How is the world looking at Pakistan?

How is the world looking at Pakistan?

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Responsible leaders and citizens accord priority to their country’s standing in the world and its overall perception. There are certain indicators that clearly reflect the general trajectory of a nation, its quality and stage of political development, economic and social progress and strategic significance.

Pakistan’s democratic evolution has been largely chaotic. Its democratic institutions, even after 75 years of independence, remain weak. It is a state dominated by a few political families and feudal influence especially in rural areas is pronounced. The entry of the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) party, led by cricket idol Imran Khan initially raised expectations of change but were soon deflated as their performance and conduct while in power and in opposition proved to be controversial.

The quality (or lack thereof) of discourse by the political classes adversely affects Pakistan’s image and has a direct bearing on the morale of the nation. The extremely confrontational relationship between the political parties and politics mostly being conducted on the roads and on the media with politicians frequently exchanging bizarre remarks, does not augur well for the future of democracy. The present state of affairs in Pakistan gives the impression that the political leadership is not sensitive about the country’s standing, that it lacks the will to put its house in order and develop a pluralistic political culture. The quality of its leaders is also reflected in the level of sensitivity (and ability) exhibited by them in dealing with serious problems of the state.

The state of the economy is another major indicator that reflects a country’s standing abroad. Pakistan’s leadership seems to have hardly any sensitivity regarding building a self-sustaining economy. The country has faced innumerable economic and financial crises in the past and presently the magnitude of its crises is more complex than ever before. The low tax-to-GDP ratio has contributed to a multifaceted problem. Insufficient allocation of resources to education and the health sector deprives low income families from sending their children to school or receiving even minimum health care. In the absence of sufficient revenue, Pakistan’s reliance on the IMF, the World Bank and other international agencies has increased and will remain under close scrutiny. Moreover, with the help of friendly countries Saudi Arabia and China, it has cut deals with relatively long-term payments-- but this does not augur well for international perception and standing.

It is the professional competence and sacrifices of the Pakistan armed forces and the support of the local population that has contributed in maintaining peace and stability.

Talat Masood

With a hostile India, Pakistan has to deploy adequate forces on its eastern border. And with Afghanistan, caught earlier in a super power rivalry and now in internal dissensions, the fallout on its western borders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in particular have been serious.

It is the professional competence and sacrifices of the Pakistan armed forces and the support of the local population that has contributed in maintaining peace and stability. However, once again militancy seems to be on the rise and could get out of control if not dealt with seriously by provincial and federal governments. Mere reliance on the army leadership to tackle militancy ignores the reality that there is an important economic and political dimension exploited by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups. The Taliban government of Afghanistan overlooks the activities of TTP, being their comrade in arms during their struggle for power. This has given rise to differences between Pakistan and the Afghan Taliban government. 

Pakistan’s trade with Afghanistan has revived but the Afghan economy is in distress due to stringent sanctions – and the security situation, especially in areas bordering Pakistan is still not satisfactory. Pakistan’s geostrategic position is one of its valuable assets, provided its borders are peaceful. Trade with India in the present conflictual relationship is not feasible, although the potential is immense.

With regards to Pakistan’s image, greater efforts should be made to exploit the country’s tourism potential. The northern areas-- Hunza, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir-- are a great tourist attraction. So is the majestic Karakoram, the second tallest mountain range on Earth, and three others within 20 km. Tourism and trade will flourish in Pakistan provided the government gives high priority to improving infrastructure and maintaining peace. But when a government is struggling to stay in power, these important issues are pushed to the background.

With the benefit of hindsight and compliance of constitutional obligations, it is expected that the new army chief will stay away from politics. The military’s professional competence is well recognized internationally. Pakistan has so far contributed more than 200,000 troops in UN peacekeeping missions across the world. Even recently, the government of Qatar sought its services to boost security during the World Cup.

It is important that Pakistan’s leadership, with all its layers, rises to the challenge to formulate new policies and act on them, so that Pakistan’s reputation in the world is safeguarded and upheld.

- Talat Masood is a retired Lieutenant General from Pakistan Army and an eminent scholar on national security and political issues. E-mail: [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view