Monday January 17, 2022

A country betrayed

May 13, 2021

Sehbaye yaqeen dar kash wa az dair-e-gumaan khez/ Az khwab-e-giran, khwab-e-giran, khwab-e-giran khez (Drink from the wine of faith and rise from the temples of doubt./ Rise from your deep slumbers! Rise from your deep slumbers!) – Allama Iqbal

An entity – whether a people, a country, an institution or a team – is only betrayed by its own. Betrayals began early in Pakistan. They have never stopped. Are we collectively responsible? That would suggest no one is to blame. This is patently false.

The relevant question and answer today are: Can Pakistan be saved? Truthfully? Yes! As of now, does it appear likely? Truthfully? No! But isn’t every challenge resolved in time? Won’t Pakistan eventually muddle through? Won’t some “deus ex machina” (divine intervention) rescue us from ourselves, again and again? Isn’t it wiser to be irrationally optimistic than rationally pessimistic? The great Italian socialist thinker, Antonio Gramsci, said: No!

Up until a few years before Pakistan happened few rationally thought it would. When after the surrender in Dhaka, Pakistan was torn asunder few thought it would survive. But it has survived – even if it be in a precarious condition. Criminally, no lessons were allowed to be learned from the indescribable tragedy of 1971. The policies used in East Pakistan were merely switched to Balochistan, and later to other provinces. Pakistan remains among the worst governed countries suffering regular national humiliations – from Kargil to Abbottabad to FATF, the IMF, and Transparency International, to UNHRC assessments of its human rights situation, and finally to the PM’s admission that Pakistan would be economically bankrupt without the remittances of its unprotected citizens in the Gulf.

Despite acquiring a nuclear weapons deterrence capability, Pakistan’s governing ideology rests on national insecurity. Every government has blamed its incompetence and misdemeanors on its predecessors. National governance and politics have become the fine art of national betrayal in the guise of national reform and renewal dressed in religious enthusiasm. And so it continues.

Well, Pakistan is new. Give it another century or two to get its act together. After all, our great friend and exemplar, China, was arguably in a similarly unenviable state around two centuries ago when Napoleon called it “a sleeping giant.” In fact China’s 'century of humiliation' only ended in 1949. Since then, in accordance with Napoleon’s prediction, it has indeed awoken and shaken the world. Well, Pakistan is not exactly a giant but it is in even deeper slumber – along with much of the Muslim world. But we still have time.

Or do we? The current century is like no other in the history of human civilization. Irreversible climate change and global warming threaten to make it the very last century of organized human civilization. When combined with other existential or 'doomsday' threats such as nuclear conflict, overpopulation, food insecurity, rising seas, flooding and water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, uncontrollable pandemics due to the spread of un-encountered pathogens, the misuse of AI and Big Data-based information technologies to make it impossible to distinguish fake from real news, etc even far better governed countries than Pakistan face the same fate. Pakistan may be fast running out of time. But so is the rest of the world, including India (oh, happy, happy thought!).

However, there is still a small but rapidly closing window of opportunity for the world to adapt and delay the full onset of irreversible climate change. Maybe the world can even avoid it. This is, however, unlikely because the planet’s Sixth Extinction has already embraced us in the new Anthropocene Period in which humankind more than nature determines the course of climate change. Until and unless humanity either globally and unprecedentedly organizes itself for survival, or eliminates itself.

If and when the world does emerge, temporarily or somewhat more permanently, from the current existential threat of climate change, where will Pakistan find itself in such a 'post-climate change' world? This will depend on what Pakistan is able to do with its current state, including the quality of governance, human resource development priorities, institutional capacities and responsibilities, the commitment of power elites to actually allow essential reforms which will inevitably challenge their underserved and unconstitutional pre-eminence. It will even more crucially depend on the ability of the people to organize themselves in mutually reinforcing movements to eventually force such reforms, despite the implacable resistance of power elites for whom Pakistan has no purpose other than to serve their interests.

None of this is new. But it is still true. Knowledge and information must become power in the service of the people. Otherwise, they are irrelevant. Elected or selected leaders are either determined or resigned to the fact that knowledge and information shall not be allowed to empower the people against their exploiters. They know that an awakened, informed, mobilized and organized people can realize their power and take charge of their destiny. That makes the people a threat to them.

So, don’t bother to speak truth to power. It already knows the truth and is confident it can frustrate the dreams and hopes of the downtrodden while happily, harmlessly and hypocritically paying homage to them. Instead, speak truth to one another. This is the only way for the people to realize their own power to change realities which they were nurtured and indoctrinated to believe were impossible to change. Instead, they were encouraged to meekly hope for justice and joy in the hereafter rather than the here and now.

This is the framework in which thousands upon thousands of policy details and strategies will need to be discussed up and down the country to identify, formulate, prioritize, implement, and scale up agreed people-based policies. China provides a very good example of how it is done. Outside such a framework, no amount of 'top-down' political, technical, expert, professional and bureaucratic advice can lead to sustainable policies that serve the people’s and therefore the national interest. China is far more democratic (inclusive) in its policymaking than India, Pakistan and even the US. Said the Prophet (pbuh): 'Seek knowledge even if it be from China'.

And yet nothing happens. Why? The main political, economic, social and power institutions, interest groups and lobbies are easily identified. Collectively, they are indeed responsible for making Pakistan a country betrayed. Blaming the people, however, is stupid because their world and choices are determined by those above them who may pretend to an empathy and knowledge of the common citizen, but never identify with him/her.

There are the 'intellectuals' or more accurately the 'intelligentsia. Among them, a special role is for the youth (25 to 45 year olds?) They are articulate and angry. By and large, they intuitively know what needs to be done. But they increasingly lack the conviction it can be done. Accordingly, they fail to organize themselves to break out of their circumstances of constant and comprehensive constraints and pressures. They do not betray. But they are condemned to witness betrayal. The leaders who at first inspire them ultimately and unconscionably betray their hopes and expectations.

The youth need now to seriously think about what they can do themselves. They will find they can do so much more than at first seems possible. The country’s future, for better or for worse, does indeed rest on their young shoulders. Our faith enjoins “innamal aa’maal bin-niyaat” (outcomes are according to intentions.) And the youth of Pakistan have the purity of intent to learn to do what it takes to ensure increasingly better outcomes and thereby end the betrayal of their country and their future.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.