The March of Folly

Spearhead Analysis – 15.08.2017

This analysis on Pakistan’s 70th birthday takes its title from the superb book by Barbara Tuchman wherein she writes with penetrating clarity about one of the most bizarre and fascinating paradoxes in history: the persistent pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests—policies that have clearly failed but are still pursued at great cost and usually with devastating results. What she writes about states could easily apply to individuals in leadership positions because they make the policies. What else could explain the failure of democratic governments to establish credibility and supportive public opinion by bringing in competent teams, delivering governance and establishing decision and policy making structures? This failure more than anything else was the reason behind the failure of twice and third term prime ministers besides of course, the presence a powerful well organized military over watching what it perceives to be the national interest and a media that is relentless in its analytical criticism.

The average Pakistani who wants to work and rear his family in a safe secure environment under a democratic dispensation is confused and puzzled when he hears credible and knowledgeable voices telling him that the country is in a debt trap, that there is no foreign minister and foreign policy is adrift, that mega projects are being pursued at the cost of his children’s education and healthcare, that taxes are being wasted on VIP security and money doled out for political gains, that the energy policy has failed and that, but for the military, the country would be totally insecure and overwhelmed by a multitude of threats. On this Independence Day as a resilient and spirited people celebrate their freedom and independence these are the questions that haunt them especially when they see the incredible sight of a former prime minister supported by the government of his political party leading a ‘march’ to protest against the Supreme Court verdict that disqualified him from holding office under a detested but legally valid law and calling for a popular revolt. While the ‘march’ was being organized Major Ali Salman and his group of brave men were embracing martyrdom in Dir and nourishing Pakistan’s freedom and security with their blood. Could there be a greater contrast?

Thankfully the disruptive ‘march’ whose end result remains a mystery is over and the realization has dawned that it was all about some members of one family and was confined to a 300 mile stretch of road in a small part of one province of Pakistan. The rest of the country was functioning normally with only the media in a frenzy over what was happening, where the head of the ‘march” was and where its tail was and who was there and who was not and what was being said by whom—as if any of this mattered in the broader scheme of things. Come Independence Day and all this faded into oblivion as the nation put its heart into celebrating and telling the world how much they valued their freedom and independence. It was a day to remember—the Army Chief was at Wagah on the Pakistan-India border hoisting the national flag to thunderous applause, a brand new magnificent Army museum was inaugurated in Lahore fittingly next to the Shuhada (martyrs) monument and the Air Force put up a splendid air show in the skies over Islamabad. There were fireworks all over the country and the people were out on the streets with the Inter Services Public Relations putting out a stirring song. The people of Pakistan thus gave their verdict—the country was far more important than any individual or any institution and those defending and promoting its interests had their full support.

Inevitably on such a day there is remembrance of the horrors of a botched partition as the colonial power left– and then there is focus on the unresolved issues that continue to mar relations between India and Pakistan—the danger magnified by the nuclear capacity that both possess. The way forward has to start with dialogue and there is enough homework on all issues to sustain the dialogue once it starts. Nuclear capacity entails responsibility both within the states and between states. A state with nuclear weapons must not drift into economic problems, internal strife and political instability. States with nuclear weapons must not be seen to be in a state of confrontation, or on the brink of conflict or acting to create and exploit vulnerabilities across their borders or third country borders. Pakistan has acted with determination and resolve to confront terrorism, to secure its borders, eliminate all marginally governed areas and has a successful ongoing operation to bring sustainable internal security. This is a great achievement that must be moved forward to consolidate gains, strengthen institutions and undertake reforms to mainstream all areas and groups into the state structure and its laws.

To those talking about withering democracy and ‘deep state’ and other conspiracies, the recent political transition and the follow-up exercise of political freedom must have come as a great surprise. The vibrant debate on the future direction of the country by an unrestrained and free media should also be an eye opener to those voicing concerns. Pakistanis can look with satisfaction at visible signs of improved infrastructure, at intra state and interstate energy projects under construction, at the structural reforms being contemplated for the economy, at well performing stock exchanges, at functional institutions and at the resets in foreign policy aimed at improved relations with all neighbors, with traditional friends in the Middle East, with the US, Central Asia, Afghanistan, the UK, the EU and Russia and the strategic dimension added to the strong relationship with China. The CPEC projects underway are being called game changers, Pakistan is also acting to ensure effective orchestration of state power by strengthening all institutions through effective civil-military interaction under the political leadership– with space never being left for undemocratic intervention of any sort. Pakistan after 70 is getting ready to face future challenges, confront threats and realize its full potential.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual).