Saturday January 22, 2022

Stark reflections

June 05, 2021

The Pakistan Movement by and large could have delivered on the hopes of most of the Muslims of undivided India even if they were not able to be part of Pakistan. If the Quaid was twenty years younger he may have ameliorated the trauma of Partition and imparted a dynamic to Pakistan’s political development, including ties with India, which might have created an environment compatible with an eventual Kashmir settlement. More normal India-Pakistan relations could have reduced minority insecurities on both sides of the border. But that was not to be.

Soon after Quaid-e-Azam passed Pakistan began to lose its political and policy moorings in the petty politics and extractive economics of competing elites and the tragedy of contesting regions and wings. This cleared the path for an early military take-over of the country that stifled its political development.

Since then, civilian governments progressively degenerated into corrupt irrelevance and were unable to undertake the herculean task of building a modern nation. Human resource development, through significant budgetary allocations to infrastructure, education, health and the sciences, was shunted aside because of security imperatives. Technical expertise was supposed to compensate for political dereliction. The consequences cost the country dear and are still with us today.

It is said the first 100 days of an elected government more or less indicate the kind of government it is likely to be for the rest of its term. The present government in Pakistan after more than 1000 days in office has by and large confirmed the uncertain and somewhat dubious image it projected at the end of its first 100 days.

There were no better alternatives to the PTI at the time of the elections of 2018. This is less obvious today. The indifferent (many allege incompetent) performance of the government has begun to make some of the rejected parties appear more attractive today, even if there is no reason to believe they will be any better in the future than in the past. The views of the people don’t matter. Their priorities don’t count. Their representatives don’t represent them. Their vote is a bad joke. Nothing can alter this situation except a host of empowering and sustained people’s movements.

This is considered an unrealistic hope because of the implacably inimical power structure. This basic reality, however dreadful, is seen as an irremovable feature of the political scene despite the likely fatal cost to the country. The people are encouraged to have low self-esteem, and even lower expectations. Their anger, grief and despair are channeled towards internalizing cynicism and resignation. By this measure, governance in Pakistan has been a resounding success.

Pakistan’s ‘intelligentsia’ knows this. But they do not do much apart from being comfortably sad, wise and complicit. Some brave souls are indeed taking real risks to protest. Many more console themselves that Pakistan, in whatever shape, is at least still around. Moreover, there are worse cases of governance in the world. They lament Pakistan is not respected. They know it is regularly snubbed. But they are comforted in the knowledge that from time to time it is needed. Moreover, China is a magic wand for Pakistan! Finally, in their ‘wisdom’, they accept things the way they are. What would the Quaid and the Allama have thought of them?

In the US, the Biden Administration completed its first 100 days on May 1, 2021. Recently, Biden described his presidency as an “inflection point” which would change the history of the world. It is not clear whether he was thinking of realizing America’s potential or frustrating China’s. Domestically, the Biden Administration cannot avoid being better than the bizarre and degenerate Trump Administration. But American society is polarized as never before. Trump’s Neolithic base is intact. Congressional Republicans live in dread of it. Republican senators voted against a Congressional probe into the January 6, 2021 Trump supported ‘Q-anon’ assault on Congress.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, promised to atone for his opposition to Trump after his electoral defeat and assault on Congress by ensuring Biden would be a one-term president. He failed in a similar attempt against president Obama. But he succeeded in disabling Obama for the rest of his administration. If Biden loses a house in the mid-term elections next year he will be a lame-duck president for the rest of his one-term presidency. He will be too old and foggy to be nominated again.

Meanwhile, Biden has announced a ten-year $6 trillion spending programme to renew US infrastructure, deal with climate change and pandemics, and maintain its economic, technology and military edge over China and Russia. This is a massive spending programme. He will need to tax billionaires and corporations to pay for it. They don’t like paying for anything. The poor are there to do that. Getting such a spending bill through a bitterly divided Congress will be difficult before the mid-term elections. The Republicans, through introducing voter suppression laws and regulations that target Black Americans in 14 states, could recapture the House.

