By Khaled Ahmed
May 19, 2018
Ex-Finance Minister of Pakistan, Shahid Javed Burki, recently wrote: “I visit Pakistan two to three times a year and am always struck by the negative views held by the people I come across in both Lahore and Islamabad. In listening to some of what is being said, I am reminded of the conversation I had a few years ago with LK Advani… Advani said to me that he was widely misunderstood in Pakistan. He was neither against Pakistan nor against Islam. He was just pro-India. He then asked me a question that I was unable to answer. ‘Why is it that while we Indians love India, Pakistanis don’t seem to like Pakistan?’”
These days the dominant strain in political dialogue is the economic destruction caused by the Nawaz Sharif government in its term ending 2018. No one cares to make an objective assessment of the country’s endemic political instability stemming from the pessimism Advani mentioned. Dharna politics and abusive political discourse is the shape this permanent self-flagellation has taken. Another ex-World Bank economist and Pakistan’s ex-State Bank governor, Ishrat Husain, in his latest book, Governing the Ungovernable, takes account of this slow national suicide during the period 1990-2008: “The reality is that the external environment between 1990 and 2008 was an extremely favourable period in which most emerging and developing countries made great economic strides. But Pakistan fell behind India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam during that period.”
During the above-mentioned decade, Pakistan routinely pulled down its elected governments, confirming the observation that no Pakistani PM has ever completed their tenure in office. Meanwhile, the politicians have gone one better on pessimism. After the immoral Senate upset through bribing of the senators (four Crore rupees per head), Pakistan’s TV astrologers are unwilling to predict victory for Nawaz Sharif in the July general election — even if the stars point to it. It is almost certain in everyone’s estimate that he and his party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), will disappear from the political landscape.
There is a lot of inter-party hatred which tilts the political landscape in favour of pessimism and the establishment; but one shouldn’t forget the intra-party hatred that causes the rats to jump ship when the winds are blowing all wrong from Rawalpindi. Just as the Senate results were fixed, the 2018 election too will be fixed and the Taliban will have to play a part in it. Despite Zarb-e-Azb, they will be a threat to the parties. Like last time, when Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Awami National Party (ANP) had to accept staying at home and thus hand the field over to PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).
The election result will deliver a coalition at the Centre and a likely coalition in Punjab, after which the brawling partners in power will deliver all decision-making to the real powers-that-be. That means Pakistan will start dealing “honourably” with its two enemies, the US and India. But the most hair-raising part of the new regime will be “accountability” and “mainstreaming” (of the terrorists). Prime Minister Imran Khan will cleanse the Augean stables, bringing all economic function to a standstill; and jihad, to which he has been paying money to survive in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, will be mainstreamed.
None of the mutually wrangling parties has the capacity to change the basic parameters of the state’s “external” behaviour in the region to wean it from “internal” malfunction. Parties who make public assertions of change are made to face defeat and even legal restriction. Internally disturbed Pakistan will have a hard time normalising with its neighbours, India, Afghanistan and Iran. Because territories like Balochistan lack such symbols of administration as the police, Pakistan will have a tough time convincing Iran that it is doing its best to prevent the systematic killing of the Shia in Quetta.
Maybe it is not an accident that the rise of religion in secular India has touched off a new pessimism in an economically high-performing India. New Delhi should look at 70 years of the “religious” state in Pakistan and try to link its own current “depression” to Pakistani pessimism. The two states are well on their way to becoming “internally” troubled in varying degrees. Pakistan’s despair grows out of its 70 years of identity formation; India has only recently tasted a bit of what Pakistan has imbibed over decades.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, Newsweek Pakistan