Time for introspection

Independence Day for Pakistanis is a time for introspection and hope for a better future. The promise of earlier years has not been realised, the country falling far short of its full potential. The responsibility is collective. The rulers, be they elected or military, have disappointed. The social contract between the government and its citizens as to what each side owes the other has eroded. The economy, energy supply, rule of law, law and order, education, social services, and infrastructure or governance across the board continues to deteriorate. The civil services, the iron frame with which the British ruled the subcontinent for centuries with a few efficient officials, are a shadow of their former self. Seniors with some exceptions are preoccupied with their own advancement, rather than grooming, motivating and mapping the careers of their subordinates. The military with its greater resources and cohesion is only marginally better.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the prevailing ethic, especially given rampant inflation and job insecurity is materialistic, to make what one can. What one can do for the country, for society or for one’s institution is not even a secondary concern. Only when the state and those who govern deliver their side of the bargain can there be a reciprocal response. The one silver lining in this clouded scenario is the resilience and dynamism of the vast majority of Pakistan’s hardworking people. But for them, the situation would be far worse.
Given the inability of the last democratic government, the PPP, to meet the many challenges Pakistan faces, the main reason for its being voted out, the responsibility for rectifying this situation now rests squarely with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. There is widespread expectation for the PML-N government to do better and finally set Pakistan on the path to progress.
Only 70 days have passed since its inception, but from its new policy directions, administrative changes, and tackling of emergent issues some measure can be taken of this government’s likely progress. The two main questions are: have the major problem areas been correctly identified and prioritised; and how seriously is it going about its work.
The energy shortfall stands out. Electricity shortages have impacted the economy overall and their effect at the individual level was, perhaps, the crucial factor in the PPP’s rout. The approach here appears promising: an energy policy is on the table and whilst commencing with measures to ameliorate the situation, the government has transparently conveyed that it should take around three years to rebalance supply and demand.
The next priorities are restoring law and order and combating terrorism. Both are connected though not identical. The law and order situation, rising insecurity affecting everyone, continues to deteriorate. The police force is our largest law enforcement agency, but critically affected by politicised recruitment, inadequate training, and lack of government direction or support. This has compounded the surge of terrorism and enhanced the ability of terrorists to blend in undetected and strike at will.
Negotiating with the terrorists as proposed both by the government and the ruling PTI in KPK can be attempted if the other side agrees, and halts all hostilities during any talks that ensue. At the same time, the government must finally implement an effective policy of containment and prevention against continuing terrorist incidents countrywide. This requires far better coordination between the police, the security agencies, the civil armed forces and the military. The jailbreak in D.I. Khan is a case in point. Then, countering the ideological challenge of extremism and bringing development into Fata bordering Afghanistan are imperative, as is border control. In Balochistan, economic development and fostering a sense of belonging and participation to carry along the nationalist and dissident elements is the key for improving a situation, which has festered and worsened for decades. Further south, order, as promised, must be brought to Karachi.
Given a traditionally difficult relationship with India on one side and on the other Afghanistan, which is likely to become even more unstable once the US and allies withdraw, putting Pakistan’s own house in order is crucial and should also give better leverage in foreign relations.
Creating a positive external environment requires clarity of policy, skilful handling and, of course, some positive response. The PM has made the improvement of relations with Pakistan’s neighbours a foreign policy priority and appointed an experienced technocratic team. With India, the signs were initially promising before the latest incidents along the LoC in Kashmir. China with its continuing strategic interest in a stable and prosperous Pakistan has assured increased economic interaction and investment. The Gwadar-Kashghar corridor would open up new hinterland areas in Pakistan and China, and also enhance connectivity in the region.
The US is turning away from economic assistance, as the Kerry-Lugar package concludes in 2014. For reasons other than China, it too wants a stable Pakistan on the borders of its main strategic or regional partner India, and of Afghanistan where it has invested so much in men and money. India remains the biggest question mark. Possibly more than any other Pakistani leader, PM Nawaz, given his earlier track record with the Indian leadership, has the best chance of persuading India to move towards a mutually beneficial accommodation with Pakistan, rather than striving to extract the maximum from Pakistan, usually the first inclination of India’s establishment.
The Pakistani military, suspicious with good reason of potential adversaries and given the prognosis of reduced American aid, realises that its ability to safeguard the country depends ultimately - as it should - on resources from Pakistan’s own economy, which must expand to enable this. It is, hence, likely to support a foreign policy aimed at reducing tension without compromising Pakistan’s core interests.
While the internal challenges are daunting, and its term has recently begun, the government and its key ministers appear to be starting their tasks seriously. On the external front, while the environment is extremely complex and difficult to overly influence, the direction being set seems sound. The government, while fostering national consensus, must committedly and consistently work on both fronts to actualise the aspirations of the people of Pakistan for a safe, secure, and prosperous tomorrow.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat.

The writer is a former Pakistani diplomat. Email: ambassador.tariqosmanhyder@gmail.com

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