Shahid M Amin
IT is a matter of satisfaction that there has been a smooth transfer of power in Pakistan. The ruling party Muslim League (N) has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly and its nominee Shahid Khaqan Abbasi easily secured a vote of confidence. He has a good academic background and an earnest manner which will help him in coping with his heavy responsibilities. But the impression remains that his party leader and ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will be pulling the strings from behind. This will hamper Abbasi’s functioning as the chief executive.
The new Prime Minister faces many challenges. At present, Pakistan is beset with serious problems, at home as well as abroad. The internal problems are probably responsible for some of the issues affecting our foreign policy. Let us identify some of these problems. The first one is the issue of law and order, including secessionist activities in Balochistan. It seems that the problem in Balochistan is manageable and the armed forces and other agencies are tackling them effectively. The greater issue affecting the country’s law and order is religious extremism and terrorism. It has taken a heavy toll of lives in the last two decades and, despite the success of military operations, terrorists continue to strike at random.
The truth is that extremism is a spreading cancer affecting all sectors of our society. It is not enough to dismiss religious extremists as consisting of ignorant and illiterate youth, coming from poorer sections of society, manipulated and brainwashed by certain misguided Mullahs and madrasas. Unfortunately, the problem is more deep-rooted. Some religious extremists come from affluent backgrounds and are well-educated, even with foreign degrees. They can be doctors, scientists, professors, authors, bureaucrats, serving armed forces personnel and media personalities. A certain misguided ideology is producing such extremism. The paradox is that such extremists passionately want to uphold Islam but, in practice, they are doing things that are contrary to Islamic teachings, which are marring the very image of Islam.
Their ideological root is the Wahhabi/Salafi thesis that Islam has been corrupted and its pristine character must be restored. These extremists are appalled by the luxury and corruption of the ruling classes, as also by grave-worship and other rituals among many Muslims. Up to a point, their concern is right, but the problem arises when this line of thought leads to violence to eradicate what the extremists see as deviation from Islam. They have been resorting to the worst kind of brutality, including assassinations, bomb blasts, mass murders, suicide bombings, decapitations, rapes, desecration of religious places, destruction of cultural monuments. They have gone against Islam’s cardinal teachings of mercy and forgiveness, tolerance and moderation. In this manner, they have defamed Islam and Pakistan.
This kind of religious extremism is adversely impacting Pakistan’s foreign relations as well. At present, Pakistan is relatively isolated and its ties with neighbours, and with the US and NATO forces operating in Afghanistan, have suffered due to accusations that militants trained or based in Pakistan are involved in cross-border operations. There have been abortive moves to get Pakistan declared as a terrorist state. While such allegations are often based on mala fides and double standard, nonetheless, they are hurting our relations with many countries. The more we do to curb such terrorism, through military force and counter-terrorism measures, the better it would be for our relations with many countries. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was accused of being a closet religious extremist, had delayed action against the Taliban.
The Abbasi government must be more proactive in dealing with the religious groups that inculcate extremism. It should induce the right-thinking Ulema to come out in the forefront to counter the insidious propaganda of religious extremists who are the modern-day Kharjites. Corruption has been a major problem preventing our economic growth. The new Prime Minister will earn the nation’s gratitude if he takes effective steps to curb this problem that has debased our values and demoralized our people. Corruption is also inhibiting foreign investment. Another key priority for Prime Minister Abbasi should be raising our exports, which are lagging behind countries even in our own region, including Bangladesh. Shortage of energy has been one reason. It is hoped that the successful implementation of CPEC projects will help overcome energy shortage by 2018.
The general expectation is that Pakistan’s economy will be transformed through speedy implementation of CPEC. The country’s standing in the world will also rise significantly. At the same time, there is need for greater transparency about the nature of financing for CPEC projects: are these loans, investment or otherwise? Some sceptics are worried that Pakistan is being burdened by huge foreign loans that will be difficult to repay. Others fear that China will acquire a stranglehold over our economy and Pakistan will in effect become a kind of colony. It is being reported that trade is one-sided: too many Chinese tariff barriers are inhibiting our exports. Undoubtedly, there is great imbalance in trade.
Clearly, some hard talking is needed with China. The nature of royalties negotiated with China, on oil and gas pipelines that will pass through Pakistan, has never been explained. The people want to be informed about the work completed so far. In short, the government owes it to the Pakistani people to explain what the economic and other advantages of CPEC are. Our government spokesmen resort too often to flat generalizations and empty platitudes that CPEC is very beneficial, without ever going into specifics.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin