Articles Regarding Pakistan

Economic security within national security: 09 April, 2021 "The Nation"

The first Islamabad Security Dialogue (ISD) was conducted in mid-March 2021 with the aim of drawing upon national and international thought-leaders to discuss how Pakistan’s national security calculus should more accurately reflect the nation’s multidimensional and interrelated security challenges. The structure of the dialogue, divided into five thematic sessions, reflected the need to incorporate a wider matrix of socio-security challenges, and a recognition that Pakistan must engage proactively on all fronts to attain a greater degree of co-integrated security against hybrid threats.

Two of the sessions, economic security and human security, centred around what once may have been categorised as non-traditional security domains. But in the contemporary global context, shaped by “wicked problems” of climate change, globalisation, population growth, rising non-state actors, and cyberactivity, among various other threats; it was important to point out that economic security and human security are urgent and elevated priorities. The ISD served as an ideal platform to emphasise to a wider audience how these priorities are being recalibrated, given how the matrix of global threats itself is becoming more complex, fluid, and interrelated.

Session 2 of the Islamabad Security Dialogue, for which I served as moderator on behalf of the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), was titled “Economic Security at the Core.” It consisted of five speakers from Pakistan and the United States, who collectively brought a rich set of diverse perspectives on how to develop and assure economic security for Pakistan and the wider world. Although each speaker drew upon their own subject-matter expertise, their combined contributions highlighted several areas of commonality, thereby reinforcing the idea of interrelatedness among concepts that lie within the umbrella term of “economic security.”

The foremost takeaway from Session 2 was that economic security should be a central component in any overarching national security strategy, and that our government’s emphasis on placing economic security at the core is not just a positive step but a necessary one. Yet in the same way that “national security” is a multidimensional phenomenon, the concept of “economic security” itself comprises an equilibrium among many moving parts. In other words, a nation’s power, influence and economic security are deeply intertwined, as noted by the keynote speaker H.E. Razzaq Dawood, and so a holistic understanding of the economic vulnerabilities and their complex relationship is necessary to understand the risks posed to national security.

A second important takeaway was that globalisation continues to represent an important driving force that shapes the economic security (or lack thereof) for all nations. Yet the global economy is transforming, and Pakistan must transform to adapt to a state of globalisation that is itself in flux. The eminent American professor Miles Kahler focused his remarks on this changing nature of globalisation, highlighting how a variety of exogenous factors, including non-state actors and the policies of major powers, weigh upon the economic security of any country. As such, new modes of globalisation will serve as the backdrop in which Pakistan’s economic security will be designed.

A third important takeaway from the session was that regional connectivity is an important stepping-stone for economic security. As was emphasised in the remarks of two notable panelists, Shamshad Akhtar and Haroon Sharif, regional connectivity should be an important goal for any economic security strategy. The converse is also true: economic security lays the precondition for regional integration, which is why cross-border infrastructure connectivity and financial exchange is critical in promoting elements of economic security such as trade and investment. As Haroon Sharif rightly observed, future regional connectivity will not just be based on physical infrastructure, but on information- and knowledge-based connections as well. Pakistan’s challenge in regional connectivity has in large part been that its neighbours, due to internal strife or their ideological enmity, haven’t offered a conducive environment within which to expand regional connections. However, Pakistan-China cooperation serves as an increasingly valuable counterexample to what is possible in the Asian Century, even in an under-connected region such as South Asia.

A fourth and no less important takeaway regarded the importance of energy policy and of climate change’s impact on the modes of economic production. The eminent Harvard professor Joe Aldy informed our session by shedding light on the importance of sustainability in energy policy and in climate action. Pakistan is a particularly climate-vulnerable country, and it has also faced an energy deficit, leaving it to fend against two significant economic headwinds simultaneously. However, both can be addressed through farsighted measures that include a larger weight on renewables in our energy mix. Economic security in the 21st century cannot be attained without such investments that are mindful of climate vulnerability and energy reliance, which is why Pakistan must be proactive in undertaking a climate-resilient and energy-efficient economic strategy.

Beyond these important takeaways, a significant portion of Session 2 highlighted the challenges that Pakistan’s economy now faces, and there is no shortage of adversity in what Pakistan must overcome to realise its economic security. Yet the tenor of Session 2 was one of optimism: what Pakistan confronts as economic headwinds also provide a set of meaningful opportunities. If these obstacles are surmounted and converted into opportunities for economic empowerment, then Pakistan would not just assure its economic security, but also bolster its larger national security. This is why economic security can and should sit at the core of our national security strategy, as the findings of the Islamabad Security Dialogue’s Session 2 sought to convey.

Hurting national interest: 09 April, 2021 "The Nation"

While the media and opposition parties in a democratic dispensation are supposed to act as watchdogs against the incumbent government—requiring an honest and objective evaluation of the government’s policies and constructive criticism aimed at path-correcting, it is an irrefutable reality that both of them relish the prospect of having incessant digs at the government, sometimes even descending into the realm of cynicism. This phenomenon called the disadvantage of incumbency is more pronounced and well-entrenched in developing countries like Pakistan which lack a healthy political culture stemming from the internationally recognised norms of democratic behaviour. The opposition is for the sake of opposition. Similarly, a bulk of the media enjoys focusing on negativity rather than presenting a balanced view of the ground realities immersed in objectivity. The situation becomes even more worrying when the media is also highly polarised.

The media, in its role as the fourth pillar of the state actually represents society and is under obligation to be pluralist in its approach, which means representing all segments of the society and shades of opinion, disseminating truthful information to the people and educating them with regards to the issues of national importance and supporting nothing but the truth. A pluralist media is acknowledged as a catalyst to the promotion and strengthening of democracy; pivotal to peace and progress. But unfortunately our media lacks these traits.

Currently it is highly polarised. This polarisation is more pronounced in electronic channels. In the evening shows, it is really painful to see truth becoming a casualty to the propagation of partisan views and even malicious swipes at the sitting government focusing on peripheral and frivolous issues which have no relevance to the challenges confronting the country and the way forward to winch it out of them.

Granted that under no circumstances can media be denied the right to criticise the government for its wrong policies and helping it to stay on course, but that criticism needs to be wedded to national interests instead of endorsing politics of self-aggrandisement, promotion of interests of particular political entities or vested interests. It is also incumbent upon the media to acknowledge the good work done by the government in handling national affairs and the measures put in place to help poor masses in spite of the difficult economic situation inherited, further devastated by the onset of coronavirus.

A pluralist and unbiased media would have lent unqualified support to the foregoing steps of the government and given a true perspective to the people with regard to how politicians and political parties played with their destiny and deprived them of the resources which could have been spent on their well-being. But what we see on the part of the partisan media is a deliberate effort to belittle the government initiatives in this regard and attributing them to political vendetta. More space and prominence is being given to the views of the opponents of the government who are desperately trying to defend their corruption through overt and covert means. The media should have taken a non-partisan view of the situation. Not doing so amounts to professional dishonesty and digression from pluralism and internationally recognised media ethics.

Now coming to the performance of the government with regard to handling the economy and protecting the masses from the adverse effects of permeating conditions, there is no doubt that the masses are feeling the heat of the hydra-headed inflation which is attributable to a host of internal and external factors and the government also acknowledges it. However, the fact is that the government has not only taken myriad measures to stem the rot in the economy but has also given top priority to mitigating the sufferings of the people through financial assistance and welfare-oriented initiatives under the umbrella of the Ehsaas programme.

The government has successfully handled the onslaught of the first and second wave of coronavirus and the effort has won the acclaim of the international community. It is also grappling with the third wave with determination and unswerving commitment. It has shown remarkable dedication with regard to dealing with the climate change phenomenon. Its initiative with respect to planting 10 billion trees has received universal acclaim.

On the external front, the government has fared well. As a result of the diplomatic offensive of the government India failed to sell her narrative of the developments in Indian Illegally Occupied Kashmir as her internal affair. The way Prime Minister Imran Khan has advocated the cause of the people of Kashmir and highlighted the issue at the global level knows no parallel. Under his stewardship Pakistan has also played a sterling role in promoting peace in Afghanistan. All these issues deserve to be highlighted without any bias. The media needs to revert to the drawing board to understand its desired role and the limits of freedom of expression.