Moreover, curtailing defence expenditures for future forever wars will also be problematic. They provide Corporate America, Big Military, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Data, Big AIPAC (Israel’s lobby) and multi-billionaires guarantees of multi-trillion dollar gains while the under classes, including the lower middle class, are driven towards life precariously above, around and below the poverty line where few human and social rights exist. In fact, a renewed cold war against China and Russia will make it politically impossible to reduce defence expenditures.

Despite presenting himself as a modern day FDR (Roosevelt), Biden has refused a number of domestic reforms. He has not agreed to a minimum wage of $15; forgiveness of well over $1 trillion of student debt which will enslave them for the whole of their white-collar working lives; Medicare for all, as in all other advanced industrial countries; genuine police reforms that result in significant reductions in racist police violence against Black Americans; reducing massive and institutionalized income inequalities which breed Black despair, ‘White Trash’ hatred and violence , and a diversionary, profitable and belligerent foreign policy. Accordingly, the prospect of US instigated serious and escalating conflicts with China – and Russia – is likely to grow. China’s Mars and Moon successes will exacerbate American paranoia and war hysteria.

The US cannot abide a world order it does not head. China will no longer accept a world order headed by a hostile power. The CCP celebrates its centenary this year with China becoming a middle income country, offering its citizens choices and a standard of living no Western imposed fake democracy ever could. US military bases and ‘red lines’ practically encircle China today. China will not tolerate this for long. China’s ‘soft power’ development is almost as amazing as the development of its economy and military capacity. China’s economic influence and rising soft power is beginning to embrace the world. The BRI has already made China a global economic power.

Europe is learning it cannot rest its security on a relatively declining and internationally aggressive US which may become increasingly unable or unwilling to accept the costs and risks of defending it against Russia backed by China. As for Israel, human rights organizations have documented its atrocities against the Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank for exercising their legitimate right of resistance to expulsion and genocide. This will similarly entail a cost for Israel the US cannot underwrite endlessly.

However, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy’s warnings about the Arab and Muslim world misusing religious passion and unearned wealth, instead of developing a capacity for innovation, science and technology, rational thinking and a respectable global image as a source of strength vis- a-vis a much smaller but modern Israel, needs to taken seriously. It should motivate a national and indeed a cultural transformation if justice is ever to prevail over evil. As of now, no country in the Arab and Muslim heartland, barring Turkey and yes Iran, is even trying to respond to the challenge.

Biden, however, fully backs the Israelis in their genocidal war against the Palestinians to create Eretz Israel (Arz-e-Israel) – a Jewish National State in which only Jews are legally full citizens from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. De facto if not de jure support for this criminal project defines the moral standing of the US and explains its declining ‘soft power’. Despite the killing of 68 Gazan children, Biden says Israel has not “significantly overreacted.” Instead, he has blamed Hamas’ firing of rockets – ignoring the daily, deliberate, heartless and indescribable suffering criminally inflicted upon the population of Gaza, half of whom are children.

These Israeli crimes are specifically designed to compel Hamas into reacting with rockets which ‘justifies’ Israel’s murderous ‘response’ and Biden’s cynical support of “Israel’s right to self-defence.” Biden voted four times against a ceasefire. Read the letter to Biden from Sara Roy, an American expert on Gaza, to know the unimaginably inhumane insensitivity of the Biden Administration and its predecessors towards the utterly helpless Palestinians.

Sadly, over seven decades, Pakistan has failed to develop credible options to be relevant in such a situation; or even deal with its own domestic and external challenges. Accordingly, the US has the temerity to demand Pakistan undermine its own national and strategic interests. In return, the US strategically backs India against Pakistan, and further demands Pakistan cooperate with it in Afghanistan to counter the influence of China and Russia! This measures the extent of US contempt for Pakistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s leaders keep pandering to it. China watches with unspoken concern.

Maybe, Pakistan’s ‘movers and shakers’ will develop a patriotic conscience that allows a comprehensive national transformation to save Pakistan. Inshallah!


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