Saad Rasool |
The past few months have seen an astonishing turn of events in South Asia and the rise of a NayaPakistan. Astonishing, not only for the fact that Pakistan and India walked to the brink of nuclear war, but more so, because of the reversal of roles between the two neighbors. Pakistan: a mature, responsible, and reflective nuclear power that demonstrated her military prowess, while exercising restraint and advocating peace. India: a jingoistic, war-mongering, brute state that was embarrassed on the military front, but continued its rhetoric of escalation and threatened the fragile peace of this region.
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This description of the two countries – accurate as it is today – would have been impossible to imagine just a few months ago. It had been widely accepted by people across the world (including the twitterati hate-brigade in our own country) that Pakistan is an irresponsible nuclear state that threatens the peace of our region through a proxy war with India. In juxtaposition, India was viewed as a pluralistic/secular democracy, which was compelled (from time to time) to retaliate in self-defense. Thankfully, these false idols have now come crashing to the ground – with due credit, of course, to Imran Khan on the one hand and the venom-spitting journalists of India (Arnab Goswami, Rahul Shivshankar, and the likes) on the other.
Even more importantly, all of this happened in the light of day, and billions of people (glued to the electronic and social media) bared testament to the facts. Our charismatic Prime Minister, helped by a tempered DG ISPR, addressed the nation several times, throughout the escalation. The nation was taken on board in the developments, at regular intervals. Verifiable proof and footages of our military prowess were released at opportune times. And the de-escalation (which is still in its initial stages) took place without any backdoor murky deal being signed with Sajjan Jindal at some undisclosed hill station.
During these testing times, DG ISPR (while assuring the nation about the readiness of our Armed Forces) neither thumped his chest nor resorted to unnecessary claims of bravado. Even after a successful counterstrike when two Indian planes had been shot down by our heroes in PAF, and an Indian Wing Commander was under arrest, DG ISPR’s press conference claimed, “Today’s action was in self-defence, we don’t want to claim any victory. There are no victors in war.” This, after having won the day on the battlefield.
Simultaneously, our Foreign Minister has been in regular contact with his counterparts across the world. An aloof international community was kept abreast with the restraint being shown by Pakistan’s military. An in-camera briefing, on the developing situation, was given to the opposition leaders by the Army Chief and DG ISPR and the government called a joint session of the Parliament, where the Prime Minister addressed all members of our national legislature, concerning Pakistan’s efforts for de-escalation.
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If you are surprised by such military and democratic maturity coming from Pakistan, you are not alone. You are joined by the opposition political parties that have been stunned into an incredulous silence. With nothing else to complain about, opposition leaders (led by former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi), held a press conference, on Friday, to blame the government for not issuing the ‘production orders’ of Saad Rafique to attend the National Assembly session. Because, of course, this is the sort of issue that should concern all statesmen in times of war.
Without jinxing it, let us recognise that Pakistan seems to be turning a new leaf in its domestic policy and diplomatic relevance. Starting with the trip of the Saudi Crown Prince, and continuing to the (ongoing) conflict with India, Pakistan seems to be reasserting itself on the international stage – the credit for which rests squarely with Imran Khan. And (for now) no amount of tweets with Nawaz Sharif sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet can dilute Khan’s leadership role in the current scheme of things.
Simultaneously, the Prime Minister also seems to have handled the domestic polity with great poise and inclusiveness during this crisis. There has hardly been any criticism of his actions, or the manner in which he carried them, by the opposition parties. In all likelihood, lack of Khan’s criticism over the past few weeks is just a temporary lull. We should expect that the usual business of partisan bickering will resume soon. After all, politics is a dirty business in Pakistan.
But war has a way of shutting out all other noise. When forced upon a people (as was done upon Pakistan), war also has a way of putting other national issues in perspective.
So, in this transient moment of national clarity, let us list a few of the lessons we have learnt: 1) Most of our enemies live outside our borders; 2) These enemies feed on our internal discord and frequently invest in creating such discord across political, religious and ethnic lines; 2) Our internal (political) battles are meaningless in the face of foreign aggression, which is almost always waiting in the wings; 3) Pakistan has real issues to confront – aggression from India, conspiracy from Afghanistan, foreign funding of domestic movements, militant sympathizers within, a crushing economic paradigm, illiteracy, water-shortage, and over-population; 4) Saad Rafique’s production orders or the arrest of Agha Siraj Durrani do not constitute issues of national importance; 5) Our legislators are abdicating their solemn responsibility by spending their time discussing meaningless partisan punch-lines, as opposed to debating issues that concern the fate of our nation; 6) When push comes to shove, the people of Pakistan could not care less about menial political point-scoring; and 7) If the government and institutions of Pakistan work together (as has been the case over the past few weeks) we can reassert Pakistan’s position as a peace-loving and progressive State among the comity of nations.
If this entire episode has taught us anything, it is to move past personal political agendas and start a national dialogue about issues that confront our collective fate. It is time for our polity to cast off the yoke of internal discontent, and to move past the defence of personal (off-shore) fiefdoms.
The future of Pakistan has no space for those who speak the language of our enemies against our own State and its institutions. It has no space for those who snooze on the job of legislation, just as they snoozed on the job of diplomacy and governance for many decades. You know who you are. It is time to stop!
Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at [email protected], or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. The article originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with author’s permission.
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