By Imtiaz Gul
31 Oct 2014
What is Pakistan’s fundamental interest? This question has been making rounds in Islamabad’s diplomatic circles, with even countries considered very close to Pakistan wondering if the leadership realizes the futility of its obsolete rhetoric and the gravity of its imminent consequences.
The inaugural ceremony of Invest Pakistan International Conference (Oct 27) provided the latest triggers – as viewed by a foreign participant. The prime minister walked in flanked by his military ADCs to his right and left, followed by ministers and officials.
“Why do army officers take precedence over civilian ministers, and why should the military ADCs be present at all around an elected prime minister?” asked a foreign diplomat, saying this was not only paradoxical but also reminiscent of military dictatorships where the ruler cannot think without uniformed officers.
Secondly, observed another foreigner, a ten-minute long recitation of the Holy Quran in the presence of dozens of foreigners also appears out of step with the demands of time.
Thirdly, in his talk with the media, Sharif played down the impact of the PTI sit-in by saying it “posed no threat to the government but had inflicted losses on the economy.” The foreign participant wondered as to how the premier could draw consolation from the fact that “his government remains unaffected, though the economy has taken a hit by Imran Khan’s protest.”
Does it mean the loss to economy is inconsequential to the country simply because the government remains intact? “Why can’t Pakistani leaders be candid and clear in their diagnosis of the issues facing the country?” asked the diplomat, saying the diplomatic community has not been able to figure out as to what is Pakistan’s fundamental interest. The Pakistan leadership’s failure in spelling out its core interest is baffling for all those who would want to help the country.
A report by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (released on Oct 26) provides a micro example of the malaise that Pakistan reels from.
Describing Pakistan as “polio’s comfort zone”, the IMB report says the country’s polio programme is “a disaster,” and it’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) “a masterpiece of obscurity.” It says that an emergency response needs responsive and proactive command and control, while Pakistan’s EOC is “bureaucratic and confusing.”
Its damning indictment of the way Pakistan is being run speaks volumes about the inertia of the programme which – despite several warnings in the past – did not happen even by the July 2014 deadline. What officials finally put together – to counter an emergency with global consequences for the country – “was a pale imitation of its vibrant Nigerian counterpart?”
“Effective leadership arrangements have been missing in Pakistan for nearly two years,” the report adds, in the context of speculation that the polio programme has also suffered because two powerful PML-N ladies have been in a fierce battle over who should control the entire funding stream for the anti-polio campaign.
This scathing criticism unambiguously mirrors the leadership’s confusion, archaic thinking, reliance on bureaucratic recipes, and monarchic indifference to public perception.
What is Pakistan’s actual interest Internal security, which continues to draw endless lip service but lacks strategic fundamentals required for improving it, reflected also in the fact that the National Internal Security Policy (NISP), announced in February, has virtually disappeared from the governmental discourse?
Or Kashmir?, a cause that hardly evokes any support or sympathy even by Muslim friendly countries but continues to ominously impact relations with India?
Or is it external relations, which constitute the core of all prime ministerial speeches but are devoid of credible demonstrable substance? Would this interest translate into good relations with India and Afghanistan, or reverence to the monarchic Wahhabi Saudi Arabian model of governance?
Is Pakistan’s fundamental interest equal-opportunity education for all, which both the military and civilians acknowledge as the core of human and material development but stays at the lowest rung of priorities Or is it rhetorical projection as a modern, moderate state created in the name of Islam but, which actually is gradually sinking into greater religiosity in practice, albeit with growing audiences for Bollywood entertainment?
Participants of the hurriedly convened conference also frowned upon the formalities involved in the inaugural ceremony, and said this looked more like something playing in an inward looking theocracy, ideologically given to the Saudi Arabian way of life.
Is Pakistan’s fundamental interest related to external trade, which is touted as the key to development but which reels from bureaucratic inertia and outdated cold-war era geo-political priorities, coupled with a narrative of victimhood deeply coloured by religion with debilitating impact on sectarian harmony?
Do Pakistani leaders see the country’s fundamental interest in working for a modern progressive state anchored in globally practiced principles of all-inclusive secular governance based on respect for, and indiscriminate enforcement of the rule of law?
Pakistan remains a classic example of an extreme strategic policy confusion, poor branding, bureaucratic failure in projecting potentials and a thoughtless free-style quest of objectives that are achievable only if the civilian and military leadership took some strategic decisions on issues that lie at the heart of the country’s festering political economy.
Imtiaz Gul is the head of the independent Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad