By Arab News
By Ali Bluwi
I have visited Pakistan a few times.
While mass media link the Pakistani society with extremism, I found this association was rather simplistic. Contrary to what is being projected in mass media, the Pakistani society is a civilized one. And yet, the state institutions suffer from corruption. In fact, I enjoy personal and decent relations with some Pakistanis and therefore I wonder why the society is still seen in terms of stereotypes such as extremism, terrorism, murder, long beard, and shabby clothes.
I had long discussions with enlightened Pakistani personalities and I asked some of my friends who reside in Pakistan and are married to Pakistanis about the perpetuation of such images. It is true that Pakistanis are religiously conservative but this should not cancel the bright side of a big county with a long history. I think that the problem has little to do with India, Al-Qaeda, or Taleban. Indeed, and here is the crux of the matter, the problem is internal and caused in part by the weak presence of Pakistani media abroad. Media resources on Pakistan are both monopolized and lacking in credibility. I often ask why the Pakistani people do not know the language of media and why they do not excel in clarifying the human and positive sides of their country. If you google the word Pakistan you will encounter hundreds of words with connotations such as extremism and terrorism. This pushes me to wonder whether this is the reality of Pakistan or mere accusations, or perhaps the diplomatic cadre is too traditional to counter this image and therefore should be rebuilt. Or possibly there is a need to restructure Pakistan as a whole in such a way that it would change the image of militancy and extremism and bring out the civilized face of the Pakistani society. Who benefits from this negative image? Surely, it is the corrupt politicians. Corruption undermines the structures of Pakistan but politicians reiterate that it is nothing but an external conspiracy. Here, I want to point out the fact that the Pakistani society is not static. The external media still project the society as if it is static, ignoring the emergence of a new generation that believes in a new policy. This new generation is against all forms of extremism and corruption and its manifestations. In fact, it is a civilized generation with rather a different perspective based on cooperation and Islamic moderation.
While civility is ubiquitous in the Pakistani life, the state is badly in need of reinforcing the civil side and separation between the political side and the military one. This separation will allow the army to be only a professional force and as a consequence the state institutions will stop being reflections of political differences. It should be taken into consideration that what is going on in Pakistan is a result of the war in Afghanistan, terrorism, and external intervention. Additionally, Pakistan is marred by huge differences among strong political forces in a state with 174 million people and $145 billion GDP. Pakistan neither invited the Soviet nor the American forces to invade Pakistan. It is the compulsions of geography and therefore there is no point in blaming Pakistan for all of that.
Five factors have contributed to the instability of Pakistan. First, there is the religious and tribal factor and its role in formulating domestic politics. This factor is accompanied by the high level of corruption in administration. Nevertheless, lawyers had a visible role in cutting President Pervez Musharraf down to size. Still, Pakistan is a theater for explosion, murder, and revenge. Second, instability in Afghanistan had a spillover effect on Pakistan. The United States exploited its relations with Pakistan and managed to facilitate the transfer and training of Mujahedeen to stand up to the Soviets. Third, the coup against Taleban and the unremitting war that followed have contributed to the instability of Pakistan. Anti-Pakistan media, which managed to project Pakistan as a state sponsoring terrorism, is the fourth factor. During the eighties, Washington found in the Islamist parties in Pakistan a front line in its fight against communism. These political parties supported Afghanistan against the Soviet invaders. It was during this era that the relations between the Pakistani and Afghani people were consolidated. Nonetheless, when Washington needed to fight Taleban, it failed to see the consequence of this political reality in Pakistan. Finally, Washington used the Shamsi air base to bombard extremist elements in Swat which had a negative consequences on Pakistani domestic security.
Evidently, the American-Pakistani relationship has been going through a difficult time. Without doubt, there has been some American pressure on Pakistan and yet Pakistan is not a week country to respond fully to American demands. Islamabad refused to attend a conference on security and cooperation about Afghanistan that was held in Bonn, Germany.
Moreover, military leaders in Pakistan threatened to shoot down American drone aircraft. The military said that Pakistan has played a constructive role for peace and stability in the region and that it had sacrificed enough to fight terrorism. Although the American envoy, Marc Grossman was told that he was not welcome in Pakistan, the American-Pakistani relations continued to be important.
Interestingly, there is a common belief among religious and political forces in Pakistan that American policy toward their country has been hypocritical. Also, this doubled standard policy has influenced much of the Pakistani policies internally and externally. At the popular level, Pakistanis think that Washington has turned its back on Pakistan after all services offered by Pakistan to fight communism and extremism. Pakistan has freed itself from an alliance between its military men and Washington, a relationship that triggered a number of coups in Pakistan. This was only possible when Islamabad enhanced the power of the prime minister at the expense of the president hoping that president will be a mere figure head.
Indeed, the American policy has pushed Pakistan to diversify its relations through establishing economic and strategic partnership with China. The volume of trade has reached $16bn. The Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has said the current cooperation between China and Pakistan in all areas strengthens forces of peace and stability in the region. He emphasized that Pakistan consider the mutual relations with China as a cornerstone in its foreign policy. He added that his country is committed to develop its relations with China in all areas. Gilani added that Pakistan is adopting a foreign policy that is based on improving relations with all neighboring states including India in order to resolve all disputes through dialogue.
It seems that there is an important change in Pakistani foreign policy that is caused by the internal scene. In fact, the stability and security of Pakistan can only materialize if the leaders manage to put an end to problems with neighboring states through negotiations and dialogue. The conference organized by the Foreign Ministry in Pakistan for a number of Pakistani ambassadors reinforces this new orientation. The deliberations of the conference focused on pressure being exerted on Pakistan and on a new orientation given the international and regional changes. This was confirmed by the spokesperson of the ministry of Foreign Ministry, Mohammed Abdelbasit, when he emphasized that Pakistan’s foreign policy would aim to enhance relations with all states based on mutual respect and interests.
The meeting held between the Pakistani foreign minister and his Indian counterpart in New Delhi was a manifestation of this new orientation. The talks focused on future mutual relations with the purpose of reaching a swift solution to the current disputes. Also, the Pakistani ambassador to Washington Sherry Rehman confirmed that her country’s policy would not target other states. On the contrary, it would aim to improve ties with neighboring countries. She said that her country’s relations with America should not be based on media but on mutual interests. The statements came after Islamabad succeeded in building strong relations with both Moscow and Ankara. Put differently, Pakistan is reconsidering its priorities. Of course, such changes will take time to bear fruit. However, the winds of change have blown and this entails some support rather than suspicion.
Perhaps, the diplomatic relations will not solve some vital disputes, but the pressure may push Pakistan toward political and religious extremism and simultaneously weaken the new orientation. Equally important, Pakistan has to realize that a state that fails to advance scientifically will suffer from backwardness and the domination of extreme and rigid ideas. Today, the ball is in Pakistan’s court and it should focus on rebuilding the civilian force. For Pakistan, there is a big vital role to play in the Islamic Cooperation Organization (OIC). It also has active relations with various countries and it has great economic potentials. Therefore, it can reshuffle its cards successfully if it is allowed to do so. But the question is: How can Pakistan start formulating a new strategy, good relations, and new internal restructuring?