Every time our prime minister visits an important country, like the United States, the question that comes to dominate the media and political conversation is: how much help are we going to get? I have never heard anyone raising any question about what Pakistan is going to give to this or that country. Pakistan has become a perpetual client, seeking loans, grants and any help in the form of cash from foreign sources, mainly because of poor policies of governance, mismanagement of the economy, corruption and the inability to take right and difficult decisions. The elite prefer foreign monies of every type because they send a good part of it to foreign accounts through informal channels, barring very few exceptions. The elite have a pact, most significantly symbolised by the National Reconciliation Ordinance (2007), to grant immunity to one another for the continuity of ‘democracy’.
An odd tale of US-Pakistani ties
While the world, most importantly our friends in China, the Muslim world and the West, would like to see us succeed by building on our strengths, developing resources and by providing honest, clean and rule-bound governance, the ruling groups show hardly any credible commitment to building the country. They have neither the discipline of the Chinese Communist Party nor the open competition that we see in industrial democracies. They know they can get away with their financial crimes against a poor and helpless country.
They have played a number of games to keep their power unchallenged. Chief among them is their constant effort to cripple laws and institutions of accountability. Second, they have kept the people, the electorate, notably in Sindh and Balochistan — the poorest of all — backward, uneducated and mired in traditions that end up enslaving the populace. Finally, they have gradually converted public institutions, like the district administration, the police and other departments into their private spheres.
The current dynamic of US-Pakistan relations
Those who know the ruling groups inside-out will tell you that they don’t belong to Pakistan. They function like who rob, extract and siphon off public funds, and then escape. No effective state in the world would allow robbers to rule. Interestingly, the elite groups that have, and continue to govern Pakistan, rule a large state possessing plenty of natural resources, hard-working people and nuclear weapons.
Three of the features of Pakistan — its nuclear capability, large size of restive population and religious radicalism — make the world concerned about the country. The world doesn’t want Pakistan to remain weak, in constant conflict, unstable and underdeveloped. We should know better that it is in our national interest and in the interest of our future generations that failures would generate multiple conflicts and would tear us apart. What happened to Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Yemen, and of course to Afghanistan, can also happen here, if misrule and the decline of institutions is not stopped.
Pakistani leaders and their mouthpieces in the media continuously weave conspiracy theories centering on foreign enemies working to ensure the country’s failure. It is obvious that our adversaries will do everything to undermine us, but more than real or imagined adversaries, it is the country’s leadership that has, and continues to fail Pakistan. The real, big enemy lies within.
An uncertain future
Sadly, the current crop of Pakistani leaders has no sense of history of progress or why and how other countries have done better. Our own history would inform them that we have done far better than other countries at certain points in time. The problem is systematic corruption at the scale that has been witnessed in the past three decades. It is the culture of immunity of the corrupt elite that continues to retard our progress, making us dependent on others.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2015.