New Year, New Tasks

By: Agha Haider Raza

2011 has been a rather tumultuous year for Pakistan. There have been too many incidents to highlight and ponder over.  With the assassination of Salmaan Taseer in January to the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in November, the land of the pure has taken a lot of bruising. Despite suffering at the hands of homegrown and natural disasters, Pakistan continues to point fingers at the United States and other foreign intelligence agencies.  Now don’t get me wrong, the US has done its fair share to ruffle things up in the region, but I have to ask– how long can the country blame foreign powers for our own misery? Pakistan has failed to create a cohesive narrative at a time when it is most necessary.

 Leadership can be defined as “the process of influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” Perhaps 2012 will be the year that this common task is redefined by the elected members of parliament and becomes Pakistan’s mainstream narrative.  One can only hope that this common task will be free of an Indian centric military, strategic depth Afghanistan and usage of militancy for short-term gains.  While concentrating on economics, religious tolerance and curtailing the out-stretched limbs of the Military Establishment. It is hard to imagine how the country can afford to go another year without undertaking these tasks.

Whilst terrorism and floods have battered Pakistan’s economy for the past few years, many of our economic woes are homegrown.  This stems from a weak and feeble foundation upon which the country’s economics are built upon. Agricultural reforms, trade development and most importantly tax generation are key aspects in strengthening Pakistan’s economics.

If privatization in Pakistan is carried out with transparency and through the proper channels, it seems difficult to comprehend why the Supreme Court would intervene.  If the power sector were to be given its due payments by the government, we can diminish the circular debt.  If the media were to act as an accountability mechanism, the government will not be able to make sweeping statements.  Article 25A (18th Amendment) of the constitution stipulates “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years.”  Empty rhetoric will not suffice anymore. Solutions to our economic problems come from Parliament and the Government.  The United States does not hold the keys to our economic engine.

It is also time that the citizens and the government of Pakistan become publically tolerant of other religions and sects.  The PPP government continues to forfeit the opportunity to clamp down on religious intolerance. Conducting politics by living in fear will only lead Pakistan into further isolation, as we will witness a greater loss of life through sectarian violence and terrorism.  While the PPP manifesto of 2008 “commits itself to religious tolerance”, the party leadership cannot merely condone acts of religious violence that have taken the lives of thousands in the past few years.

Pakistan’s civilian-military imbalance is no secret.  The military junta is very powerful and has stretched its tentacles into the social- economic sector. The armed forces of Pakistan should not be basking in the commerce of banking, insurance, housing, cement production, sugar mills, power and gas, processing of cow-dung and production of cereals amongst others.  It thus comes as no surprise that the military would want to take the largest slice of the pie when it comes to determining Pakistan’s budget.  The military needs to open the Army Welfare Trust and Fauji Foundation to the private sector and return to the barracks.  Having a military powerful enough to undermine civilian governance undercuts the very core of a democratic system.  Furthermore, it is time to realize that military power alone cannot carry Pakistan into the 21st century.  Rather, economics, will determine the stature of Pakistan in the global arena.  Placing soldiers on our eastern borders will not spur GDP growth or facilitate Pakistan in achieving its macro-economic objectives.  The flip side of amassing a nuclear arsenal is the deterrent aspect.  A developed nuclear armory should trigger a restructuring of Pakistan’s Armed forces.  This would allow the national budget to spread the nations wealth in order to fund social programs and target economic goals.

Blaming the United States for our economic problems, terrorist activities and domestic policies is easy, but futile.  I would rather see Pakistan challenge the US, India and Israel economically than have the Military Establishment conducting proxy wars to undermine other nations. The current leadership needs to realize that their worries about garnering supporters will be over as long as people see their needs being addressed.

While the title of this post is called New Year, New Tasks, in reality it should be called New Year, Same Ole Tasks since the tasks I’ve defined here should not be completely unfamiliar.  These are issues that have plagued the country one time or another since its inception.  However one needs to ask, how many more years will go by with Pakistan wobbling its way along an undefined path?  Our current economic standing and domestic insecurity shows that Pakistan has nearly hit rock bottom.

Over the decades many analysts, journalists and politicians have come to assume that true power in Pakistan rests with the Military and/or the United States.  The social movement, which saw the restoration of the Chief Justice in Pakistan, changed this dynamic.  True political power is in the hands of the people.  The military was not able to undertake the operation in Swat without public approval.  A powerful president who wore the uniform could not conduct politics, as he desired.  And the PPP government has had to rescind many decisions, which have not sat well with the people of Pakistan.  The civilian leadership needs to provide a common task narrative, supported by the citizens of Pakistan to carry the country forward.  By doing so, the government would be able to harness a dangerous and lethal religious uprising, stabilize poor economic indicators and attempt to reign in the military.

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