By Ahsan Qazi
In a recent deal struck between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Pakistan negotiated another lifeline in the form of a $3bn Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) to survive as a country.
To the present date, IMF provided loans to Pakistan twenty-two times. A lending agreement between IMF and Pakistan simply means a credit line for Pakistan to support its economy and financial program. Despite the country’s political, social, and economic troubles, Pakistan always attempted to exercise its political assertiveness in the international arena; however, such political assertiveness lacked strength, which always left and continues to leave Pakistan mistrusted and struggling to establish credibility in the international arena. What is the cause of Pakistan’s weak political assertiveness?
In his discussion on the economic growth of East Asian societies, Samuel Huntington notes in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order that successful economic development is a leading factor to the increase in self-confidence and assertiveness among those involved in contributing to the economic development and those who benefit from it. According to Huntington, this is because wealth, like power, is often seen as evidence of virtue and a display of moral and cultural superiority.
Writing about East Asian countries, Huntington points to the fact that East Asians did not hesitate to highlight their cultural uniqueness, the superiority of their values, and their way of life compared to West and other societies for several reasons. One of the key reasons was the economic growth of East Asian countries. Because East Asians have sustained economic strength and have shown economic progress along with modernizing, Asian societies were less responsive to the U.S. demands and interests ever more, which allowed them to push back against the political pressures of the United States and other Western countries.
Huntington notes, “To the East Asians economic prosperity is proof of moral superiority. If at some point India supplants East Asia as the world’s economically most rapidly developing area, the world should be prepared for extended disquisitions on the superiority of Hindu culture, the contributions of the caste system to economic development, and how by returning to its roots and overcoming the deadening Western legacy left by British imperialism, India finally achieved its proper place in the top rank of civilizations. Cultural assertion follows material success; hard power generates soft power.” The cultural assertion is a result of economic prosperity, which gives the countries the strength to push back against Western influence and demands. As nations gain economic strength, nations assert their cultural superiority and distinctiveness.
In the case of India, the country’s rapid economic growth also has revived the debate on the superiority of Hindu culture, which Huntington is accurately pointing out. The economic growth of India is seen as the mark of its national, cultural, and moral superiority, and the credit is fully given to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s vision of creating a single national identity and unifying the whole of India under one single national identity as “Hindustani” rather than “Gujarati,” “Punjabi,” or “Tamil,” etc. is being pushed hard nationally. The strong nationalist movement in India is revived through the election of Prime Minister Modi, who is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is now establishing its identity both domestically and globally. The saffronization of India is happening and the Indian films largely integrate the Hindu mythology that asserts the greatness of Hindu religious and cultural superiority, shows the economic prosperity of India before British colonization, and its moral integrity as a civilization. For instance, in Kal Ho Naa Ho, the renowned Shahrukh Khan attempts to save the Indian restaurant from failing through asserting the national and cultural identity. His powerful words, “We have a power which we should take advantage of. That is, India.” This is a prime example of political and cultural assertiveness, further cemented by his dialogue in the movie, “Because India can do anything, anywhere, anytime. So, what are they,” referring to the Chinese restaurant owners across. PM Modi’s vision also reflects this reality. Ashley J. Tellis, the Tata Chair for Strategic Affairs and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace states in his article, “India as a Leading Power,” “In Modi’s vision, a leading power is essentially a great power. However, India will only acquire this status when its economic foundations, its state institutions, and its military capabilities are truly robust. It will take concerted effort to reach this pinnacle.”
Contrastingly, for Pakistan, political and cultural assertiveness has been weak precisely because of poor economic development, political, and social disunity. Additionally, ethnic clashes erupt on provincial level and religious levels. Pakistan simply cannot exercise its political and cultural assertiveness compared to its counterpart, India, or any other developing nation that is in the making because Pakistan is extremely weak internally. Several factors such as an unstable political regime, irresponsible governance, natural disasters (floods/earthquakes), the war in Ukraine, and internal weak institutions brought Pakistan’s economy to near collapse.
IMF outlined the country’s fatal symptoms that brought Pakistan near collapse by noting that “Growth stalled, inflation surged, international reserves dropped to very low levels, and fiscal and external pressures have become acute.” Such fatal symptoms could have been treated had Pakistan’s government truly worked for the betterment of the country rather than continuously remaining busy in delusional political gameplay, the government has truly cost its citizens their dignity, and their future, and has pushed its own citizens to leave the country. In The Guardian, Moni Mohsin reported in the article, “Pakistanis are leaving our country in droves due to inflation and job losses – who can blame them?” that “Last year, more than 800,000 Pakistanis left the country in search of better economic prospects abroad.” The causes? Mohsin points to various reasons. Reasons such as high inflation (28% currently), the rupee devalued by 30%, with minimal foreign reserves, millions of middle-class Pakistani citizens face poverty and seek the means to leave the country.
In the words of Huntington, “Economic growth stimulates among Asian societies a sense of power and affirmation of their ability to stand up to the West.” The ousted and jailed Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan tried to stand up to the Western interference, as he claimed, but failed to convince the Pakistanis and the world mainly because Pakistan has nothing going for itself. Pakistan lacks credibility as a nation globally and always enters in political gridlocks while having no political assertiveness, which causes repeated embarrassment for Pakistan in the global arena. The nationalistic and patriotic songs of Pakistan best remain entertainment while the citizens are flocking to the West for opportunities that political elites fail to provide to its citizens.
With weak and barely functional institutions, national and ethnic identity crisis, division of political and religious parties that are opportunistic at best, and unqualified, unprepared, and ill-serving politicians, Pakistan has been hijacked to such a level that the country has minimal hope of any progress. How long will Pakistan function on IMF bail? How many consistent bailouts and monetary assistance from other countries will bring some shame to the political elites who mislead, defraud, and destroy the dignity of Pakistani citizens who desire prosperity within Pakistan. The citizens cannot achieve any progress due to weak institutions, nepotism, political and social elite privileges, the absence of law and order, the noise and the propaganda of religious organizations, and total disarray because of all the noted factors. Is it time for a social and a political revolution in Pakistan where its young generation is ambitious and ready to change Pakistan for the better? Has the time come to remove the political elites that have stalled the country? I certainly believe so. The time is now to take charge of Pakistan from the hands of those who have made it a failing country.