An extraordinary event has taken place in Islamabad. Over two dozen Pakistani ambassadors and high commissioners, serving in the key capitals of the world, have asked the government to base its foreign policy on strategy and not on emotion. They were commenting on the post-Salala attack reactive measures against the Isaf-Nato forces in Afghanistan, while seeking to reassess Pakistan’s policy towards the US under the spur of an intense national emotion often called ‘ghairat’ by self-seeking politicians.
The envoys sought ‘to calm down the government over its knee-jerk reaction to last month’s Nato air strikes that killed two dozen troops’ and urged the government ‘to immediately reopen supply routes for Nato forces’. They asserted that policy based on emotionalism was no solution, while Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh warned that “complete disassociation with the US would be a blunder and would certainly have a negative impact on the country’s fragile economy”.
The gathering was also addressed by the ISI chief, General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and he predictably presented Pakistan’s Afghan policy in a tactical framework: “The November 26 attacks on Pakistani checkposts reflected frustration on the part of the US over its lack of success in Afghanistan. The Americans have yet to reconcile with the ground realities of the region which are that the US would have to work with Pakistan if it wished to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan”.
The Pakistan Army was never mandated to think strategically because of its weak state revisionism against a much stronger status quo India. Strategy would have involved an assessment of Pakistan as a geographic reality with a severely constrained economic base, depending on external military assistance which could only be applied in conflict through a breach of contract with the suppliers.
Today, the reality is that Pakistan remains a poor candidate for filling the Afghan vacuum after the US leaves the region. Its claim that it can influence the Afghan Taliban is spurious, which means that it has no leverage over any envisaged peace talks. It has no control over the Pakistani Taliban either. At most, Pakistan’s military can act as a spoiler with no guarantee that it will be able to secure the country against any future Afghan fallout.
Pakistan’s economic profile is precarious. There is a debt-to-GDP ratio that crossed 60 per cent in 2010; there are painful debt service obligations to its creditors; there is a large fiscal deficit and double-digit inflation resulting in a rapidly depreciating rupee, worsening a trade deficit already under pressure from high global commodity prices.
It is no use listening to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif delivering his latest non-intellectual sermon on ‘kashkol’-breaking. The energy shortage is reaching a critical stage: After Faisalabad, the industrialist heart of the country, Karachi, has declared that it can no longer continue production and meeting its international orders because of lack of electricity. The big cities are gradually succumbing to over three days of CNG stoppage, forcing investors out of billions of rupees on CNG stations and their employees to come out and destroy public property.
People are refusing to pay their electricity bills and have destroyed Wapda offices. Teachers, nurses and railway workers are on the roads and are threatening to jam the cities if they are not given salary increases commensurate with the rate of inflation. The railway workers have vowed to take over the national railway system. The broken down national airline, PIA, is waiting for a big accident to happen. The coming ‘revolution’ in Pakistan promises to be a monumental act of vandalism.
The national consensus, however, is on ghairat drummed up by a ‘guided’ media. It is unfair to the people of Pakistan and it is unfair to the democratic system we are trying to run in Pakistan. Ghairat is a military slogan raised prior to plunging into war and does not suit a civilised nation. We must base our policy on considerations of Pakistan’s economy and not on national honour because there is nothing more dishonourable than being poor.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2011.