To assess a nation’s future, several things need to be considered. One of these is the policies pursued by the government, another is the thinking of the leaders in power and opposition, and the quality of public discourse in the media and public forums. Other indicators include the economy progress, foreign policy priorities, and the international image of the country. Harmony among institutions, state of education, and quality of healthcare services are also markers that reflect the present and the future of a country. In Pakistan, even a cursory glance at these indicators presents a bleak image. A developing country like Pakistan cannot be expected to have fast-paced development and growth to overcome its weaknesses. However, Pakistan is lagging in all these fields even by South Asian standards.
Unfortunately, there is little realisation of it across the political class, which reflects that our leader’s priorities and interests are not in sync with the public good. What should one infer of government’s intentions when it tries to ram through legislation, which has constitutional underpinnings and clearly cuts across democratic norms? The most glaring example of this is reflected in the issue of re-appointment of NAB chairman. According to experts, this would not only be illegal but defy the Constitution both in letter and spirit. The question here is not about a person but of a principle and precedence. Consensus in respect of certain important assignments is not only a legal obligation but an endorsement of democratic ethos. Departure from following it due to dictates of immediate political gains cuts across the very nature of democratic governance. This trend has dire consequences on democratic development, quality of governance, internal harmony, and international image.
The Prime Minister used to say all the right things when he was in opposition, which can be confirmed by his old interviews and public speeches. However, he has now ignored all his past remarks and tried to govern by dictates. He entered politics with an edge over most opposition leaders because he had a clean image. He retained popular support especially amongst the younger generations and is well-known internationally. These attributes gave him an invaluable opportunity to turn the course of the country. The present direction of the government, quality of discourse, and undemocratic policies are a recipe for exasperating internal dissensions and lowering international clout. Just the opposite of what could be achieved in a positive sense by taking on a simple course and staying within the legal framework. Some of the government decisions will be challenged in court, which will set a bad precedence. But it will also impact the governance and morale of the nation.
People follow leaders to gauge their thinking and the impact it will have on their lives. But if the leaders fail to walk the talk frequently then they will not be taken seriously. This applies as much to the leaders of the opposition as it does to the ruling party. Therefore, it needs regulation. We must move beyond common rhetoric because technology and access to news and wide-ranging commentary are informing the masses of the good and bad.
Pakistan’s internal weaknesses are casting a shadow on its international standing as well. President Joe Biden’s refusal to engage with our top leadership demonstrates that there is a lot that needs to be done to reassert our rightful place in the international community. The snub to the PM is a snub to the nation. The US attitude reinforces India’s hostility and masks its unfair designs and human rights violations in Kashmir. The Prime Minister has frequently reminded the international community that Pakistan’s years of commitment to the US against the Soviets and the loss of 80,000 Pakistanis in the war on terror is conveniently forgotten. Apparently, it is the “duplicity of our policies” that is the rationale for this indifference. US leadership was at one time equally close to the erstwhile Mujahideen leaders, but it now accuses us of having a close relationship with the Taliban. The US until recently maintained close liaison with the Taliban when it was negotiating the peace deal. The Taliban ensured safe passage for US citizens leaving Afghanistan.
The US indifference is one way of showing its displeasure over Pakistan’s strategic relationship with China and reinforcing India’s hostile attitude towards us. Whatever the rationale for this policy, it will further incentivise Pakistan to get closer to China and seek strong bonds with Russia and neighbouring states.
The US has been building a security and political grouping in South Asia in partnership with India against China. It understands that this will further encourage India to pursue hostile policies towards China and Pakistan, which will destabilise the region. India’s quest for regional hegemony has been the driving impetus of its policies that have contributed to the weakening of Sri Lanka and Nepal. India has also provided support to militant groups such as TTP and Baloch nationalist party to destabilise Pakistan. It is not unrealistic to assume that in the future India’s unfettered ambitions can go against US interests. In its 75 years of independence, India has never been a factor of stability for the region.
The Taliban’s success has reduced the Western threat for Pakistan and will allow it, in due course, to focus on the Eastern front against India. However, this would very much depend on the extent to which the Taliban government establishes its writ in areas contiguous to Pakistan. The Taliban’s ability to control these groups to not use Afghan territory for anti-Pakistan activities will also be important.
There are many imponderables that need to be factored in while gazing into the future. Currently, Pakistan is faced with both internal and external challenges. To ensure stability and growth both in the present and the future, the government will need to consider all the challenges and implement strategic policies in line with them.