The tame tiger

30 Jan

 

MUNIR AKRAM

 

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

IN the midst of major global transitions, Pakistan confronts multiple challenges: domestic discord, terrorism, Indian hostility and subversion, Afghan chaos and American pressure. The low energy response of Pakistan’s ruling classes to these challenges displays an absence of self-confidence and an assumption that Pakistan’s destiny will be determined by forces and factors other than ourselves.

Such attitudes are ill-suited to the world’s fifth largest country by population; one defended by the sixth largest, nuclear equipped, armed forces; with an economy growing at 5pc annually despite terrorist violence, political turmoil and dysfunctional governance.

It is universally acknowledged that Pakistanis are a resilient and resourceful people. Yet Pakistan has become a ‘soft state’ because its elites have embraced selfish goals nationally and a subservient posture internationally.

Over the decades, our ruling classes have become inured to the patronage of our Cold War ‘ally’, the United States, and other rich ‘benefactors’. They cannot contemplate the consequences of cutting the umbilical cord of external dependency. For most of Pakistan’s ‘common’ people, who do not benefit from this largesse, the impact of the oft-threatened termination of external financial or political support would be marginal and bearable.

Pakistan’s elites have embraced selfish goals nationally and a subservient posture internationally.

 

If the interests of the elite are set aside and national interest guides policy exclusively, Pakistan has the intrinsic capacity to withstand external pressure, overcome most of its present challenges and exploit the vast opportunities offered by the current strategic transition in world affairs.

In Pakistan today, domestic terrorism and violent extremism can be eliminated if the National Action Plan is implemented without regard to the political umbrellas that protect some of these violent elements.

Action against the TTP safe havens in Afghan­istan is held back by concern about America’s reaction. Yet, unless the US-Nato forces themselves eliminate these safe havens, Pakistan will have to do so if it is to stop India’s subversion from Afghan territory.

The Kabul government can surely be ‘persuaded’ to stop its constant abuse and perfidious collaboration with India against Pakistan if Islamabad utilises its considerable leverage. Once Kabul is cooperative, the Afghan Taliban, including the Haqqanis, should be either convinced to join a peace dialogue or ejected totally from Pakistan’s territory. Pakistan does not need ‘strategic depth’; it has nuclear weapons.

India is a hegemonist power. If it is to preserve the rationale for its creation, Pakistan cannot accept Indian domination. It must maintain credible nuclear and conventional deterrence but avoid war with India. However, until the Kashmir dispute is resolved, a conflict could be triggered by a popular Kashmiri revolt like the present one. If India imposes a war on Pakistan, the latter should not rely entirely on the threat of nuclear retaliation. India could also be defeated conventionally — with the help of our people.

Somewhere in our foreign ministry’s archives is the record of a conversation between the then foreign minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and China’s premier Chou En-lai soon after the 1965 war. When Bhutto explained that Pakistan’s offensive on Akhoor had to be halted and its forces redeployed to protect Lahore after India attacked across the border, the Chinese premier opined that Pakistan should not have redeployed. Pakistani forces, he said, would have been welcomed in Kashmir; on the other hand, the people of Lahore would have fought Indian occupation on the streets and, with this people’s struggle, ‘you would have made your nation.’ There is a lesson here for our strategists.

There is considerable anxiety in Islamabad about US policy under Trump. Despite the prime minister’s effusive phone conversation with Trump, Pakistan is likely to suffer collateral damage from the growing US rivalry with China and its strategic partnership with India. However, unless the US seeks Pakistan’s submission to Indian domination or attempts to neutralise its nuclear deterrence, a cooperative or at least non-hostile relationship can be established with Washington. If appropriately negotiated, common ground can be found in combating terrorism, on Afghanistan, reciprocal nuclear restraint with India and mutually beneficial investment and economic cooperation.

China’s emergence as a global economic and military power offers a historic opportunity for Pakistan. It must be grasped with both hands. The CPEC project is critical, economically and strategically, for Pakistan. If pursued with vision, the opportunity can encompass: investment in all sectors of the Pakistan economy; rapid modernisation of Pakistan’s defence capabilities; stabilisation of Afghanistan; and creation of an economic network under the One Belt, One Road initiative integrating Pakistan with Iran, the GCC, Central Asia and Russia, apart from China.

Yet Pakistan should not rely on China or any other country for its development. The Pakistani state has to play a central role. Some important goals that Islamabad can secure are:

One, achieve financial independence. Tax revenues can be doubled, from the present 9pc of GDP to the global norm of 18pc. Savings of 1-2pc of the federal budget can be realised by divesting major loss-making government corporations. Pakistan’s capital markets can be enlarged to provide local development finance. The additional fiscal capacity can be used to eliminate extreme poverty, expand education and health programmes, support small farmers and small and medium enterprises.

Two, adopt a ‘Pakistan first’ industrial policy and reverse the unilateral disarmament of the country’s trade regime. Nascent industries need to be nurtured through higher tariffs and a clampdown on smuggling. They can meet the high domestic demand for consumer and durable goods, which is the main driver of Pakistan’s growth and, once competitive, contribute to expanding Pakistan’s dismally small exports.

Three, support agriculture. This sector still supports 60pc of Pakistan’s population. Our crop yields are one-eighth of those in industrial countries. With adequate financial and technical support, especially to smaller farmers, Pakistan can emerge as a regional breadbasket.

Improved governance is essential. In today’s globalised world, no country can progress without an efficient bureaucracy. Pakistan’s administrators should be functionally competent, competitively chosen, handsomely remunerated and fully accountable.

None of these goals can be adequately achieved without decisive national leadership. Our electoral democracy, chained to feudal and industrial power structures, requires to be reformed to enable clean and competent leaders to secure office. Only then will the Pakistani ‘tiger’ be able to leave the cage in which it has been confined.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn December 25th, 2016

 

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