Quest for Regional Stability | Riaz Missen

WHILE in Maldive, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif vowed to extend every kind of cooperation to neighbours to curb and eliminate the menace of terror. The policy statement duly reflects Pakistan’s determination to project an independent course of foreign policy, something it has aspired for since the end of Cold War. After Pakistan is no more part of global ideological politics, it has simply refused to be a battle ground of divisive ideologies as well. The neighbours may take time to understand its urge for peace but the dictates of geography and the nature of times have made the country to claim its due place under the sun.

No neighbour of Pakistan, except China, actually wants to believe change of hearts and minds in Islamabad. They may consult history and their imperial past may accord Pakistan merely a role of buffer state. Their sublime ambitions may ignore the fact that Pakistan occupies approximately the same region where a unique civilisation has grown which continues to thrive with a dynamic society embracing pluralist cultural tradition. A fertile land fed by five mighty rivers and scores of streams gushing down the Himalayas and Hindu Kush continue to make a wonderful landscape marked with valleys, plains and deserts. Four seasons just add to a dignified livelihood absent in many remarkable neighbours, no matter how ancient and historical they are.

Pakistan has passed through thicks and thins of times but has become a reality, which only fools will have the courage to deny. Its moderate size, growing economy and the sixth largest army of the world equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry, do matter. The enemy can’t think of occupying it by force; the ongoing spate of terrorism is simply an enemy’s attempt to carry out its evil designs through unleashing on it the forces of instability, benefiting more from the structural weakness of political system and administrative weaknesses than the fragility of defence apparatus.

Actually, Pakistan is in no position to raise its accusing finger at neighbourhood due to its particular composition of society. Having its racial stocks cut across by international boundaries and sectarianism having taken firm roots in the society, blaming neighbours of stoking such fires will weaken its position further. The alternative course, which it is certainly taking, is to remove the reasons which urge its own people to get attracted to the divisive ideologies. Take the case of sweeping constitutional reforms of 2010, which besides paving the country’s way towards a genuine democracy, also deprived ethno-nationalists of the reason to indulge in any activity undermining the integrity of Pakistan by granting provinces the autonomy, which no federal unit in the entire region can claim to have ever enjoyed. To extinguish sectarian fires, there is lot in National Action Plan (NAP) of 2014.

Of course, ethno-nationalism remains a problem and military means are not, actually they have never been, its solution. The reason is that the demands of its adherents are not satiable. That they continue to strain the nerves of the Centre, owes much to the mindset of the mainstream political parties originating in smaller province; they are not quick to adjust with the changed centre-province relations, which they had administered themselves, and continue to be locked in old ways of politics.

The PPP’ which had actually spearheaded the move for provincial autonomy, has stuck to ethnic mode of politics. While it rules over Sindh, the second largest province of the county, ethnic tensions have simply flared up pushing the largest city and the country’s business hub into anarchy. The solution definitely lies in meeting democratic demands of MQM, the party that dominates city, of ending urban-rural job quotas and autonomous local government system, but doing the same will deprive the PPP of the rural vote bank, which sustains it in power in Sindh; it has dominated Senate by playing the fear of Punjab’s dominance in Parliament.

PPP’s ethnic mode of politic is also visible in its bonhomie with ANP, an ethno-national party which it uses as a balancing factor in Karachi, the provincial capital where the PPP has only a thin presence. It is this partnership that made possible giving NWFP an ethnic nomenclature. The PPP also plays to the gallery of ethno-nationalists in Punjab; it lost its bastion of ‘Saraiki’ belt only due to the reason that Sindhi nationalists opposed the division of the largest province on ethno-linguistic grounds lest the required constitutional amendments pose threat to the integrity of multi-ethnic smaller provinces as well.

Pakistan can no more stay divided against itself for long; it has to overcome, preferably resolve, itself ethnic dilemma to occupy its due place under the sun. The problem is constitutional, for the ethnics, have only saw a solution through sweeping reforms of 2010 in rendering Pakistan an ethnic federation. Beyond that narrow and skewed vision of ethno-nationalist forces, which PPP happens to lead, lies a pluralist Pakistan, which Quaid-i-Azam advocated in his Aug 11 address to the 1st Constituent Assembly: a state where people are treated as equal citizens regardless of their ethnicity and religion. The NAP is directed at eradicating menace terrorism from Pakistan’s soil; its spirit calls for removing the causes that breed it. The linkage between corruption and terror-financing have been duly established but that between huge inequalities and violence have yet to be realized. The problem of crime and violence are structural and need Constitutional reforms, not necessarily to the likings of status-quo powers, which hold hostage the mainstream political parties.

NAP, of course is a big blow to the vested interests that block pro-people legislation and raise hurdle to devolution of power to the grassroots level a per the spirit of the Constitution. But Centre has to move fast to out manoeuvre the ethno-national forces, which have developed nexus with religious right, to avail the space the strategic scenario is offering it, both in terms of foreign investment and regional trade. Before the next general elections are in sight and the country is in the electoral fuss as usual, Pakistan needs to upgrade the NAP to addresses structural anomalies of the federation as well. It essentially means modelling the Constitution on the ideals of the founder of Pakistan as well as seeing off the Westminster model of government.

— The writer is a strategic analyst, based in Islamabad.


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