One of my cousins, who lives in the US, once asked me if anything good ever happens in Pakistan. Though he has no interest in the local politics of Pakistan, was brought up in the US and in 18 years has visited Pakistan only once, his parents watch Pakistani news channels to keep connected to the country. He told me later thatconsidering the kind of stuff TV channels show, he would never want to settle in Pakistan or let his parents even think about it. That’s how it has continued. A few days back I asked one of my batch-mates from a course we did together, who is now serving in the US embassy, about his job. He said countering negative perception about Pakistan is the biggest challenge he faces. A similar reply I got from an army man deputed in Afghanistan. He told me that from the government to an ordinary person on the street, Afghans consider Pakistan the real perpetrator of the chaos and anarchy in Afghanistan. The recent mayhem in Kabul, claiming more than 90 lives and maiming double of that, has been attributed to the Haqqani Network. For quite some time it has become a pattern that both Pakistan and Afghanistan blame one another for the terror-related activities in their countries. The pattern is a self-defeating mechanism. Since laying blame and not finding a solution to the problem is increasing acrimony between both the countries.
In recent years, there has been a significant reduction in terror activities in Pakistan. Some economic indicators have also been encouraging. For the first time in ten years, Pakistan’s GDP has risen to 5.2 per cent. All these developments should have rehabilitated Pakistan’s image abroad, but that is not the case. The efforts to defeat terrorism at home and making Pakistan safe for investment has not won us laurels in the international community barring China. The negative perception about Pakistan persists. The Congress at the Washington DC keeps pointing the finger at Pakistan for watering the seeds of terrorism in its backyard. Surprisingly, whenever Pakistan is accused of providing a haven to the Haqqani Network, Afghanistan rocks with blasts and bombshells. Not that there is any nexus, but the attack serves a reminder that the macabre in Afghanistan has only piled up over the years and that Pakistan, according to the Afghan government and intelligence agencies, is contributing to making the pile get even bigger.
Coming back to the perception enigma Pakistan is faced with, let us delve into what is eating the nation from inside.
During the ‘60s Pakistan’s development model was looked upon by the world. We often remember how the UAE sought the Pakistan International Airline’s assistance in developing the Emirates Airline. We also reminisce Pakistan lending Germany funds to help it rise from the World War II debris. However, by the late ‘70s, as we joined the Soviet-Afghan war theater, and altered our national narrative from a moderate to becoming an Islamist state, the pins that held the country’s institutions together, began falling one after the other. A new layer of the upper middle class was allowed to emerge on the back of oil money from the Gulf States. The State took a lenient view of the narcotics smuggled into or taken out of Pakistan. Soon Pakistan was a place where people were more interested in individual advancement. Groups became powerful turning into Mafias. New political parties were birthed from the womb of agencies to screw the PPP primarily. As far as the Pakistan Muslim League was concerned it had no direction of it own. Its masters changed hands as often as there were dictators on the helm. This multiple power centers eventually ruined the country. The last four decades had been a fight for the survival of democracy with an intervening ten years span of General Musharraf’s regime. After the signing of Charter of Democracy between the PPP and PML-N, the only sense that prevailed among the political leadership was to never raise their division to a level where a third force could make an easy incursion.
Amid all this debacle, some important developments did take place, such as the restoration of the judiciary after its sacking by Musharraf in 2007 and the 18th Amendment that realigned the constitution to salvage it from dictatorial era amendments. These developments, however, remained superficial; their benefits never trickled down. In the case of the judiciary, the lower judiciary still awaits reforms. The 18th Amendment, instead of strengthening the social sector that was largely devolved to the provinces, was used as an alibi to turn the provinces into independent states with resistance to federal government’s intervention. This has raised new governance issues especially in provinces like Sindh.
Internally, the country has been consumed by governments that only worked on consolidating their power to enrich themselves. When political parties are mentioned, it is rarely their work that is discussed, instead, it is usually the influence their leader amass during the reign that is talked about. Each party has become so powerful on the back of their business stakes that the judges in their recent judgments on the Panama case could not restrain from using the word Mafia that explains the depth of involvement of these parties into domestic businesses.
Corruption is another and perhaps the main phenomenon contributing to the negative perception of Pakistan abroad.
The country has been looted so thoroughly that not a single institution is working professionally. State-owned enterprises have been turned into leeches sucking the blood of the Exchequer or the taxpayers to be precise. The trust deficit among the institutions has become so wide that each institution sees the other an enemy in disguise that should be sorted out. Judiciary is being abused in public. The Army is thrown tantrums at – remember Dawn leaks? There is no foreign minister to represent Pakistan’s case abroad. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2016-17, the literacy rate in Pakistan has gone two per cent down. Pakistan’s new poverty index reveals that 4 out of 10 Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty.
This situation would take time to change, and not until the leadership takes difficult decisions. In the meantime, however, time media could play its part by stop working on agendas and start looking the authorities in the eye.