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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
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At the end of 2022, it was said that Britain would face its worst economic recession in the last forty years. In the same month, the UK was demoted from its place as the fifth largest economy to number six being replaced by India in terms of GDP output. The atmosphere became intense in the former colonial power with frequent changes in leadership and mounting pressure from Scotland and Northern Ireland for independence from a post-Brexit union.

Similarly, there’s been growing unrest all over Europe in the face of a rising cost of living crisis. But compared to the developing world these European nations have enough in their coffers to brave the storm of a global economic slump perhaps after a couple of rough years their economies shall cope with the losses and wages shall catch up with price hikes.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, the path to salvation is not as straight and simple and there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel, at least in the near future. In today’s interconnected world, a monetary crash in developed countries can send weaker economies nose-diving where their impact can be felt more strongly.

After the pandemic, the entire world got dragged into the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and in Pakistan’s case coupled with floods and political fragmentation, the repercussions have been disastrous. With no war to fight for a superpower Pakistan finds itself isolated in the comity of nations with an economy in shambles reeling under an inflation rate of roughly 40% the highest this country has seen since 1974. There is a strong apprehension that Pakistan is just about to reach its breaking point.

Westminster-style parliamentary democracy has become a bane for Pakistan’s political stability. This system although meant for creating equity for the ethnically diverse nature of its citizens has proven time and again to be a roadblock in executing any decisive policy plan in the long term. Politicians are continuously engaging in crass politicking and mudslinging which instead of assisting the democratic process results in undermining it.

. Seats are becoming clan property and state offices are being used either to reward the loyalists or punish the dissidents. A separation of executive and legislative arms of the state in the form of a presidential system which was adopted by Turkiye in 2017 could be a first big leap towards putting an end to the endless political disputes in the country.

This could also allow the government to concentrate more on tackling the hard problems without making compromises for the sake of alliances to keep its place in office. Since in this system, the directly elected president will not have to worry about maintaining a majority in parliament, the polls shall become less influenced by parties trying to bring the results to their favour hence less gerrymandering and buying and selling of electables.

Pakistan’s human rights record has been sketchy especially when it comes to the treatment of minorities. Under blasphemy law minorities are falsely being persecuted and even put on death row. The existence of such medieval laws has encouraged mobs to take justice into their own hands which has resulted in cases of lynching in parts of Sindh and Punjab. Ever since the questionable hudood and qisas ordinances were introduced in the 80s incidences of rape and murder had increased and a climate of fear prevailed over the country making Pakistan a ‘security risk zone’ where citizens of most countries are discouraged from traveling.

This inevitably normalized a culture of violence in the name of religion and since religion is something that is sure to be universal and personal at the same time, multiple schools of thought sprang up and fought against one another, armed and funded by non-state actors these outfits struck back in form of rise in militancy in the last two decades. Until 2014 Peshawar attack some TV anchors used to sympathise publicly with groups such as TTP. Countless state resources were directed in form of military operations to fight and end militancy, yet it respawns and bites again after a brief reprieve. It’s one thing to fight militants and quite another to fight the militant mindset. There’s a need for a redoubled sociocultural transformation alongside an on-ground military action to achieve lasting results.

A safe Pakistan is likely to attract more foreign direct investment and replenish our depleting forex reserves. A large-scale industrialisation program could effectively employ the bulging young population and retain the skilled workers who are rapidly seeking livelihood elsewhere. One way to begin with could be creation of industrial towns along the CPEC route where the bureaucratic process of establishing manufacturing enterprises would be speedy and hassle free. Incentives should be given to investors in form of tax relief and interest-free loans to attract money that would otherwise go into the real estate sector. This has a great potential of increasing exports, capping the urban sprawl of our metropolises, and strengthening our financial base which can make Islamabad less dependent on IMF programs in future also improving the standard of living and its place in the global human development index.

The very recent Saudi-Iran deal mediated by China has sent out a message to the world that the Western powers primarily the United States is no longer the arbiter of regional international politics. US involvement in any region of the world is now synonymous with war, infighting, destruction, and lawlessness. Whereas China now an established power is asserting its dominance over the world through economic cooperation, diplomacy, and infrastructure initiatives.

It is only natural for the US, the largest exporter of arms and defense equipment, to profit from an unstable world marred by violence. If China, as appears from President Xi’s recent visit to Moscow, can strike a peace deal or a truce between Russia and Ukraine, it may well mark the beginning of a Chinese epoch in the world order. Next China may offer to mediate talks on Kashmir which would be far more consequential than lobbying in the UN.

Pakistan perhaps cannot forsake its ideological commitment to the cause of Kashmir but can hold off till a better time. India-China trade as of 2022 amounts to $136 billion which China is unlikely to jeopardize by pressuring them to hold a referendum or anything similar in Kashmir. The BJP government now has to deal with many internal fissures, the latest being the revival of Khalistan movement, which Pakistan can exploit in its favour via clandestine channels.

Once the Hindutva ideology loses its grip on Indian politics by which time Pakistan can recover from its political and economic crises, the atmosphere may be ripe for reviving UNSC resolution 47 (1948) whose implementation Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated upon a visit to India and Pakistan in 2020. With regard to Russia, we can engage in ‘quiet diplomacy’ and sign major trade deals along with cultural and educational exchanges.

In 2023 Pakistan had to attend the SCO summit in India although virtually, not only to strengthen its position in the organisation but also to remain relevant in international politics despite unrest at home. The foreign policy of Pakistan currently appears detached from the centre since the country is under a caretaker setup that lacks cohesion on many fronts. However much India insists on bilateral talks on Kashmir, for Pakistan, it would be nearly impossible to achieve its aims without the intervention of international authorities chiefly the superpowers.

On our Western borders lies a rogue regime that defies all acceptable norms of governance in the post-modern world. The Afghan Taliban government although earlier welcomed by Islamabad now poses a security risk for Pakistan in the form of emboldened TTP and Pushtun nationalist movement to which it is undoubtedly lending support. Cross-border infiltration has ramped up again and locals in the former tribal areas are being threatened by the Taliban whose leadership has been provided with safe havens in Afghanistan.

Pakistan must negotiate elimination of TTP elements operating from Afghan land targeting civilians and security forces. If they persist in sheltering these terrorists, then Pakistan may possibly adopt a stern approach in the form of diplomatic blockade and limited military operations with heightened surveillance and control on the border.

The Pakistan army today has reached its lowest ebb in terms of popularity. It is a matter of great concern for the country and in no way augers the beginning of democracy. The army is the focal point, the center of gravity from which the country derives its stability. Army deems itself as the defender of Pakistan’s ideology and not merely its frontiers. This has led it to grow deeper roots in the country’s politics being accused of threatening journalists, manipulating polls, funding certain militant groups, forced disappearances, an inflated defense budget, etc.

In terms of country’s security and foreign policy, the army’s role is indispensable and as conventional warfare is becoming a thing of the past, a powerful intelligence setup is key in the fight against militancy and with a rival nuclear-armed state. The scope of their role however must be defined and restricted to matters of national security.

Pak Army is the country’s most functional and professional institution and to effectively serve as the country’s lynchpin it must leave certain national forces like the politicians, media, and judiciary to balance out one another. However cynical it may sound, the nation is not ready yet for civilian control over the military but likewise, the military must also be kept away from strictly civilian matters to improve rapport with the public.

SM Hassan Raza
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SM Hassan Raza is affiliated with an Islamabad based research institute.

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