The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has been in the news a lot this year. An increase in bombings, continued criticism from its best (or worst) friend America, and the disastrous floods that left over ten million people homeless are but a few issues that have gone unresolved. Though most of my previous posts this year have highlighted national problems that need to be sorted out swiftly, the positive steps that have been taken, though few and far between, need to be acknowledged as well.
One issue, which is also of genuine concern to me, is one that has been present for a very long time in the land of my parents – the role of religious parties and their contradictory take on women and minority rights. The religion of Islam has given ample rights to minorities, and the fact that Christians cannot celebrate their religious holidays in peace is a disgrace to Islam. Was it not on Islamic tenants, those of which respect and even celebrate minority rights, that Pakistan was purported to have been built on?
Women’s rights are a whole different issue as well, as they have been given an abundant amount of liberties (theoretically in Islam at least). Sadly however, it seems as if these religious groups, most of which cite the Quran’s writings as steadfast and irrevocable, conveniently ignore those parts of the very same book. Not all is lost though – even with pressure mounted against the law by religious groups (which frankly makes no sense), the Senate passed the harassment at workplace bill, essentially allowing women to work without being harassed. This is a great step, and is just one of many positive steps Pakistan must keep taking.
The Judiciary has become stronger in Pakistan as well, and already seems to be making positive changes. A legitimate argument to take against this (I feel) is that it is too soon to tell if this only because of the momentary convenience it offers to lawyers and judges, as it is yet to be affirmed whether progressive moves will continue in the future. Though the Supreme Court has, in the past, taken up cases for missing people in Balochistan, it seems to be taking a quiet approach when dealing with Blasphemy laws.
One thing that is certain though is that Pakistan is a very corrupt nation. If anything can be taken from the Wikileaks drama, it is that the leadership is very paranoid and therefore have no time for the citizens of the country. The fact that there are still seven million citizens affected by the floods without proper shelter, even as winter rolls in, serves as testament to the above claim. Expect this issue to swell up in the upcoming year, as the masses are still (and rightfully so) upset about what little the government has done so far. Also, lets not forget the fake Wikileaks cables that the government (which really actually is the military) released to create a hawkish perspective of the United States within the public eye. This has all but added to the disaster that is Pakistani politics, and clearly demonstrates that the military is a separate entity that is dangerously looking out for itself, even before the welfare of the very citizens they are meant to protect.
Democracy will also not flourish within Pakistan, at least not until the political parties take what little chances that they are given by the military and the people of the country. This is undoubtedly a harsh statement on them, but that is the bitter reality of the situation. Both Azhar Abbas and Cyril Almeida have written excellent opinion letters in The News and Dawn criticizing the military for their part in the fake Wikileaks scandal, and the language used is specifically pleasing. There seems to be a change within the ranks of Jang Group (which owns The News), as it seems to be slowly moving away from the radical-right opinion it has once favoured in recent times. Such criticism of the military (previously the only institution that was rarely criticized), is without question a welcomed step towards a progressive media.
This is of course good news for the United States as well, as this media group (which boasts a wide viewership) is now moving away from its anti- West agenda, and choosing to focus more on the (many) inadequacies of the military, especially in the disfranchisement of every other institution in the country. Abbas says, “Many analysts point to the shortsighted policies of our successive governments, especially true for our military rulers, who have led us to the disastrous situation of today.”
That statement alone is welcoming news for Pakistan, because finally people seem to be gaining that ability to pressure the military into allowing the democratic and civilian institutions to finally create a foundation, and consequently build upwards. This is also good news for the United States, as the population is fed up with friendly policies towards militant groups within Kashmir and Afghanistan. There is a downside however – the military is still the only stable institution, and a consequent shift in power may leave Pakistan vulnerable (security for the nuclear bombs) in the eyes of the Obama Administration.
Speaking of what little the military has done, the United States is probably thinking the same with the situation in Waziristan. The United States policy in Pakistan has become ‘hyper-focused’ on the issue of preventing Taliban insurgents from getting into Afghanistan. This is something Pakistan cannot do at the moment. The sooner American policy makers understand that Pakistan has already stationed over a hundred thousand troops in the region and are now overstretched, the sooner Pak-American relationships can calm down. Pakistan does however, have the upper hand on this issue by far. Eighty percent of United States war material goes through the Khyber pass, and if the United States tries to pressure Pakistan, or (because in my opinion these policy makers are over zealous) decide to send in American troops, Pakistan will do what they did in September – close the border down and watch American tankers burn as they try to find an alternative route. Like Greenway said, “One might ask General Keane: What is it you don’t understand about closing the Khyber Pass,” I ask the same question, find a more efficient route. Uzbekistan does not cut it, unfortunately for America. American helicopters have supposedly passed into Pakistan, a possible indication that the situation will soon escalate even further.
The income tax situation is no better. It does not seem like the coalition government is going to bring out an income tax bill anytime soon. This sort of bill is necessary, especially to bring in some much needed revenue and keep the IMF at bay. This is one major problem that really needs to be dealt with, as America cannot (and will not) keep funding Pakistan. If an income tax bill is not implemented, the economy will plummet. Greece in South Asia it would seem.
The fact that the present time (out of most other ones), is far from an appropriate time for another problem for Pakistan to deal with simply cannot be stressed enough. Ahsan Butt of Asian Correspondent humourously says that Pakistan is the “Evel Knieval” of the nations of the world. The difference however is, Evel Knieval knew what he was getting himself into, while Pakistan seems to be clued out in that department.
I would discuss Kashmir here as well, as Kashmiris themselves are annoyed with the Indian government and the prison state that it has created. Its worth mentioning that this state has, unbelievably, the largest concentration of armed forces in a single region. A recent article states (and quite rightly so) that Pakistan cannot afford occupy its time with the Kashmir issue since it itself is in a fragile state, having to deal with an insurgency from both the regions of Waziristan and Balochistan.
Balochistan is definitely the region to watch out for in this coming year. Gilani just recently promised that the government would work with the province, and help increase the standards of living for the citizens. This is definitely needed, especially considering Pakistan has been taking similar steps in Balochistan that India has been taking in Kashmir (torture, rape, assassinations, you name it). Also watch out for Iran, whose sister province Balochistan, holds many Balochi Sunni Muslims, most of whom have also been brutally put down by the Iranian government. This nationalist movement will also continue to grow, as the youth are becoming more and more disenchanted with Pakistan by the day. If the government does not kick-start some sort of economic development plan that assists the people (and I highly doubt they will), nationalist and separatist sentiments will only increase.
Pakistan certainly has a lot of work to do, but at least it is still a nation that has survived another year. A party elected democratically is still in power (albeit a very flawed one), and the military is still strong enough to beat back the TTP. In all honestly, it could be much worse for Pakistan. Lets just take it one year at a time for now.