I hear a lot of people saying that we should quit relying on foreign aid, specifically from America, so that we can loose our country from the obligations that come with it. Shafqat Mahmood gets it 100% correct in his column for The News today: taking responsibility for ourselves means more than saying ‘No’ to America – it means being honest about the root causes of the problems facing our nation and making the sometimes uncomfortable decisions required to solve them. Mahmood also makes clear that, unless we want to be isolated and miserable like North Korea, calls to cut-off relations with the West are self-defeating. We need to learn to cooperate with the world community in a way that teaches the rest of the world to respect our interests just as we will respect theirs. Then our relations will be more than ‘bi-lateral’, the will be mutually beneficial.
Global perceptions and our disconnect
While there may be good reasons to get hot and bothered about the Wikileaks disclosures concerning our ruling elite, the real story lies elsewhere. It is the steep decline in our global image and the corresponding lack of care within the country that should really keep us awake at night.
Expressions like pariah state or rogue state can be attributed to the propaganda of our adversaries, but this should not stop us from looking within. If we get into the mode of attributing everything negative to Indo-Israeli-American conspiracies, it will take us further away from reality.
This is not to say that our adversaries do not conspire to do us in. But to imagine that Messrs Obama (who can hardly be characterised as an adversary), Manmohan Singh and Netanyahu wake up every morning and start wondering what they can do to punish Pakistan is a bit farfetched.
Every individual is naturally the centre of the universe to himself or herself because reality as it exists can only be perceived by one’s own senses. But, to imagine one’s country to be the nucleus of global politics or intrigues is slightly ridiculous to say the least.
This also stops one from taking a hard look at our own behaviour. Blaming others becomes an excuse to avoid self-analysis. Self righteousness is the next step, where it is easy to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong.
And this becomes a disaster for our global perceptions. It is easy to say, “why should we worry about what the world thinks of us,” – and easier still to get on the high horse of national honour and say go to hell to everyone.
If this is done with solid reality and beliefs backing you up, the possibility over time of being vindicated is high. But, if the stance obviously denies reality then the talk becomes nothing more than hot air. It convinces no one and is childishly self-destructive.
This is what we see a lot of in the media. People who otherwise seem quite intelligent make outlandishly self-serving and self-righteous arguments. The gist of them all is that while there is little wrong with us, the world has conspired to do us in.
Take the issue of militancy and terrorism in the country. There are two ways of looking at it. One is to recognise that we have a serious problem and it is not confined to the tribal areas. The other is to blame it on the Americans, Indians, Israelis, or justify it as the consequence of drone attacks etc as Mr Imran Khan and some in the media do.
Why don’t we recognise that while there may be some outside interference – and drone attacks certainly don’t help – we have a home-grown problem? For reasons too often enumerated, a slice of our population has been radicalised and is willing to resort to all means to have its way.
If this were to be confined within, the world might have sympathised but not made too much of it. This is the attitude generally taken towards the Maoist insurgency in India. But, our radicals do not only have a national agenda. They have targeted the West and have been involved in Indian-held Kashmir and Afghanistan.
The sad part is that in the past elements within our state have egged them on and although they now forswear any role, the world finds it hard to believe us. It still thinks that either the ISI or elements within it have some connection if not outright control over them.
This perception has been heightened by various aspects of the 26/11 Mumbai tragedy. India of course insists that the ISI is involved but let us leave its perceptions aside. It is after all an adversary. The sophisticated nature of the operation, the training and preparation also convinces many in the international community that it could not have been managed by non-state actors.
We made a good start to refute this propaganda. There was genuine anguish among the government and the people of Pakistan about what had happened. The words of sympathy emanating from here were not fake.
The Federal Investigation Agency then led by the much-admired Tariq Khosa also carried out a thoroughly professional investigation and worked out the exact sequence of events. As a consequence, some arrests were made and evidence and dossiers exchanged with India.
And then nothing.
It is true that our court system is not particularly quick or effective but after two years, at least some move forward should have been made. It is in our interest to do so. If those arrested have committed what is called cross-border terrorism, they have damaged Pakistan internationally and not India.
A fair trial and conviction is the easiest way to tell the world that we as a state are a part of the international effort to combat terrorism by non-state actors. This has nothing to do with India although a move forward on this matter would immeasurably help to improve relations with it. It has everything to do with Pakistan’s global image of being a responsible state.
And also not a failing state. The second thing that people worry about us is that our state institutions have deteriorated to such an extent that we are not able to subdue non-state actors even if we want to. This has a great deal of truth in it because even regarding the trial of the Mumbai accused, what worries us is the reaction within and whether we will have the capacity to control it.
This is where the provincial governments have to raise their hand and indicate that they are willing to take on the challenge. It is their law enforcement institutions, particularly the police and the courts, that have to take the lead. They have to be on the frontline and not just rely on the army or federal intelligence agencies to do the job.
Whatever method we take, it is in our deep national interest to send a message to the international community that we are in line with global thinking on non-state actors and terrorism. Any ambiguity on this issue will not be acceptable and will go against us.
Lastly, to those who are ready to thumb their nose at the international community all the time, please understand the times we live in. The world is now interconnected and interdependent. Isolation is a disaster particularly for a country that has serious economic and governance problems.
We don’t need to become anybody’s lackey or do exactly what others want us to do. It is important to clearly state our national interest and logically argue its underpinnings. But at the same time, we cannot afford to have a global image of being a rogue state. Our survival depends on it.