One of the major curses of militancy on Pakistan has been its increasing international isolation. Even more alarming is lack of awareness of its grave consequences on every facet of our national life.
The spectre that Pakistan is the ‘epicentre of terrorism’ scares foreign governments from granting visas to deserving Pakistanis for education, business, work or any other valid purpose, leave aside for leisure. Even those Pakistani workers who are fortunate enough to find employment in the Gulf States experience only limited exposure to the outside world. The authoritarian nature of the Gulf countries limits their interaction and makes them view the world through a narrow prism.
Current lawlessness in the country, from Khyber to Karachi, discourages visitors of every hue. Only those few foreigners are travelling to Pakistan who have compelling reasons for doing so. They, too, remain mostly confined to hotels and attend specific tasks assigned to them. It is indeed unfortunate, as our country has boundless treasures to offer in terms of its natural beauty, hospitable people and rich cultural heritage. It has eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, including the second-highest breathtaking K-2; beautiful scenic places like Swat and the Northern Areas and is gifted with the unsurpassable relics of Moenjo Daro and Taxila.
The fear of militancy has also seriously affected foreign direct investment. It was a meagre$1.4 billion in 2013, which should be a matter of concern for a country of 180 million people. Just to get the perspective of where we stand globally, foreign investment in China was of the order of $118 billion, India $28 billion and in developing economies, as high as $759 billion. Clearly, slow economic growth, fragility and uncertainty in the overall economic environment also contributed to this decline but the precarious law-and-order situation is a major factor.
Over the years, many international airlines have opted out of Pakistan for better destinations. Inadequate infrastructural facilities and the overall security situation has primarily been the reason for this decline. No doubt, some of the regional airlines like the Emirates and Thai Airways have expanded their business in Pakistan but they are mostly targeting the expatriate community as their captive customers. There is not a single European, American or Russian airline that comes to Pakistan. British Airways is reluctant to resume flights because it considers Pakistan risky.
Pakistan is considered an unsuitable venue for international and regional conferences or exhibitions. In fact, some of the conferences and meetings are organised abroad by the Pakistan government or private institutions to attract and ensure the presence of foreign participants. No international sports event of any significance has taken place in the country for years. Our people are yearning to witness cricket and other sports in the country but international sports organisations are unwilling to take a risk.
Limited physical interaction with the outside world and greatly reduced presence of foreigners in the country is isolating majority of Pakistanis from the international mainstream. The engagement that the US and other Western countries are seeking with Pakistan is essentially to protect their own security and to assist the government in its fight against extremism and terrorism. According to US President Barack Obama, the major reason for the US to maintain residual forces in Afghanistan post-2014 is to remain in proximity of Pakistan and monitor the activities of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal region and be able to respond swiftly in the event that Pakistan’s nuclear assets fall in the hands of militants.
The cumulative impact of this creeping isolation of Pakistan has strengthened reactionary forces and, in turn, promoted a very skewed worldview among majority of the people. Acceptance of militant groups within society has become a norm. The drift has now reached a stage where radical outfits are mainstream political players and are finding easy acceptability both within the political class, society and the media.
Until the Pakistani state is able to neutralise the militants, either through negotiations or by application of military force, it will not be possible for its people to fully relate to the region or internationally — the prospects of which currently appear to be slim.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) announcement of nominating Imran Khan as a member of their committee for talks with the government representatives seems odd and truly, I am at a loss what to make of it. But perhaps, it is part of the great decline and confusion that we are witnessing in the ideological orientation of our leadership. The question arises that is the TTP really serious about negotiations or are they using these nominees to legitimise their organisation? For the government, it will not be easy to negotiate with the group. Of course, the group, too, will have its own litany of grievances. But for the TTP to nominate senior representatives of political parties as their representatives raises doubts about their intentions. Are they using the dialogue to gain time and put the military operation on hold or they are genuinely war-fatigued and seeking a peaceful solution? The composition of the nominees of both the parties suggests that their first task would be to assess the intentions and demands of the other. There is deep mutual distrust and as a first step, both sides should agree to a ceasefire.
Sadly, Pakistan’s heavy reliance of over three decades on non-state actors to advance its fictional strategic interests has come full circle. Pakistan is now caught in a quandary where extremist groups are trying to dictate their ideology and terms of reference for talks.
Pakistan’s future as a nation and part of the global community will largely depend on how successfully its leadership steers to overcome these monumental challenges.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2014.