The Naltar tragedy and beyond: 09 April, 2021 "The News"

The unfortunate incident of an attack on a passenger van and the killing of six people in the picturesque Naltar valley of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) a couple of weeks back came as deja vu for many of us. A few years ago, in separate tragic incidents in Chilas and near the LuluSar Lake Shias were dismounted from GB-bound passenger buses and were killed brutally.

Even today the unforgettable tragedy of homicide and the memories of the nightmarish scenes of horror and gruesome acts of butchery on the highway continue to haunt our fragile veneer of humanity and morality. The horrifying incident of Naltar reminds us of the instinct to kill and the ephemeral nature of civility that is outdone by the inner bestial being whose lust for power and control knows no bounds.

The news of mayhem at Lower Naltar spread like wildfire across GB, sending shock waves all around amidst the social media frenzy of associating the incident as a prelude to sectarian conflict in the area. Some religious outfits were quick to proclaim this incident as an attack on their belief system and went on to instigate mobs for sectarian violence. The leaders of banned religious outfits were also seen on social media making public sermons to mobilize people for jihad against what they call infidels.

The tragedy of Naltar has left in deep shock peace lovers, beauty seekers and nature enthusiasts whose summer touristic destination was made to bleed by a handful of miscreants.

The madness inflicted upon the peaceful, hospitable and valiant people of GB at a time when they were celebrating the euphoria of the political transition of the area into a provisional province has many far-reaching implications. This madness has a pattern for sure. Those who are losing the political moorings in the new equation of peaceful coexistence are out with their gloves off to instigate sectarian conflict to control resources. As they say, every conflict boils down to the economy and to resource control, and those who wage such unholy attacks have an eye on the larger pie of the potential riches of the area.

It is, therefore, important to dig deep into the strategic objectives of the apparent phenomenon of sectarian violence in GB. The most logical first step to locate the enemies of inclusive peace and shared prosperity is to identify the beneficiaries of the conflict. The people of GB, regardless of their faith orientation, are losers of the divisive conflict; in fact, their livelihood is directly linked to peace, tranquility and interfaith harmony. GB cannot really be compared to any other restive parts of the country where there is a perceived sense of insurgencies and centrifugal drift. The people of GB have always shown allegiance to Pakistan and have aspired for political mainstreaming, constitutional protection and territorial integration.

In GB, people of all political persuasions including the nationalists, the progressives, the conservatives and the liberals have invariably converged upon the demand for the political integration of the region. The narrative of political integration does not have much esoteric complexity when it comes to defining the strategic roadmap of good governance and empowerment.

In this, there are four possible political roadmaps: a) granting internal autonomy and local governance in line with the UN resolutions on the Kashmir dispute; b) provisional provincial status with meaningful representation in the constitutional bodies of Pakistan and legal protections till the resolution of the Kashmir dispute; c) declaring the Line of Control as the international border with visa-free regime for Kashmiris across the border; and d) full territorial integration through amendments in the articles 1, 51, 59, 257 and 258 of the constitution of Pakistan. None of these options proposed by the indigenous political groups of GB tantamount to acts of treason, anti-state moves or a centrifugal drift.

In the newly emerging regional and international political situation, Pakistan has finally decided to go with option two by granting GB a provisional provincial status. Though this is in line with one of the long-awaited demands of the people of GB, its legal and constitutional contours are not fully drawn to the satisfaction of the local people.

The people of GB have also shown great unity about their political future despite the linguistic and faith plurality found in the area. The unity and peaceful coexistence expressed through converging collective political aspirations is seen by power contenders as a threat to their economic interests of controlling the resources of the area. These powerful interests have fomented sectarian conflict in the past as a means to divide people and unleash violence to control resources of the area.

The question then arises: can we not identify the traitors, the anti-state elements and take them to task? Many right activists and innocent people of GB are languishing in jails on false allegations of being anti-state. This act of incarcerating these young political activists without legal due diligence has given rise to frustration and a sense of political exclusion.

It is however encouraging to note that the mainstream religious leaders, political representatives, civil society, media and representatives of law-enforcement agencies unanimously condemned the killing of the innocent passengers as an act of terrorism. The people of GB have seen the benefits of peaceful coexistence during the last few years and therefore the incident was unequivocally condemned by all schools of thought as a conspiracy to disrupt the enduring endeavors of interfaith harmony in GB. The provincial government of GB was quick to order an investigation into the daylight killings and the local police also arrested 16 suspects based on intelligence reports.

