A country of hope and despair

It may sound odd but severa­l nation­s have actual­ly undert­aken reform­s when the situat­ion has been near desper­ate

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

After seventy years of our existence, we only have to look at recent events to remind ourselves how irresponsible and disunited we are as a nation. And this is when our external environment is extremely hostile. Most troubling aspect is the general waywardness all around that is reflected in the conduct of our leaders and performance of major state institutions.

During the current budget session opposition members of parliament were seen tearing copies of the budget and shouting slogans. Similar scenes were witnessed in the Punjab Assembly a few days later. It is quite possible that many of these members of parliament may not have even read the contents of the budget. Critical scrutiny of the budget proposal is, however, one of the key responsibilities of the opposition. Making noise without serious appraisal and discussion makes a mockery of the protest and allows the government to get away with its shortcomings. More significantly, it lowers the image of politicians in a country where anti-democratic forces remain strong and are looking for every opportunity to demonise them.

Another bizarre incident occurred when a PML-N loyalist and lawmaker, Nihal Hashmi, went into an irresponsible outburst. His theatric conduct cost him his seat in the Senate and membership of the party. More troubling, it cast a grave shadow on the quality of certain politicians regarding their temperament and nature of discourse.

Unfortunately, none of the major state institutions have remained immune from controversy. The Godfather reference in the Panama case trial and the remarks by the eminent judge during hearing of the case that the government was behaving like a mafia led to a controversy and invited a sharp response from the government spokesperson. It also led to a debate as to what is appropriate and what is not for members of the judiciary.

The ISPR tweet on “Dawn Leaks” highlighted the differences that existed between civil and military leadership over fighting militancy in the country. It generated a controversy, fortunately prudence prevailed and the tweet was withdrawn. This defused the political storm that was brewing.

The media has not been aboveboard either as quite a few TV channels have been extremely active in giving air to these divisive trends.

Despite these failings, we can take consolation that not everything is wrong. There is significant progress in infrastructural development. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a source of strength and will clearly boost the economy and open up new vistas of trade and commerce. Our strategic relationship with China is an invaluable asset. Even with the US, despite differences, there remains a mutuality of interest. The democratic process, however, feeble continues with minimum prospects of disruption. Our valiant armed forces through professional competence and enormous sacrifices continue to defend the country from external and internal threats. And this is what gives hope that as in the past, Pakistan will muddle through. But most of us would wish much more as Pakistan and our broad masses deserve better.

It may sound odd but several nations have actually undertaken reforms when the situation has been near desperate. Wars, economic crisis, political upheavals and massive terrorist attacks have shaken nations to reform.

As many writers have pointed out that South Korea only prospered after the Korean War. Of course, they had an advantage and an intrinsic make-up for change. It is a cohesive society with a high level of literacy. Indonesia, after facing terrorism and extremism for years, moved towards relative democratic stability. In all fairness, we too as a nation have done a course correction in response to the tragic 2014 Peshawar School massacre. But it was limited to fighting terrorism and spearheaded by the army for which it deserves full credit. It was not like that for other cases where extreme conditions led to major reforms and cleansing of institutions.

As a developing country, it is only normal to be in a state of crisis. But crisis provides opportunity if there is leadership and Pakistan has been extremely unfortunate in turning around these setbacks into transformational change. One can enumerate innumerable benchmarks when opportunity arose such as the 1965 war, separation of East Pakistan in 1971, end of the military rule in 2007. Revival of democracy after prolonged military intervention provided a rare opportunity for change, but neither our leaders nor the structure of the political parties did have in it to seize the moment. Although in all fairness we have to recognise that civilian leadership was thwarted due to prolonged military rule. And close association of certain politicians with military hierarchy coloured the politicians and stunted political development. Furthermore, the support of non-state actors and militant groups undermined the democratic ethos. Pakistan continues to pay the price from the fallout of these policies.

Despite these setbacks, we can recover provided we learn from our past and current failings. As mentioned earlier, all the major institutions in the country are working at cross-purposes or as independent entities, frittering away national power and retarding the country’s progress. This has to change. Foremost, the political leaders should abandon the confrontation and take the path of compromise. Let the judiciary decide cases of corruption without any political pressure. With elections about a year from now, political parties should compete on the basis of good governance and legislative priorities. It sounds idealistic but one would like the federal and provincial governments to create capital assets in the form of an educated population, dynamic enterprises and schools. After all this is the only route through which countries have broken the shackles of poverty. At present, this seems to be a low priority for our political leaders.

Trade unions are disorganised and victims of internal dissensions. Our civil society is gradually raising its profile but is not very active. But entities like the Edhi Foundation, SIUT specialising in liver and kidney transplants, Shaukat Khanum, LRBT eye hospitals and several others provide free medical services and give hope that the spirit of serving humanity very much exists.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2017.

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