we put our house in order. The leadership lacks the charisma required to instil enough enthusiasm in our enterprising people to become self-sufficient by promoting indigenous capabilities that would be a productive alternative to the Western blackmail and continues to exist in a non-functional state of denial of 'alls well.
We need to transform our society, our mindset and our priorities in the light of the changing world order where wars are waged on the economic front and not for territorial gains and relations are built on mutual needs. We need to neutralise our declared enemies by talking and befriending them. We are sandwiched between hostile India on the East and Afghanistan on the West and friendly Iran and China, all of which offer us a tremendous potential of trade, tourism and exchange of services. We need to open and expand these trade routes and further regional trade to Turkey and the Central Asian States that have short delivery routes and appetite for each others products. The loss of these markets is hurting our economic development that alone can rid us from dependency on the developed world and bring peace within.
n The writer is an Engineer and an Entrepreneur.