When people discuss the ‘Dark Ages’, they are usually referring to a historical period in Europe after the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. This period is considered to be a period when Europe moved backwards from what was once its great height of political, cultural, and economic achievement. Today, Pakistan, once a part of the Umayyad Caliphate and the great Mughal Empire is itself suffering hard times, and many are looking for a return to those golden eras of hundreds or thousands of years ago. This nostalgia for an imagined past, though, is a symptom itself, not the cause of our trouble. At the root of our problems is a mentality that continues to look backwards, to dwell in fantasy versions of the past rather than facing the realities of today.
In an interview about the anniversary of 9/11, Gen Mahmud Durrani stated that Pakistan is living in a post-9/11 world with a pre-9/11 mindset.
So did the generals and civilians understand that the old ways of thinking had to go after 9/11? “Neither the military, nor civilians, understood the impact of 9/11 – not then, not now,” says Gen Mahmud Durrani, who was appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US by Musharraf in 2006, and later served as the national security advisor to Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani. “9/11 redefined the world. But we didn’t understand its impact on our own geopolitical landscape – not ten years ago, and not now.”
Though Gen Durrani admits that Pakistan was taken by the ear and dragged to the well after 9/11, he also maintains that it failed to choose well even when choices were present. “We have not grappled with the issue of extremism seriously – neither the public, nor the government nor army. Salman Taseer’s assassination is an example of how much we have ignored this problem and to what end,” said Gen Durrani.
Indeed even before 9/11, as early as 2000, GHQ commissioned a classified report called “Pakistan’s Security Imperatives in the Medium Term,” which concluded that Pakistan’s security threat was primarily internal and unless there was a change in strategic thinking the country could be dragged in an undesirable direction by a tiny but well-organised minority.
“And that’s exactly what is happening today,” says Gen Durrani. “But to this day the army doesn’t quite get the threat. We continue to court some of the elements responsible, either out of fear or because we genuinely believe our interests lie in doing this.”
It’s not just that the Army doesn’t see any threat, of course. Operations in Swat that cleared out militants were a success precisely because GHQ understood that those militants were not just a threat to American troops in Afghanistan, but to Pakistan itself. But no nation is lucky enough to face one threat at a time, and so officers have to make priorities. And here is where the pre-9/11 mindset shows itself again. We are still fighting the 1965 war alost fifty years later. The military is so obsessed with defending against a hypothetical Indian attack that it sees today’s actual attacks from jihadis as lower priority.
Insiders also cite another hurdle in the way of Pakistan’s anti-terror efforts: its India obsession. “The army continues to see terrorism merely as a latent threat and India as the more clear and present danger,” says Gen Durrani.
The mentality that is being projected today is about more than a single event like 9/11. It is a mentality that is constantly looking backwards. Our India obsession does more than just provide a playground for jihadi militants to plan and carry out attacks against innocents. It’s leaving us in the dark, both figuratively and literally.
This year’s Education Emergency movement may have lost its trendy appeal among the fashionable middle class, but the problem remains very serious. 3 million children will never see the inside of a classroom. 50 per cent of school children (aged 6-16) cannot read a sentence. And yet we boast the fourth largest nuclear arsenal of the world. We can kill, but we cannot read.
We have the power to destroy whole nations, but we don’t have the power to keep the lights on all day. KESC warns that loadshedding will increase up to 10 hours a day,and PEPCO sources stated that power shortfall has mounted to 3,904 megawatts. The chronic energy shortage is so bad that textile manufacturers are moving to Bangladesh. But there is one place in Pakistan where the lights never go out – the border with India.
The priorities of national institutions is made clear by this photo that was taken from space. The orange line that winds its way across the middle is not a photoshop, it is the floodlights on the border with India that stays perpetually lit while so much of the rest of the country is blanketed in darkness.
After the fall of the Holy Roman Empire, Europe suffered a period of decline that resulted in suffering for its people. Today, Europe is again a cultural and economic power of the world. It regained this status not by looking backwards and trying to reinstate the Holy Roman Empire, but by modernising and adapting to new ideas and the world as it had become, not as it once was. Pakistan, too, can leave this dark age that we find ourselves in. But only if we stop looking to the past for answers, and start building a Pakistan that can lead in the world as it exists today.