Every nation is born with a set of existential contradictions. That is the burden of being. No story starts in perfect circumstances. Causational imperfection and the quest for improvement are the factors that keep human story so interesting. Pakistan too was born with an unfair amount of contradictions. It has done whatever it could to survive since then but has seldom taken out time to do away with the contradictions.
A set of perceived and real threats has kept the young nation highly vulnerable. There are those who think that the country has no real enemies. That all threats are in its head and no one is out to get it. The critics of this theory point to two facts. One that the country lost one half of its territory since inception. Apart from Pakistan’s own mistakes the role played by India in the fall of East Pakistan is viewed as a proof of a real and existential threat to the country. The second argument points to the loss of 70 thousand lives at the hand of terrorism. So here are threats both within and without. Not just in mind but physical. And on a lucky day you get a reason to connect both external and internal threats and tell yourself, it is all India’s fault. Soundbites of Modi’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval that are available on YouTube have really come handy in this context.
But whether the vulnerabilities stem from a perceived threat or the real one, they have been messing with our head for a while. The resulting social anxiety has kept us on the edge, at times too eager to please, at others surly, churlish and suicidal. And guess who has made a business to profit from these mood swings? The only country that we have ever fought a war with. Using its tremendous soft power India constantly portrays Pakistan as an unstable and fundamentally flawed nation. So effective is the spin that anything good done by Islamabad is barely acknowledged and India’s own contradictions are forgotten.
India’s role in past 15 years has been that of Grima Wormtongue in the Lord of the Rings series. When we were busy risking lives fighting terrorism on our own soil for world peace, India managed to gather all attention, praise, sympathies and prizes for basically doing nothing. And since Pakistan has allowed other nations, particularly Muslim countries, to influence discourse in our country we have been inadvertently channelling their rage as well. And the establishment in New Delhi has found this rage very useful in stereotyping and dismissing Pakistan as a supporter of terror. Our sacrifices have since then assumed the role of a rhetorical device, mentioned usually to please us to soften the blow before asking to do more.
Despite going through terrible ordeals and committing many mistakes Pakistan is better placed today compared to India to get things together. Pakistan has a Muslim extremist problem. The state sees it and has spent past many years fighting it. India on the other hand has a Hindu extremist problem. Indian state refuses to see it. For further details just google the name of India’s current Prime Minister.
So, what can Pakistan do to get out of this mess? First, it has to ensure that no foreign nation can influence our internal discourse. The most important influence to watch out against is of our Muslim brethren. The ongoing Arab-Iran tug of war has the potential to undo us like any other Muslim nation. The second important point is to be grateful to the friends that have often come to our rescue. China and America are two countries that have risen to the occasion often when Pakistan was in dire straits. Interestingly both are non-Muslim countries. This realisation should also help us overcome some of our ideological contradictions.
Third point is to win as many friends as we can find. Pakistan Russia relations are already improving. Pakistan must ensure the process doesn’t get derailed again. Another foreign policy challenge is Israel. Amazingly both countries have never done anything publicly to undermine each other. Many Muslim nations have formally recognised Israel but we have not. India continues to exploit this weakness of ours and leverages the relationship to its advantage. At the very least Pakistan needs to make sure this doesn’t happen anymore.
Finally and most importantly Pakistan has to focus on the betterment of own people. The better, more tolerant society you build, your country’s stock will rise.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2017.
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