The government of GB also issued a notification to take stern action against hate mongers and venomous sectarian campaigners on social media for sabotaging peace efforts. Far from the peace speeches of politicos, an impressive peace initiative was taken by a group of young people in Gilgit city whose message of building interfaith harmony went unnoticed by mainstream media. This group of young peace enthusiasts organized a tea for peace party – or Aman ki Chai – in Gilgit city which was attended by people from all faith groups who pledged their support for peace building.

There is much to learn from such progressively organized efforts for peace put together by the people of GB. Such efforts show that people can be the best custodians of building a peaceful and inclusive Pakistan.

Colonial intrusion and Pakhtun resistance: 09 April, 2021 "The News"

The new gem from Akbar S Ahmed is a compiled and edited publication of two apparently unrelated, but subtly interlinked manuscripts: A set of Pakhtun proverbs (Mataloona) and a Resident Administrator’s monograph on British government relations with the Mahsud tribe of Waziristan (Mizh).

The disjuncture is at the level of form. Mataloona is a set of proverbs about the way life is for Pakhtuns. It has integrity of thought and action, a beauty in the universal significance of their idiom. By contrast, Mizh has the cold logic of colonial administration. It describes the repeated attempts at a stick and carrot approach to make the Mahsuds acquiesce to colonial power. Yet, at the same time, the report implies the futility of such attempts in the face of Pakhtun resistance.

What connects the two manuscripts is the consciousness of the Mahsuds: the serene wisdom of the Pakhtun tradition embodied in the Mataloona and a fierce defiance against the colonial intrusion that arises precisely from that tradition and is narrated in the Mizh.

The Mataloona and the Mizh therefore, in their different forms, evoke the Frontier. This Frontier is not just geographic, but existential. It is an interface of two worlds. The world of the colonizer, wherein he strives to dominate and control; and the world of the Pakhtun community that affirms its historical consciousness through resistance to the colonizer.

The Mizh candidly acknowledges the colonial endeavour: “The custodians of civilisations dealing with barbarians…”. The colonial aim of dominance is predicated on colonizing the mind of the people they seek to subjugate. Setting up a system of political control and economic extraction in India required transposing into the psyche of the colonized people the colonizer’s image of them as inferior creatures. But this involved a rupture of the community from their own history, from the reference points in their consciousness through which they experienced their dignity, their creativity and passion for freedom.

Unlike some of the elites of the settled areas of the Subcontinent, the Pakhtuns with their tribal sense of equality and the living connection with their history resisted the colonial intrusion from the outset. The Pakhtuns, through the quietude of their wisdom and ferocity in combat, defied the attempt to colonize their minds and control their society.

Evelyn Howell, Resident of Waziristan and author of Mizh, states the Mahsud argument with a rare depth of understanding: “A civilisation has no other end than to produce a fine type of man. Judged by this standard, the social system in which the Mahsud has been evolved must be allowed immeasurably to surpass all others. Therefore, let us keep our independence and have none of your ‘qanun’ and your other institutions which have wrought such havoc in British India, but stick to our own ‘riwaj’, and be men like our fathers before us.”

Being men involved not only upholding the Pakhtun tradition of valour in battle but also deploying their intellectual power when dealing with their British protagonists.

Howell the Resident, mindful of the intellectual prowess of the Pakhtuns, combined with their skill in battle, observes by way of an epitaph to the colonial enterprise in Waziristan, “The Mahsud colonisation scheme continued to be a failure and, by the standards of those times, a costly failure.” He then analyses the colonial failure to subjugate the Mahsuds, and one of the reasons he proffers, is their power of intellectual argument: “The Mahsud being still unsubjugated, it falls next to consider the other reasons which make him no less difficult to deal with on planes other than that of force… his amazing plausibility in argument, such as would excite the envy of an Athenian demagogue.”

The tribal tradition of equality was so deeply rooted in the consciousness of the Pakhtuns that this norm was brought to bear in dealing with the British, without regard for the consequences. Howell in the Mizh notes this trait with grudging respect, “The famous Jaggar, Abdul Rehman Khel, once said to me, ‘Let it be “field” and blow us all up with cannon or make all eighteen thousand of us Nawabs’.”

