Nov 8, 2009

Let’s be our own ‘friends’

By Shamshad Ahmad

This summer I finished first three parts of the Harry Potter series and have just started the fourth one titled Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. I was struck by the imaginative storylines and incisive plots of these tales for their resemblance to the ever-uncertain situation in our country.

What struck me even more was a report in the papers some time ago about an 11-year old student in a private school in Karachi who, as part of her class assignment on the analogies of this book’s characters, said that the situation in Pakistan was similar to that in the story in which evil Lord Voldemort takes over the ministry of magic and starts hunting down Harry Potter. She reportedly said “We just hope there is a Harry Potter out there — somewhere who will come and save us.”

What a tragedy that a country which on its birth was considered a “20th-century miracle” and which today is a nuclear power should be looking for a Harry Potter. We are already running after the Friends of Pakistan with a begging bowl in our hands and ready to barter whatever sovereignty is left.

Indeed, like Alice in Wonderland, we as a nation never cared which way we go. After a long spell of dictatorship, we had an opportunity of a life-time to return to genuine democracy rooted in the will of the people. Sadly, we are still lost and looking for a Cheshire cat to show us the way. Our real problem is governance failures and leadership miscarriages.

History seems to be repeating itself. Perhaps we are going back to the East India Company era. With no one like the legendary rulers of Mysore, our feudal political elites in power are getting nostalgic about the role their forefathers were playing in British India, and are looking for new imperialist masters because they just can’t reconcile to being free and independent. While our own people are being crushed to death waiting in line for food, we have invented corporate agricultural farming as the new charter for leasing out our motherland.

Also, for decades our rulers have been allocating millions of acres of areas in Southern Punjab including Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur and Baluchistan to Arab princes for their annual hunting expeditions just to gain their goodwill and personal favours. We have never understood much less valued the sanctity of independence or that of the country’s territorial integrity.

In recent years, grave crises and acute problems in our own region have proliferated in a manner that has not only made us the focus of world attention but also forced us to make difficult choices in our perennial struggle for security and survival. This perception not only impairs our global image but also complicates things for us in dealing with the outside world. Indo-US defence and strategic alliance is not without serious implications for the delicate balance of power and stability in our region and is already undermining the peace process and prospects of conflict resolution between India and Pakistan.

Our problems are further aggravated by the complex regional configuration with a growing Indo-US nexus, India’s strategic ascendancy in the region and its unprecedented influence in Afghanistan, with serious nuisance potential against Pakistan’s security interests. As we play our role in the war on terror, we cannot but feel perturbed by America’s indifference to our legitimate concerns.

Instead of fixing the fundamentals of our governance and choosing to live our own lives as an independent nation free from want and ignorance and raising our children with honour and dignity free from the fear of violence, we are back in the hands of a handful of countries who wish to help us to advance their own agenda. We always took pride in claiming friendship with the entire international community but today, we have ourselves constricted the number of our friends to a 22-member group of Friends of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Quaid-e-Azam did not get to know us well. We now have a government which the people brought to power to bring about an end to dictatorship. It was a vote of no-confidence against the last government and system that it represented. It was a referendum for change but till now there is none. Let us not blame America or India for our problems. We ourselves are responsible for being where we are today. Musharraf left behind a legacy that would shame any nation on the earth. We have done nothing to change that.

No one, not even the Friends of Pakistan would trust us with a penny in cash. They might help us only in some areas of humanitarian relevance such as the Malakand rehabilitation and FATA’s Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs). No other cash flows will come except those in the form of ODAs or FDIs, provided we guarantee an investor-friendly environment.

But our real problems are not external; they are domestic. Our foremost priority is to fix the fundamentals of our governance. We need domestic consolidation through democracy based on constitutional supremacy, institutional integrity and independent judiciary, rule of law, accountability and good governance. No compromise on principles and national interests and no begging. We must opt for self-reliance. Forget the friends of Pakistan. Let us be our own friends for a change.

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