Rashid A Mughal
There is neither any inherent goodness in having an open border, free-for-all, nor is there any in
herent evil in attempts to secure the borders. The debate needs to be a little bit more nuanced. What is good for Pakistan, now for the medium to long-term future? And how can Pakistan be protected from the evil of malign actors, now and for the medium to long-term future? These questions cannot be staggered. We cannot choose one and place it above the other. Pakistan cannot grow without being secure. But Pakistan will never be secure if it remains poor, isolated and dependent. This catch-22 is not unique to Pakistan – it afflicts the entirety of the European Union experiment, and it defines the emerging identity politics of a United States of America projected to be a minority-majority country by 2043. The European response to perceived changes in economic and security realities includes Brexit, Marine Le Pen, and Golden Dawn. The American response is Donald Trump, who calls for building a wall to protect Americans from immigrants, whom he refers to as animals and terrorists, and Mexicans, whom he calls rapists.
Of course, Pakistan is not the European Union, and it is not Trump’s America. Pakistan is the country that has endured 40 years of superpower-fuelled wars in Afghanistan. It is the country that has hosted at least two and a half million Afghans, for four decades, without a break. It is the country whose founders imagined it to be a homeland for those seeking freedom from fear and oppression. And it is the country that was dismembered in 1971 because it abandoned its own people out of fear of what the enemy might be doing to misguide them. But Pakistan is so much more than these things. Pakistan is among the world’s most generous refugee hosting nations. Pakistan is the world’s seventh highest destination for foreign remittances. Pakistan has among the world’s most capable and experienced NGO and INGO sectors — forged through decades of dealing with catastrophes like the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 floods. Pakistan has among the world’s largest and most potent demographic dividends, or youth bulges. Whilst the rest of the world gets older, and struggles to maintain productivity and consumption, Pakistan is, by the force of its young population, destined to grow for decades to come.
A self-confident Pakistan that believes in its destiny would lean into its strengths, not cave into its fears. No one can deny that malign foreign actors have had too much freedom in Pakistan, but the question is: what should the authorities be targeting? The freedom or the malignancy? If it is freedom that is the object of corrective action, then perhaps xenophobia is absolutely the right response. If it is malignancy, then the appropriate response would be improved and better targeted counter-intelligence.
In the case of Afghan refugees, no one, not even the Afghan Government, argues that Pakistan should accept the status quo. But how Pakistan argues and pursues a solution to the complex refugee puzzle will determine whether four decades of hospitality will serve Pakistan’s future interests, or will destroy the remaining goodwill in Afghanistan for Pakistan. Meanwhile, any and all activities by malign actors in Afghanistan to undermine security in Pakistan should be dealt with brutal and lethal efficiency that strikes the fear of God into the enemy. But this should be done without harming innocent Afghans, who are – just like their Pakistani brothers and sisters – victims of war.
In the case of dual nationalities, the issue isn’t whether Pakistan can take advantage of its diverse and talented stock of dual nationals, or whether dual nationals are loyal to Pakistan. The issue is whether Pakistan can frame consistent and coherent laws that do not require the award of certificates of exception. If any Pakistani is allowed to hold dual nationality, such a Pakistani should have all the same rights and responsibilities as any other. If not, then such a person should not have citizenship at all. Consistency, rather than exceptionalism, requires basing policy on principles, instead of temporary fear and xenophobia.
This is a recipe for continued and sustained embarrassment. And, to be clear, the embarrassment is not that Pakistan is trying to secure itself from the machinations of hostile foreign interventions – but that Pakistan is doing so in a haphazard and clumsy manner. Every few months, when the Ministry of Interior attempts to tighten the noose around unwelcome INGOs, other parts of the system act to loosen it. This confuses not only the INGOs and the international community, but also the public servants that are tasked with protecting the country.
Perhaps most important of all, however, is the case of a Malaysian Company whose security clearance has been denied for over a year. The ostensible reason is that the telecom regulator, PTA, has not had a chairperson for several months. But the real reason may be the fear that such Companies are Trojan horses for malign actors to own stakes in vital national infrastructure like mobile phone towers. Legitimate or not, such fears should prompt a more urgent conversation. In the years to come, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will create unprecedented connectivity and utility. But these new technologies will also generate unparalleled system-wide vulnerability. Some countries will respond to the opportunity and the challenge by training millions of young people with the ability to develop home-grown technological solutions and plug-ins to tackle questions of security and vulnerability. Other countries will respond with fear and xenophobia.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.
Rashid A Mughal