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Fri. February 03, 2023
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The Existential Crisis in Pakistan Explored
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Pakistan is facing an existential crisis which emanates from several internal and external factors. First, let's examine the external factors. The Global War on Terror has taken its toll on Pakistan. The country has been shaken badly by it. Meanwhile, Pakistan is faced with a serious political economy crisis. Unmistakably, the Army and also the Gillani Government has been paralyzed by recent terrorist incidents. More importantly, the paralysis is because of incapacity and lack of vision. Sadly, the Gillani Government does not even have a counter insurgency strategy of any substance to fight off the terrorist challenges. Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army is exhausted because of the lingering Global War on Terror. The US demands Pakistan to do more in the Global war on Terrorism but this is easier said than done. The Islamic radicals are not about to be defeated. Continued drone attacks in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region is adding to the already very large anti-American sentiments.More importantly, Pakistan’s intelligence agencies have been weakened because of lost focus and lack of strong leadership. The military has simply taken on more than what it can conceivably handle. The civilian government is also crippled now. The Gillani government is largely impaired because of massive corruption, incapacity and endless and unwarranted political bickering with the PML (N) its main rival for power. The morale of the people is at its lowest in history. India, arch foe of Pakistan, smells blood and is going for the kill. It is accusing Pakistan of supporting terrorism and is bent on destroying its global image as a responsible military power. Tragically, the Gillani Government does not have a foreign policy to speak of. It only reacts to events by external powers, especially the US and India. The Army calls the shots as far as foreign and defense policies are concerned and the US is interfering in Pakistan’s internal affairs as never before, virtually dictating our foreign policy now. Meanwhile, the US plans its own exit strategy from the war in Afghanistan. President Obama did the right thing to order an accelerated troop withdrawal. This is definitely a good development for an eventual end to the prolonged war. We are anxiously waiting the day when the ISAF leaves Afghanistan. The Global War on Terror must end. Only a negotiated settlement can achieve it. Meanwhile President Karzai welcomed the accelerated withdrawal announcement. The Global War on Terror has to be winded down. This is no war at all. Such conflicts end up on the negotiating table. The US must now involve Pakistan in a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Karzai Government in Afghanistan. Remember that Pakistan is the key to the final ending of the war. Let us now consider the internal factors that have cause this existential crisis in Pakistan. It is prudent to realize that now Pakistan is not only threatened from outside but is also threatened from within. The current political and military leadership now stands discredited and does not have any credibility left. The tragedy of Pakistan does not stop here. The country’s political parties are also discredited because of their in actions, the bureaucracy demoralized because of bad governance, and the society itself badly divided on sectarian, linguistic and ethnic social cleavages. Pakistan is now certainly a mess. The country is now among the list of top ten failed states in the world. This is ironic because Pakistan also happens to be one of the strongest military powers in the world today. Our military strength cannot prevent an implosion of sorts like what happened with the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. The discredited political leadership cannot be relied on to take tough decisions to end the lingering governance crisis. Most probably, joint US and Indian action is going to deliver another setback in the shape of a limited surgical strike against the Lashkar-i Taiba because of its alleged involvement in the Mumbai terrorist incident of 2008. India has launched a demonizing campaign of sorts against Pakistan. The country is now dangerously isolated. Even our Muslim friends are not standing with us. It was only China that has shown some support. However, China will not take any step to antagonize either US or India. Remember China has already cautioned us on the Kashmir dispute. It is clearly indicating that our erstwhile position on the dispute is untenable at best. China cannot be expected to do anything more than lip service to Pakistan’s sovereignty. Undoubtedly, the country is now faced with an existential crisis of an unimaginable magnitude. The people are feeling hapless and disillusioned as never before. The country is in a mess with no silver lining on the horizon. The only good thing happening in Pakistan is the rising awareness thanks to the Information Revolution and the expended media. This awareness needs to be channelized into a political force of some reckoning. Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i Insaaf has showed some promise but it needs several years to establish itself as a political party of some reckoning. The politics of elections is a different creature all together. Therefore, the Tehreek-i Insaaf cannot be expected to make a dent in the next general elections. Even if the ruling Pakistan peoples Party loosed to the PML (N), not much improvement can be expected. Both political parties have lost their steam and suffer from poor and visionless leadership. Therefore, no hope can be placed on the nest general elections. This does not mea to suggest that there is some other option available. There is none. We must let the political system run and hope for the best. Gradually a better political leadership will emerge to steer the country out of the governance crisis. Patience is needed. Hopefully, in the long-run Pakistan will get its act together and becomes a great nation that our forefathers dreamt about. Only time will tell. Pakistanis face an intellectual problem also. On another level, Pakistanis externalize their own shortcomings very conveniently and also frequently. Pakistanis love to play the blame game. The US is the favorite whipping boy and is deeply resented now, to say the least. To understand the popular mood we have to understand the psyche of the Muslims in general, and Pakistanis in particular. Massive failure at the intellectual level has created this crisis of straight thinking in Pakistan. None of our leaders of the past or even the present focused on education. Education was a low priority while nuclear weapons were very high on national priority. Failed educational institutions have created an entire generation of illiterate or semi-literates who are incapable e of thinking straight. Massive failure in the education sector destroyed an entire generation of Pakistanis. Past neglect is now taking its toll. Past glorification of jihad has had its effect. Now the chickens have come home to roost. Among other factors, terrorism resulted in Pakistan because of a failed educational system. A mind-set was created that was not in tune with the 21st century. Simple as that. Pakistanis are confronted with another deeper psychological and emotional problem: resentment of the power of the West, especially that of the US. Instead of a serious rethinking and a retrospection exercise Muslims are reacting at an emotional level alone. Pakistanis feel the same hated of the West as their brethren in the other Muslim societies. The US is deeply unpopular now in the entire Muslim world. Muslims have failed to realize the reasons of their misery and have come to resent the West because of their own weaknesses. Yes, we have much in common with the developed Western world: yearning for democracy within the Islamic framework, freedom, better governance, opportunities for the weaker segments of society, and above all peace and security. I am also sure there are more similarities than differences between the Western world and us. Our predicament flows from the fact that we have not been able to handle very well the supremacy of the West. Deep down Western supremacy is resented by Muslims. Obviously, they were themselves supposed to be supreme. Not the pother way around. Alas! Things are not what they were supposed to be. Muslims have to rationalize and philosophize their societal weaknesses and underdevelopment. Meanwhile, the West must show greater generosity of spirit. Muslims are now very weak. Therefore, we expect greater toleration from the West, especially the US, for our traditions and way of life. Learn to appreciate and acknowledge diversity. Above all, the US leaders must learn to be less arrogant. After all, Pakistan is no banana republic despite its many failings. There can be no peace in South Asia unless and until the Kashmir dispute is solved. Unless and until we have peace with India, the Army will continue to dominate Pakistan. The other rationale given for continued Army dominance is the Global War on Terror. The US can, and should, play a role to bring peace in Pakistan by taking some quick action on the two things I mentioned above. Also, Pakistanis hope that Palestine becomes independent soon. Continued military occupation of Palestine is the cause of much humiliation in the Muslim world. Remember that even al Qaeda’s crusade against Israel is very popular. That will be considered as a big victory for Arabs and Muslims. It is about time we move to solve these problems to create friendship between the people of the US and Pakistanis here. Yes, we certainly have a lunatic fringe. Although specifying NWFP is not true as such. The role of madrassahs as incubators of jihadists is largely exaggerated and a myth. Islamic radicalism is largely misunderstood in the West, especially the US. It is not confined to the NWFP alone. Anti-US sentiments are very pronounced now. Nearly all segments of Pakistani society, including the educated classes, have turned against the US. The distrust between the two countries is not just at the level of the two governments but at societal level also. Hence, the urgency to start a frank dialogue. Remember Muslims in Pakistan are a proud nation. Notwithstanding all the problems I mentioned, Pakistanis Muslims demand respect and space to solve their problems. Eventually, the radicals among us will be defeated but not through military force alone. If the US was to support popular Muslim causes like Palestine and Kashmir which is extremely significant to us then the distrust can be overcome. Of course, the US has to leave Afghanistan also. The point is that the crisis is a combination of several factors, internal and external to Pakistan. The first thing to be done is to open up the matter of our failure to dispassionate debate and criticism. We must understand the reasons of our failings and then do something about it. The cure comes after the disease has been diagnosed. Correct diagnosis is the key to a workable cure. Let the debate begin. The matter is urgent because Pakistan is faced with an existential crisis the nature of which is unimaginable complex. Dr. Sohail Mahmood is an author, university professor and independent political analyst. He is currently working as a consultant with The World Bank in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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