Pakistan: a passion for self-inflicted injuries
Who’s in charge? Who is running foreign policy? Is it Gen Bajwa or our Panama-hit prime minister? Whatever the answer to this question, one thing is for sure: Pakistan is making a royal mess of its regional relationships.
Does it have to take Britain to tell us that we should ease things with Afghanistan? Opening the Pak-Afghan border at British urging is hardly something to be proud of. The border should not have been shut in the first place. It was a silly and impulsive thing to do. Terrorists don’t come waving their passports when they want to commit a terrorist act. There are a thousand and one ways of crossing what is one of the world’s most porous borders.
But having done the silly thing we should have had the sense to quietly back down and open the border without any prompting from any other quarter…especially when it was becoming evident that far from impressing the Afghans or any terrorist organization we were causing harm to our own truckers and exporters.
Britain’s intervention in Afghanistan has been less than a glorious success. The British were supposed to de-Talibanise the southern region around Helmand. They failed in this and it has been some time that they pulled out of Afghanistan. It’s a measure of what the situation in Afghanistan is that far from anything being pacified, the key district of Sangin next to Helmand was recently overrun by the Taliban. The British thus are virtually non-players in Afghanistan today but Pakistan had to give them the importance of being peace brokers between our two countries.
And look at our Iranian policy. Just when the world—at least most western countries—are beating a path to Iran’s door, this after the lifting of nuclear-related United Nations’ sanctions, Pakistan is managing to put its relations with Iran in an icebox. The Iranians were already suspicious of our pro-Saudi sympathies but as if to confirm that impression Pakistan in its wisdom has agreed that one of its own, Gen Raheel Sharif, will head the 39-nation Saudi-sponsored military alliance which so far exists not even on paper.
In the Middle East today being pro-Iran amounts to being anti-Saudi, and vice-versa: to be pro-Saudi is to be on the wrong side of Iran. It doesn’t require much genius to figure this out, but Pakistan donning a mask of innocence is adding insult to injury when it insists that this Saudi-sponsored alliance has no implications for Iran. Not surprisingly, the Iranians are not amused.
Afghanistan and Iran are close by but we are showing our prowess with Bangladesh too. The National Assembly speaker, my friend Ayaz Sadiq, has announced a Pakistani boycott of a parliamentary moot that was to be held in Dhaka, his reason being that Bangladesh has shown itself hostile to Pakistan. Somewhat better sense could have been expected from our friend Raza Rabbani, the Senate Chairman, but he too thought it fit to mount the same high horse of indignant patriotism.
What will it take for Pakistan to get it into its head that whatever Bangladesh does, whatever the attitude towards Pakistan of the Hasina Wajid government, whatever the Awami League’s sympathy for India, it just doesn’t behove Pakistan to get upset with Bangladesh, no matter what the cause. This is one of those relationships where even if Bangladesh proffers a slap our response must be to turn the other cheek…and utter not a sound.
The people of Bangladesh did not wrong us. We wronged them. We treated them like second-class citizens and ignoring their aspirations tried to shove our version of the ideology of Pakistan down their throats. Even when we are spurned or let’s say wronged, it remains incumbent upon us to open our arms to them. When will we understand this?
In fact if the foreign office had any sense it would set it down as a policy that the first person to call on any new foreign minister of Pakistan should be the high commissioner of Bangladesh. This should be the standard protocol, if only we were to remember our history. Indeed, in that far-off distance when a real people’s government comes to power in Pakistan, one school day of the week, in every Pakistani school, should begin with a song of Qazi Nazrul Islam, the fiery Bengali poet.
Just as other days of the week should begin with renditions from our other poets: Iqbal’s timeless ‘lab pe aati hai dua ban ke tamana meri’, the verses of Bulleh Shah and Shah Hussain, something from Latif’s ‘Shah Jo Risalo’, Rehman Baba in Pashto, appropriate poetry from Kashmir, and on one day of the week throughout Pakistan, from the ice-capped mountains to the boundless sea, Nazrul Islam in Bengali. The sum total of this exercise will amount to a truer ideology of Pakistan than anything we’ve been taught so far.
We do ourselves no service by being a surly neighbor to all our neighbours. We must be friends with Iran and although it is not in our power to bring peace to Afghanistan we must eschew once and for all that attitude of superiority which creeps into our behavior when dealing with our brothers and sisters—yes, they are that—from Afghanistan.
The Americans take us for a ride and give us lectures on correct behavior even as they milk us for all we are worth. Far from taking offense we are all smiles and polite behavior. Why can’t we display some of the same attitude towards our immediate neighbours? In all our wars with India the Afghans and Iranians never stabbed us in the back. We should remember this, as we should remember the fact that geography is not to be changed.
Pakistanis are more familiar with London and New York than they are with Kabul and Teheran. We should have institutes teaching Dari and Farsi. We should have students taking up Bengali, which will be of help in the reading and studying of Hindi. We need to be more knowledgeable about South Asia than we are.
As for the fraught subject of ties with India, we have our differences and problems, there is no denying this. But beyond the differences there is something else: paranoia. We think the worst of each other and attribute motives and intentions that may only be figments of our respective imaginations. Regardless of what the Indian calculation is, irrational hostility towards India on our part—the way we portray India as an existential threat—serves no Pakistani purpose.
We should be on our guard. We should be vigilant, as we should be vigilant towards everyone. But there is no reason for us to feel needlessly insecure. We are not Portuguese Goa or Hyderabad Deccan that Indian forces can march in and play the conqueror. We can defend ourselves without Chinese or any other assistance. This talk in India of putting in place a doctrine of a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pakistan is nonsense. Pakistan has enough in its nuclear arsenal to deter such adventurism. We should be more confident about ourselves, but without bragging about our nuclear capability as we tend to do sometimes.
Putting our house in order…that and not India is our number one problem. Looking for ways and means to tackle this problem is not made easier when we are distracted by quarrels which can either be avoided or whose intensity can be minimized with patience and subtle handling.