“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, Chapter IV
These lines (in the inset) from Alice in Wonderland bear a somewhat uncanny analogy to Pakistan’s journey so far and in near future, if we do not Focus. At 70, and confronted with grave challenges on both domestic and foreign fronts, Pakistan can no longer afford to continue eking out a mere existence in a classic “Alice in Wonderland dilemma”, where we neither know the way, nor care where we are headed and are showing fatigue and frustration which casts doubt on our ability to ‘walk long enough’.
In a case of stoic resignation, we turned indifferent to where we headed and changed our paths, taking some U-turns. This heedless and disoriented existence must be taken a departure from. Confusion, uncertainties, procrastination and inaction hang like dead weight in our efforts to rejuvenate Pakistan. The clarity of where we are heading as a nation state, what best course to be charted out, and what socio-economic wherewithal would be required are critical to a successful and meaningful journey in nations’ lives – “a walk long enough”.
The journey beyond 70 demands certain rites of passage that inter alia require balancing economic revival with building a soft-powerbase so as to reclaim our due status in the comity of nation states. Pakistan’s detractors and “ill-wishers” are continuously trying their best to defame the country with labels of “failing state”, or “hub of terror”, but hard historical facts, economic data, and statistics show that Pakistan is anything but that. As Anatole Lieven has argued in “Pakistan: A Hard Country,” the country may be facing issues of corruption, extremism and terrorism, but it continues to function and exist. Terrorist elements neither have the spine nor the teeth or the muscle to overturn the state. And focused efforts of national institutions, especially the hard work and sacrifices of security and law enforcing agencies spearhead by Armed forces, have physically and geographically rooted the terrorist elements out.
It is, however, a hard fact that cleansing of hearts and minds is yet to be started. That Pakistan is being surrounded from all sides and corners is officially public from the mouth of the in-charge of internal security, but we are internally too busy 24/7 discussing regime or system change, which is a source of concern. But the prophets of doom must know Pakistan will not collapse like a led balloon even if a freak eventuality – a Black Swan event – happens, and that too, on the scale of a combined India-US misadventure. Pakistan will continue to exist as a 1945 Muslim League banner says “Pakistan Sadionsy Qaim hay.”
So, the million dollar question Pakistan faces at 70 is: Where to now; what path we as a nation must commit ourselves to if we want more than just mere existence. There are some voices and theories of changing path and experimenting something totally new as we are facing many difficulties and hardships.
Here I would like to highlight a lesson or message of my favorite writer-cum-mentor Bano Qudsia contained in her drama and repeated in her novel Raja Gidh which can be summarized as follows:- The journey of life is a difficult journey (both for individual and nation). No matter what path or route we take, the hardships of the journey make one think that one has chosen a wrong or more difficult path, and that the other path not opted, may have been better and easier. One starts thinking of changing and opting another path, but the hard fact of the journey of life is that even the other path will be full of challenges and hardships. So no matter whichever path one chooses, one should keep walking, and continue braving the hardships and difficulties. Course correction is one thing, but turning back or quitting is another.
Yes, there are looming challenges; yes, slow and inadequate progress and momentary setbacks hinder our progress; but then we have seen worse times; we have done much better with much less. We did it then, we can do it now. Winds of change are blowing, slowly, but surely. Economic recovery is underway, and our international ratings have improved. In terms of soft power, too, our films, dramas and music industry, as well as sports such as cricket, are showing promising signs of revival. Forward-looking, progressive and determined to rise, today’s Pakistan nurtures hope and promise side by side the doubts.
Regardless, one swallow does not make summer, and also we must not count our chickens before they are hatched. We have seen bubbles of economic betterment and illusions of social uplift before, even during dark undemocratic periods of our history, but they lacked sustainability and traction for being cosmetic, transient and myopic. The palpable gains on account of democratic and economic revival will be undone quickly if we do not plan and act prudently and strategically.
The next five years are very crucial in terms of nation building, improving socio-economic indicators, and rebuilding the shattered national image. On the economic front, self-reliance and real austerity will be crucial to overthrow the yoke of expensive borrowing from international financial institutions and debts. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) can be a game changer in terms of huge geo-economic, geo-strategic prospects and dividends it envisages. However, realization of these goals depends on how methodically and realistically we conceive and implement sound plans of action and stake ownership — rather than shadowing the Chinese — so as to leverage the immense opportunities offered by the economic corridor.
