The latest White House Report is a scathing indictment of Pakistan government as being weak, divided and unable to deal with the problems plaguing the country. As the civilian leadership continued to face political, economic and security challenges, the report goes on to say that there was a public dialogue that focused on potential changes in the national government.
Coming on the eve of the US Central Command (Centcom) Chief General James Mattis arrival in Pakistan, the report hardly makes for a palatable menu. Alongside being critical of the performance of the government, it acknowledges the sacrifices that the country has made in its endeavour to fight militancy. The report fears that Pakistan does not have a clear plan to defeat insurgency which can be perceived as an expression of lack of faith in the intentions, capacity and capability of the military in the country.
The relations between Pakistan and the US have been traditionally based on the former serving the interests of the latter in exchange for morsels of economic and military assistance which were withheld whenever the US thought that its (now) non-NATO ally was overstretching the strings. Because of an inherent policy shortcoming resulting in Pakistans near-complete dependence on the US for almost the entire repertoire of defence equipment, its flexibility to operate to safeguard its interests has been generally limited. The US has also been known to have resorted to open blackmail to sabotage any strategic relations that Pakistan may have undertaken to develop with other countries.
The report may have highlighted some grave failings of a government the US played a leading role in hoisting over a beleaguered nation vide the illegal National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), it gravely underestimates its own cynical contribution to the state that Pakistan is so tragically embroiled in today. As a strategic step to further expanding its hegemony in the region, it threatened Pakistans former military dictator to either join in the war on terror, or face the prospect of perishing. The dictator who was desperately looking for avenues for winning international recognition and legitimacy considered it an opportunity come from the heavens and embraced it, plunging Pakistan into the cauldron of fire that it has, since, been trying to extinguish. The incumbent democratic government that, at best, can be described as a vile continuation of the policies of the former dictator, did no better than pushing Pakistan deeper into the quagmire. It upped the stakes by doing things that even the former dictator may have refrained from. Its agreement to do no more than public protestations in response to the drone attacks is just one of the many examples of its abject complicity with the US in pushing Pakistan to the brink of implosion.
The bubble of the economic and military assistance, either coming directly from America, or through its sponsoring of the international organisations to continue giving loans to Pakistan, has further enslaved the policy makers to doing the US bidding. This comes in shape of Pakistans continued participation in the US-led war on terror which has resulted in death and destruction visiting thousands of innocent civilians and the dismantling of its entire religious, ethnic, economic and social fabric. Those who oppose the US strategy and intentions are targeted either to be bought through grants, or crudely coerced and threatened to change track.
What makes matters worse is to see the ruling political leadership indulging in meaningless polemics to distract people from the real issues that Pakistan is confronted with. Be it the increasing violence in the society or the unmanageable inflationary trends, the sectarian killings or food becoming extinct for the poor people, there is a generic recipe for all: democracy. Rooted in fake degrees and fake votes, it has not provided any solutions to the miseries that multitudes are reeling under. It has only added to their problems. And, there is a reason for it: the conditions that constitute essential pre-requisites for the induction of meaningful democracy do not exist in our truncated society. These include, among others, education and economic emancipation. A nation, majority of which is captive of deep economic bondage, is not likely to throw up leadership in a free expression of will that would be solely dictated by the eligibility and competence of the candidates. Instead, the choice is driven by the economic and baradari hold that a certain candidate may have in the constituency. That hardly makes for the right conditions for a democracy that would be geared to delivering for the underprivileged of the country in preference to filling the coffers of the ruling elite alone.
If Pakistan is to free itself from the clutches of exploitation, it has to move away decisively from the road it has been traversing for decades both in terms of choosing its friends and its system of government. We should neither be blinded by the grossly over-emphasised profits of supporting causes like the war on terror, nor should we be taken over by the much-trumpeted gains of the Westminster model alone. We should undertake an exhaustive and objective analysis of the ground realities existing in Pakistan and then choose our friends and a representative governing system that best suits our inclinations and interests. A Western model can deliver if it is built on the foundations incorporating the minimum requisite ground conditions. But, if that were not so, it would fail to perform even the most basic functions.
The paradigm shift that many have been advocating should take due cognizance of two counts: the multiple failings of the so-called democratic system and the exaggerated societal responses to numerous national issues and concerns. This, in essence, should constitute the basis for structuring and implementing the change that, at some stage in the future, may be envisioned though there is a need to do it right away.
The writer is a media consultant to the Chief Minister, Punjab.