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September 24, 2018

Rethinking national interest

Opinion

September 24, 2018

Due to many local and international factors, the popular conception of national interest in Pakistan has been reduced to a narrow vision and – to state the obvious – has not served the country very well so far. I argue it is time to come out of this prisoner dilemma and expand our vision in light of the collective aspirations of the people of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s national interest lies in the growth of democracy and development, in addition to a strong defence. In other words, it can be explained by 3Ds (Democracy, Development and Defence).

While, there is agreement among all major stakeholders about the importance of defence, the first 2Ds have not yet achieved the same status. This parity needs to happen soon in order for Pakistan to move out of low-state equilibrium to a prosperous and developed country. I will here focus on the first 2Ds while fully acknowledging the significance of defence.

Democracy gives people ownership of the state and facilitates differences in opinion through freedom of expression and association. This fosters vibrancy, creativity and synthesis in society. Democracy also mandates complete impartiality of important state institutions in all political affairs. Pakistan’s national interest mandates that every patriot must raise his/her voice when any institution tends to lose its neutrality – because this weakens the state of Pakistan in the long run. The separation of East Pakistan is a constant reminder in this regard.

While some narrow-vested interests might derive happiness and satisfaction by compromising the sanctity of their office by overtly expressing their political biases, this is detrimental for both Pakistan’s state and society because a healthy democracy requires harmony among all state institutions.

Democracy implies that fair and transparent elections, both pre-poll and post-poll, are guaranteed. If the majority of the political parties have reservations on this issue, all state institutions must facilitate them rather than ignoring or running a vilifying campaign against them. Democracy also means that the people get to decide who they believe is their true representative and leader. Promoting a proxy leadership through the process of ‘selection’ rather than election damages democracy and weakens the state. As a patriot, I will continue to raise my voice both within parliament and outside against these horrific acts which compromise our national interest.

Democracy also mandates that legal instruments and sanctions are not selectively used against some politicians while others get a free ride. The national interest of Pakistan mandates that everyone is equal in the court of law. But former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif faced imprisonment on ‘speculative’ allegations and assumptions. Our national interest demands that those who overtly suspended and abrogated the constitution of Pakistan are served justice to restore the people’s confidence on our legal system. The PML-N will continue to be the voice for constitutional supremacy and a strong democracy, because it is in the national interest of Pakistan. The PML-N, despite having serious reservations about the recently held general elections, did not choose a path of protests but instead decided to use parliament as its forum. We hope that the government will not obstruct transparent investigations into complaints of rigging in the elections.

The PML-N is a staunch believer that the national interest of Pakistan is tied to its economic development, which needs to be undertaken in a holistic and integrated manner as enunciated in Vision 2025. In the last five years, the PML-N government transformed the country’s economic landscape by providing macroeconomic stability and adding more than 11,000 MW in the national grid. The economy consistently witnessed improvements in growth – from 3 percent to 5.8 percent during 2013-2018. The qualitative difference between developed and developing countries lies in differences in their level of industrialisation. The PML-N is the only party which has consistently favored the industrialisation of Pakistan. CPEC, initiated by the PML-N government, provided Pakistan a much-needed stimulus to industrialise and climb up the economic ladder. It has recently been insinuated by our opponents that the PML-N did not negotiate well, and that China ‘dictated’ terms to Pakistan. This is nothing short of bad fiction where even basic sketch is marred by inconsistencies.

First of all, CPEC is not a commercial project but rather a bilateral strategic initiative to deepen economic ties between our countries, which were non-existent before CPEC. China and Pakistan worked jointly in making an overall plan for a unified development of CPEC projects. Second, CPEC prioritises projects related to connectivity (physical and digital), energy, industries and industrial parks, and the Gwadar Port. These are the sectors which were in decline in Pakistan at the time when we initiated CPEC and since then they all have seen massive improvements. Just to give one example, locally manufactured tractors have witnessed a 74 percent increase in demand due to CPEC projects.

Moreover, all provincial governments were and are privy to details of CPEC projects. All provincial governments expressed their full satisfaction regarding the CPEC projects and the Long-Term Plan, and this is the biggest testimonial of transparency in CPEC projects. The PML-N urges the PTI government to fully support all CPEC projects because they are key to Pakistan’s economic development.

Inclusive development means that the fruits of economic development must be shared by all classes and segments of society, especially the historically disadvantaged ones. The PTI government has fetishised the idea of ‘austerity’ for cheap popularity. Cutting down development expenditures by over Rs300 billion is going to hurt the poor and marginalised. There are various connectivity projects underway which seek to provide new economic opportunities through connectivity to remote and underdeveloped regions. At times of economic downturn, fiscal stimulus is necessary. I hope the PTI government will not reduce social and infrastructure spending in the name of austerity.

In the last five years, I took a personal interest in increasing funding for the Higher Education Commission by more than 300 percent because higher education is key to future of our youth and to putting Pakistan on the track of becoming a knowledge economy. I urge the PTI government to not cut the HEC’s funding.

Pakistan is full of promise and potential, but we did not achieve our full potential due to our strategic mistakes of the past: excluding democracy and development from the paradigm of national interest. In today’s world, a strong defence is dependent on a strong economy and vibrant democracy because stable, strong and sustained democracy is a sine qua non for fast economic growth. The PML-N places the country’s national interest above everything and will continue to play a positive role to promote the growth of democracy, development and defence in Pakistan. I invite every Pakistani to play their part in building substantive democracy, inclusive development and a strong defence to further our national interest.

The writer is the former federal minister for planning, development and reform, and interior.

Twitter: @betterpakistan

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