A highly personalised and autocratic mode of governing has allowed critical issues confronting the nation to either be neglected or decision-making shifted away from the civilian democratic dispensation.
The plight of the farmers, ignored by the PML-N government, has led to street protests by this long-suffering community in Punjab, and a violent official response instead of a viable policy to deal with their genuine grievances.
The downward spiral in healthcare and education in the country, alongside rising poverty and environmental degradation, are becoming glaring. But the government seems to be either in total denial or simply unable or unwilling to move on these counts. The only enterprises the government is focused on are mega projects like orange trains and metro buses, which add nothing to the human development of the country.
Nor is it just domestic issues on which the government appears paralysed. The recent US drone attack in Balochistan targeting Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mansour highlighted the disarray of the PML-N government when it failed to frame a timely viable response. It was only days after the US and the Afghan Taliban had confirmed Mullah Mansour’s killing that the PML-N government was able to give a substantive statement to that effect while also gingerly criticising the US for “droning” the Afghan peace process. In the meantime the COAS had already given his statement on the drone attack and its undermining of Pak-US relations.
In fact, in the area of external affairs the government has effectively abdicated its policymaking role. As a result, parallel tracks of decision-making are now becoming public. The Angoor Adda issue is one obvious example with the military leadership announcing the handing over of the building to the Afghan government as a goodwill gesture and the interior minister questioning the decision and making clear the cabinet was not in the loop.
Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti’s statement on the Afghan refugees is another example of free-wheeling statements that are impacting external policy. If we go back to the visit of the Iranian president to Pakistan earlier this year, we will also recall the ISPR head’s tweets making public what the COAS said to the Iranian leader – calculated to undermine efforts to improve Pak-Iran relations. The art of diplomacy, especially on sensitive issues, enables states to overcome many relationship hiccups, especially when a third party – in our case the US – is seeking to keep two allies estranged.
The list of government disarray in matters of external policy goes on, but it should be clear to even the most simple-minded person to realise that the absence of a full-time foreign minister shows the lack of interest the PML-N government has in this crucial issue area. Or it shows a mistrust to hand over this ministry to anyone, leaving the Sharif brothers to conduct foreign relations in a highly personalised manner, especially in terms of relations with China (where not only does the CM Punjab sit in on meetings but also other family members) and Saudi Arabia.
In the latter case, the PM suffered a major setback in the shape of the parliamentary resolution on Yemen – and one suspects the Saudis are still fuming over it. Even on India, business interests have dominated the PM’s thinking: when he went to Modi’s swearing-in, he chose to meet Indian businessmen with his son but found no time to meet with the APHC leadership. This was the first time a Pakistani PM went on an official trip to India and did not meet with the APHC leadership.
Mentioning the Indian senior leadership’s visit to Raiwind to be greeted by the Sharif family rather than their official counterparts, was yet another reflection of how our India policy is in complete chaos. That is why serious questions have arisen as to why the issue of RAW agent Yadav has all but disappeared from the national narrative on security. The nation does not know what has happened to the man and what actions have been taken on the information gathered after his arrest and questioning while the government seems to have no clarity that would allow them to issue a comprehensive statement on this issue.
In any event, the tweedle dee-tweedle dum duo of Aziz and Fatemi has simply not worked at any level. A cohesive long-term India policy is missing as is a Kashmir policy and, despite the urgency of the issue, a viable Afghan policy. Given the US sabotaging the Afghan peace process and the continuing mistrust between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the quadrilateral process is all but dead. Pakistan needs to take a step back, let the US and the Afghans see if they can establish peace sans Pakistan and in the meanwhile evolve a comprehensive Afghan policy including dealing with the issue of the return of refugees.
As for the US, Pakistani leaders – both civilian and military – have yet to get over their psychological-dependency syndrome and learn to stand up to their bullying tactics. The Sharif government’s inability to formulate a viable nationalist approach to dealing with the US was symbolised by the shuffling of notes and stammering of PM Sharif before Obama – but why would the COAS grant an audience to the US ambassador after the latest US drone strike? Would it not have been a more effective message to have had a major general or brigadier meet with him instead?
While successive governments have made much noise against drones, our government has yet to formulate a concrete policy with specific actions on this issue. The Nawaz government was unable to even put out a timely statement of condemnation beyond the PM whining as he arrived in London that he was informed after the event.
A similar paralysis is being witnessed on nuclear-related issues. India’s launch of INS Arihant, the nuclear-propelled submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles, signalling the nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean, was met with a muted muttering from Pakistan’s foreign policy setup; when an active diplomatic campaign exposing India’s aggressive designs was needed proactively. Again, while the so-called strategic Pak-US dialogue focusing on nuclear issues was going on in Islamabad, Pakistan failed to get any support for itself from the US on membership of the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) – which the US has committed to seek for India.
Pakistan has known for some time that the NSG Summit will probably be held in June this year but it has been relying solely on China to ensure India does not get admitted to the NSG without Pakistan. No active diplomacy has been conducted on this issue over the last year and only a week or so back Pakistan actually applied formally for NSG membership. Again so far no active campaign has begun on this count either.
Simply put: Democratic Pakistan cannot afford this paralysis of governance and a growing descent into a free-wheeling decision-making environment – especially at this critical juncture where strategic external and internal threats confront the nation.
The writer is DG of SSII, a private think tank, and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own.