The strength of Howell’s monograph on the Mahsuds, as indeed Akbar Ahmed’s introduction to it, lies in the fact that both grasp that “complex of mental attributes,” the consciousness of the Mahsuds, that led to courage in the battlefield as much as ingenuity on the negotiating table. These two forms of consciousness cross the bounds of form to give meaning to the metaphor that Akbar has created in juxtaposing Mataloona with Mizh.

Akbar S Ahmed in his profound foreword to Mataloona, notes that, “to know a people, listen to their proverbs and poetry”. One could perhaps add that a people also know themselves through their folklore and their poetry. The literature of a people contains the archetypal images that represent their deepest experience of being in this world. These images are part of what Carl Gustav Jung calls the Collective Unconscious and influence the way a community apprehends the world at any one moment. Hence, they shape the choices through which a people make their own history.

Sir Olaf Caroe, in his preface to the Mataloona has provided a practical insight into the relationship between the proverbs of the Pakhtuns and the consciousness that influences their interactions with others. Caroe learned from his Pashto language teacher, Qazi Rahimullah of Abdara, that “. . . an ability to quote the apt matal–proverb is one way to the heart of the Pakhtun.” Sir Olaf experienced the validity of his teacher’s observation when facing an angry Mohmand Jirga at Shabqadar. He noticed that their scowls turned into smiles when reminded of the Pashto proverb, “…patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

Akbar Ahmed has gone into the depth of the proverbs. He has compiled and brought out their universal significance by quoting similar proverbs from world literature. For example, the proverb, “God in the mouth, but theft in the heart”, is remarkably similar to Akbar’s quote from Shakespeare, “A fair face, a foul heart”. Again, the Pashto proverb, “One ear of corn in the hand is better than a pannier full a year later”, parallels the quote from Cervantes, “A bird in hand is better than two in the bush”.

The significance of our present actions becomes apparent only in the future, when they merge into a past that is irredeemable. This is expressed in the Pakhtun proverb, “Water that has passed through the dyke will not return”. Akbar finds an echo of this truth in Omar Khayyam: The past cannot be recalled./One thing is certain, that life flies;/ One thing is certain, and the rest is lies;/ The flower that once has blown forever dies.

The universal nature of the Pakhtun proverbs in Mataloona that Akbar Ahmed’s scholarship has brought out has perhaps another implication. This is to do with the subject-object relationship. Could it be suggested that our consciousness is the means through which humans integrate their observations, memories and imagination to experience the world. It is a particular way of knowing and while being uniquely subjective, can be validated by other human subjects. Hence, Hegel’s view that objectivity is subjectivity universalized. The undeniable similarity in the proverbs of different cultures across the world provides evidence for this proposition.

Finally, there is the question of our relationship with the heart and the existential choices based on this relationship. Consider the Pakhtun proverb, “Where your heart goes, there your feet will go”. This is the thought of a community that is linked with the heart. What then is the meaning of the heart which beckons us and gives direction to our journey. Martin Lings, the famous Islamic scholar and Sufi Shaykh, has pointed out that the heart is not just the organ by that name, but the centre of our consciousness. In both the Western and Eastern intellectual traditions, he argues, the “heart is the instrument of experiencing the transcendent”. Shaykh, Professor Hossein Nasr, suggests that the heart is the “site where the human and the divine meet”. He argues that the centrality of the heart to the human state is pointed out in the Bible as well as the Quran and both speak of “heart-knowledge”.

In Judaism too, the heart is associated with the inner soul of man. The idea of combining reason with our faculty of experiencing higher truths in a direct and unmediated fashion, is present in all the major intellectual traditions of the world.

So, the Pakhtun wisdom of the feet following the call of the heart forms part of the perennial intellectual tradition. By contrast, the post-enlightenment Western materialist tradition excludes the possibility of experiencing the transcendent and hence divorces knowledge from the heart.

Unmindful of heart knowledge, the colonial conception of power as control was devoid of compassion. Within that framework, power was used to manipulate minds and oppress societies. But the Pakhtuns resisted colonisation with the strength of the arm and wisdom of the heart. This truth emerges with compelling clarity in Akbar Ahmed’s powerful presentation of the Mataloona and the Mizh.