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May 26, 2017

Decaying from within

Opinion

May 26, 2017

Institutional collapse is one reason why nations fail. It usually gets triggered with callous disregard to structural recourse. Pakistan is on the verge of such emptying from the inside while the shell barely survives, unable to carry the weight of the state and its functions.

Two recent examples will suffice. The Kulbhushan Jhadav episode when India took the matter to the ICJ, and despite all the resources in its possession and merits of the case, Pakistan failed to defend its interests. What seemed legal inadequacy reflected the deep malaise that has corroded the innards.

The second such episode was prime minister’s visit to Saudi Arabia where the Muslim world, or most of it, was gathered under Saudi leadership – per desire of the US president – to deliver multiple messages to various players in the Middle East, principally Iran and those who will be asked to fight America’s war against it in Syria. If Pakistan’s former general Raheel Sharif was waiting for a mission at the head of the 41-member coalition, this was it. If that seemed poignant, it only added to the already existing dismay for Pakistan and its premier being so publicly slighted.

What was missing in the Kulbhushan defence, and where and why did we fail? On legal grounds, many an eagle can suggest what went wrong – from an air of open and shut case because the ICJ had indeed such precedence between India and Pakistan, or the spread of the argument that simply did not focus on the prayer or the implications arising thereof, rather on an assumed sense of infallibility despite failing to convert the plethora of evidence into legal relevance. What also smacked though was an utter lack of anticipation of the likely Indian design in saving its favourite ‘son’ -- Swaraj’s famous epithet for Kulbhushan.

Increasingly, the world now resolves and manages conflict through international treaties and obligations. Take the Pak-India issues of water or Kashmir or Siachen; or trade and climate or the ‘war against terror’ or international finance, or the ongoing bonhomie with China on CPEC, each has its functional essence in legal bindings and their immaculate implementation. Policy options and implementation get woven into legal paradigms.

When conflicts arise it is not wars but rational argument that wins any nation their day, especially when you are up against esteemed worthies at the ICJ. And what do ‘we’ have to fight these modern diplomatic contentions at the Foreign Office under whose remit must fall such paraphernalia of fighting Pakistan’s corner? A single lawyer who is as foreign to the Foreign Office as the FO is to anything legal. I talk from personal knowledge. Ask anyone there, and they are bound to tell you that they know more law and treaties and whatever else goes with it to develop a case for Pakistan, far superior to anyone who acts as their legal resource. Place Aitzaz Ahsan, our sharpest legal mind, in the precincts of the FO and he will be reduced to ordinariness in a matter of minutes.

I wasn't then surprised when the rather sophisticated Khawar Qureshi, QC, had to rely more on the Queen’s English than a more focused defence of the matter under review. When you don't imbibe a matter enough and are only sporadically engaged with tutored briefs, you only end up moonlighting. And moonlighting doesn't win you cases at the ICJ.

The work has only started at the ICJ -- the last thing Pakistan needed despite a most fascinating twist in that it opens up the forum for Pakistan to take all else bilateral too before the ICJ. The matter still needs someone of immense legal potential invested with policy and not resigned to a corner office. Can we break this inertia of being the only repository of what needs to be known by seeking expanded and inclusive guidance from various stakeholders while formulating policy? Paradigm shift. “Fikre nau se darna, tarz e kuhn pe arhna”. Impossible. Though the markers are there for all to follow.

Get in-house specialised legal expertise on matters beguiling the depth out of our mundanely committed FO. Let these legal eagles in on policy so that they not only own but internalise what they should be able to defend at any forum. Then only can you win cases and defend your interests. Such is the domination of legal argument and rational interlocution in modern diplomacy.

On to Riyadh? Why did the PM have to go when it was mere attendance? To honour fraternity with the Saudis? Okay, but did anyone then engage with the Saudis to ensure he was given his due as the PM of the only nuclear Muslim nation, who had just lent his most famous general to a project laden with uneasy speculation? A nation which had vowed to remain neutral in this most complex internecine war in the Middle East. Yet, succumbing to the need of keeping fraternity at the cost of initiating strife with Iran, thereby taking on yet more load of another disturbed border. Dwarfed by challenges on all fronts, external and internal, it sacrificed its own peace and stability to keep our Saudi friends in good humour.

Yet the PM of Pakistan was badly sidelined at the conference. While others were variously emphasised –India included – Pakistan failed to even find a mention despite having committed to Saudi defence against any kind of aggression and contributed troops to that end. The PM was poorly received, something that forced him to verge on reneging from the coalition. Nothing seemed to matter though to the Saudi hosts who tended to disregard it all and treat Pakistan only as a mercenary help.

Why? Because no institutional thought went into what was about to unfurl in Riyadh. A new ambassador excited about receiving his first visit by the PM -- possibly still being driven by his rather guileful diplomat deputies -- was easily misled away from the need of diplomatic detail. Timely advice may have had someone deputising for the PM. No one in Riyadh, or in Islamabad, seemed to have cared about the details or about the PM’s possible diminution as a passenger to the proceedings. Had they bothered to look deeply, they could have easily saved their country some blushes.

This is corrosion from within. The FO is hardly conscious of the deep malaise that afflicts it. And it is not only the FO. The cabinet doesn’t meet; the National Assembly is not even a talk-shop now for that could at least save some grace -- if some talk took place there. The national security apparatus is never convened, even though matters of nation’s life and death stare in the face. Most decisions emerge from within small cliques where those present only nod in approval. The system is crumbling; decaying from within. In time only the shell will remain, unable to carry the load of decadence that is spread wide. In the meantime, enjoy the slight.