And while the economic significance of foreign direct investment or mega joint partnership projects can hardly be overemphasized, our real economic potential lies in encouraging and prioritizing entrepreneurship and skills development of our own youth. A special focus on our young population in this regard may act as a force multiplier since our youth are not only our future, but also our asset. Given the importance of youth to Pakistan’s future development, it is necessary to provide space, means and environment in which this invaluable human resource attains the optimal growth potential to become equal partners in national development. Skills development and unhindered access to economic opportunities can make youth active agents of change and transformation for Pakistan.
There is also a dire need to encourage and support women since any form of progress for a nation state requires an equal contribution and effort from both genders. Women have always been an important component of the Pakistani society. Despite heavy odds the country has produced exceptional female human resource that has excelled in many ?elds. Even today, the role of women in Pakistan is rapidly changing, and there is a silent social revolution taking place with a rising number of women joining the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder in Pakistan. Women are making great progress as both public and private sectors are now recruiting women in almost all genres of professional work. These include the Pakistani military, civil service, advertising, retail, schools, hospitals, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations, media, fashion industry, and NGOs, etc.
As for image building, there are no quick fixes, or any silver bullet. What we need is concerted, holistic, and more importantly sustained efforts over a prolonged period to make up for the lost time and ground. The role of media in building a positive and soft image of Pakistan will be crucial in this regard.
A responsible media can protect the national interest by removing misconceptions of the world and by serving as the mouthpiece to highlight the country’s peace credentials especially its desire to have friendly relations with all the countries especially the neighboring countries. Our anti-terror efforts like the Operation Zarb-e-Azb and the Operation Radul Fassad; economic revival; construction of infrastructure projects, especially the CPEC; resurgence of soft power in areas of entertainment and fashion, films, music and sports; as well as our tourism and archaeological attractions and potential will have to be highlighted through movies and media.
It is imperative to project the soft image of the country in the comity of nations. This emphasis on perception and image is not for changing the minds of outsiders only. We first need to correct our own thought process, actions and perceptions. Focusing on ourselves as a nation state, should be first priority. Within nation state love for the land – motherland- instead of distant lands is a must for developing a proper identity and image. We also need to reexamine and revisit some of our thoughts, beliefs and actions embedded in other lands or far too back in time. Even if we failed to project the history and civilization of peace, love, democracy and development by properly showcasing the precious heritage of Gandhara, Taxila, Harrapa, Moenjodaro and MaharGarh, there are still a lot of places, landmarks and culture which are purely our land specific and undiscovered.
Successes achieved by the country on the stabilization of democracy and political process must also be focused upon and duly projected in order to offset the impression often created in the western media that democracy is still fragile in the country. However, as we speak of politics, one cannot resist sounding a word of caution. Pakistan stands at a critical juncture in its history where national interest must take priority over everything else.
We must not let the prevalent humbug and mercury rising in national politics take precedence over issues of national and public importance such as security, war on terror, energy, and socio-economic betterment. The current political row and legal proceedings are proving to be a red herring, distracting and diverting government, media and public attention from issues that matter the most.
At the same time, we also need to be extra vigilant and watchful of rising extremism and fundamentalism in the neighboring India. Armed with nuclear power and led by an extremist Modi government, India is the uncontrollable ‘enfant terrible’ of South Asia, and a threat to regional peace and security that we must watch out for.
These are some of the imperatives that must sit at the very top of our national priorities applecart during the next five years. Revival of economy, film, sports etc. in Pakistan has set the wheels of reformation in motion. However, it’s a long process — but the good thing is there is hope and promise. While our challenges are daunting, our resolve is even stronger towards reinforcing reformative process and promoting culture, literature, music, film, sports and image branding as a vehicle of change and progress. It’s our collective and individual responsibility to act as a bridge between Pakistan and the rest of world and clear all prevailing misconceptions through dialogue and reasoning, but most importantly through strengths of character and honesty of purpose.
It’s the difficult but right and the necessary path that nations commit themselves to unabashedly that truly defines their real character, substance and mettle. The Choice is ours: Affirmative Action or Inaction. Also cross purpose or synergized action. However, one thing is for sure that the choices we make today and the actions we take concerning the key issues highlighted above, will decide our success or failure as a nation state beyond the crucial crossroad of 70.
Today’s Pakistan is conscious of its past mistakes and a forward-looking country, and this is the image that we must promote. Beyond 70, our journey in search of true national identity, internal reformation and international recognition is only just starting. There is no doubt that a bright and better future awaits this great country, and I believe it will be sooner than otherwise expected.
When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow–
You may succeed with another blow,
Success is failure turned inside out-
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
-Edgar A. Guest
Writer: Amjed Pervez Malik / Business Recorder