Education and National Security

libraryIn America, political and policy leaders are asking whether the American education system, one of the top of the world, is falling behind and whether this lack of attention to education is a threat to their economy and national security.

“The dominant power of the 21st century will depend on human capital,” the report said. “The failure to produce that capital will undermine American security.”

The report said that the State Department and intelligence agencies face critical shortages in the number of foreign-language speakers and that fields like science, defense and aerospace are at risk because a shortage of skilled workers is likely to worsen as baby boomers retire.

Compare this with another article published the same day, this time in Pakistan.

Criticising the removal of jihadi material from syllabus and replacement of the lesson, The Holy Prophet, with ‘Three Days to See’, heads of various seminaries called it a deviation from the path of Islam. “The rulers, in fact want to enforce secularism and the removal of jihadi verses and replacement the Holy Prophet’s lesson is a first step towards an anti-Islamic system,” they said while addressing a news conference on Monday… “Those who shared their ideas regarding the new syllabus and replaced the Prophet’s lesson with a non-muslim writer’s lesson committed Kufr,” they decreed. They also slammed the removal of two other lessons, the ‘Voice of God” with “Giant Man” and “Hazrat Omar” with Quaid-e-Azam.

Have we really come to the point where we are rejecting any syllabus that includes the ideas of non-Muslims? Have we really come to the point where even lessons about Qaid-e-Azam are deemed Kufr?

It’s quite trendy lately to claim to be “defenders of Pakistan”. But look at what these groups are preaching – closing relations with other countries, closing minds at home. They’d rather our children be proficient at assembling kalashnikovs in the dark than than proficient in science and language. They teach a distorted version of history that guarantees we will continue to face a distorted future. They support people who burn down schools, and they think they’re making us safer.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is looking at their own failings and adjusting. They are investing in education because they know that without an educated population, no country can truly be secure. If we really want to defend our country, we need books not bombs.

Bring the people into confidence on national defence

National Assembly

With its 436 elected members representing every corner of Pakistan, Parliament is the voice of the people. As such, it has the constitutional as well as the moral authority to tackle the most serious issues facing the nation. For this reason, the bill moved by MNA Khurram Jahangir Wattoo to require all defence-related agreements to be ratified by parliament is a much needed improvement to the democratic process.

Actually, this bill comes at an important time. During the past weekend, President Obama broke the silence on American’s drone programme and finally admitted what has been an open secret for several years. This was followed by an acknowledgement by the Foreign Ministry that drones do provide tactical advantages, but are nevertheless considered ‘unlawful, counterproductive and hence unacceptable’.

There’s reason to hope this is not more of the same talking past each other that our two country’s have been doing since the past few years, but the beginning of a new dynamic. Is it mere coincidence that this new openness of dialogue about drones comes as parliament revisits past arrangements with the US and seeks what Ambassador Sherry Rehman terms as a reset of ties on an equitable basis? Or is it a sign of positive changes taking place – greater respect from the Americans as demanded by our MNAs?

In the past, arrangements with the Americans have largely been handled by the military. Most of the policies are leftovers from the dictatorship of Gen Musharraf. It has only been since the democratic elections that the tide has begun to turn. This fact does not downplay the very important advice and perspective provided by the current military leadership who have managed to win important victories in the nation’s security. But the tradition of secrecy has been hard to shake, and many decisions continue to be made behind the scenes causing confusion and frustration among the masses. It’s time to end this flawed policy leftover from a dictator and bring the people into confidence on matters of national security.

Obviously, the best way of doing that is through the elected representatives of the people. In other words, the parliament. This gives the people the ability to decide for ourselves what policies we want to take in the national defence. Most importantly, though, it gives us the opportunity to hold accountable those who we trust with these decisions. If the elected officials let us down, we have the opportunity to elect someone else to take their place. Democracy will be stronger, and so will the nation.

The gateway of Asian trade

Spice routeLong before the west’s industrial revolution converted Saudi Arabia into the global center of energy production, Mecca was already a wealthy and bustling international city. Obviously it was not oil that provided this importance to the city at that time, but rather it was the city’s position as a gateway to international trade that provided its wealth. Today, too many of our analysts are focused on finding a Pakistani resource that can be tapped like Saudi oil when the answer to our economic woes may be further back in history.

It is well known that the current economic situation is not sustainable. Not only the tax scheme needs to be reformed, but more generally we need to expand our economic base. An article in the World Politics Review notes that Pakistan is naturally positioned to be a hub for economic activity in Asia.

These economic arrangements not only predispose the country to militarism, but are also financially untenable. Fewer than 2 million people in a country of 190 million pay taxes. Power shortages cripple businesses and lead to circular debt, displacing the cost of electricity subsidies. Pakistan faces a 350 percent increase in energy demand by 2030, but lacks the finances to undertake major energy projects alone. This military-heavy economy only survives thanks to the lifeline of American aid, which is locked in by Washington’s fears of Pakistan’s implosion.

To build themselves up as a viable alternative, Pakistan’s middle class businesses need sustainable economic growth driven by reliable sources of energy and open markets for Pakistani products. To achieve that, Pakistan must reconnect economically to the rest of the region. Meanwhile, India, which seeks access to Central Asian energy supplies and more-efficient distribution networks for food staples, would also profit from integration, as would Afghans and Kashmiris, whose isolated economies need connectivity to flourish.

Actually, this can provide benefits far beyond improving the economy only. Hosting trade routes between Iran and India, for example, would actually strengthen our security vis-a-vis India without requiring a single rocket.

Iran-Pakistan-India Map

The main proposed projects for regional integration — the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) and Trans-Afghan natural gas pipelines — would improve India’s energy access and give Pakistan $200 million a year in transit fees, but they also have a strategic dimension: These projects as well as other Central Asian trade would flow from the region’s northwest, putting Pakistan “upstream” of India. This would give Islamabad economic leverage over and increase its confidence vis-à-vis New Delhi — and it would do so in a way that is less volatile than increasing Pakistan’s military arsenal.

The National Assembly approved an increased defence budget earlier this year when this very arms race is actually making us less secure. We are spending every last rupee to keep up with India’s massive defence spending when the reality is we do not have the resources to do this.

The problem for Pakistan is that there is very little it can do to effectively counter an operational Indian BMD shield. The absence of both resources and indigenous capabilities to develop its own missile-defense system renders Islamabad’s responses obsolete. But more ominous for Pakistan is the fact that an operational Indian anti-ballistic missile (ABM) capability would effectively provide New Delhi with an assured second-strike capability.

This does not mean that we cannot be secure against Indian hegemony, it just means that we need to look for more ways of establishing our security that fit within our natural means. In other words, if we want to be “strong”, we need to think “smart”. Our nuclear arsenal is massive – the fourth largest in the world. We have mastered the art of death – it’s time that we focus on the art of life.

According to the website EconomyCheck.com.pk, serving as a trade route between China and the Middle East, Pakistan could boost GDP by 2 percent or more.

China-Middle East trade is worth $172 billion today. It will exceed $2 trillion by 2030. If even 5% of Middle East trade flows through Pakistan, it will boost transit receipts collected by government by 2% of GDP per annum.

Combine this with the economic boom that would result from being a transit for Iranian energy and the impact becomes enormous. Claiming our natural role as the gateway of Asian trade will give a better position vis-a-vis not only India but vis-a-vis America also. In order for this to happen, however, we must stop the trend of isolationist thinking and participate openly in the world community.