In the run-up to Pakistan’s first face-to-face talks with the Trump administration, the relations between Pakistan and the US have already witnessed major setbacks.
This began with the Trump’s tweets in January 2018 that alleged Pakistan was providing safe havens to extremists. Pakistan’s global image took a turn for the worse owing to the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) decision to place Pakistan on its ‘grey-list’ for its apparent lack of action in tackling terrorism-financing.
Since it is easy to level allegations, it is far more constructive to understand whether there is any basis to such allegations. Pakistan has been a key US ally in the region ever since the latter declared the war on terror in 2001. Pakistan has itself been a victim of numerous extremist acts and has sacrificed greatly in the effort to eradicate terror from the region. Nevertheless, in recent years, the country seems to have inspired little confidence globally in this regard.
There are various challenges that need to be overcome. The fact that members of various groups that have been declared ‘wanted extremists’ by the UN Security Council were openly contesting in the July 2018 general elections helped little to improve Pakistan’s image. The fact that all such parties fared disastrously makes it clearer that our population rejects being governed by extremist ideologies. It was even more alarming that mainstream political parties were seeking to secure alliances with right-wing groups, as highlighted by Bilawal Bhutto in his maiden parliamentary speech.
The lack of focus on this issue might have led to the aforementioned impression against Pakistan. It is pertinent to note that the National Action Plan (NAP) includes the state’s commitment to curb the use of hate speech. But statements that amount to an incitement to hatred are being made openly by politicians and TV show anchors to appeal to the people.
In his first address to the nation, PM Imran Khan devoted a major part of his speech towards highlighting his promise to tackle white collar crimes, which are indeed extremely relevant issues. However, the fact that the reference to eradicating terrorism and implementing NAP was made in passing highlights the low priority accorded to an issue that has emerged as a major contention in Pakistan’s international relations and its own progress.
The country has recently witnessed horrific security breaches, from the twin blast in Peshawar on July 13 that claimed more than 150 lives to girls schools being torched in the northern parts of Pakistan. The nation was appalled at such acts of terror.
But what we need to realise is: that a particular mindset leads to such acts of terror and it is this particular mindset that needs to be targeted. While intolerance persists, there is very little benefit to be achieved from tackling other menaces. Each time we see a politician trying to score political points by sidelining minorities, we understand that this is where the problem lies. Each time that the Punjab information and culture minister uses language that is disrespectful towards women in order to carry out his moral policing, we must realise such behaviour presents a harmful image of the country.
Nonetheless, the burden doesn’t entirely fall upon Pakistan since the US has also done enough damage to create an atmosphere of international diplomacy. America’s suggestion to divert the $300 million that is given to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund as reimbursement for the latter’s services in the war on terror appears to be a diplomatic misstep.
That America’s undiplomatic attitude towards the international community has become a common occurrence is a well-known fact. This is evident from America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, its move to impose trade sanctions against various countries, and its decision to withdraw funding for a UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees. So, both Pakistan and the US must exercise maturity in the bilateral talks that are due.
The writer is an advocate of the high court.