Framework dealing with the Present Predicament of Pakistan – Summary Report of Two Panel Discussions San Francisco July 2009

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Context

Organized by American Pakistani Physicians for Justice and Democracy (APPJD) and United Alumni Social Forum – held July 3 & 4, 2009, San Francisco

By Arif Ansar, Dr. M. Asad Khan, Dr. M. Taqi

Association of Physicians of Pakistani-descent of North America (APPNA) held its annual convention from July 2-5, 2009 in San Francisco. As part of the convention activities two forum discussions, with focus on current situation in Pakistan, were held on July 3 and 4, 2009.

The first program was organized by the Dow, Khyber and Sindh Medical College Alumni Associations of North America, and the second event was held under the auspices of the APPJD.

As a think tank, the objective of APPJD is to use the discussion forums to build a basic framework around which a political thought process and consensus building can be developed. It has now been conducting Pakistan-centric discussion programs for three years, in both the USA and Pakistan. The APPJD has also actively participated in the recent pro-judiciary movement in Pakistan and the lawyers’ leaders visiting the USA – represented by Mr. Athar Minallah – were recognized for their struggle at the APPJD seminar.

The current APPJD President, Dr. Zahid Imran, stated that he wants the organization “to act as a conduit in developing a thought leadership” and believes that forum discussions can play an important role in creating a milieu for change. To this effect, the APPJD partnered this year with the online think tank POLITACT to synthesize information presented at the two fora in San Francisco.

The APPJD team worked with senior analyst Arif Ansar from POLITACT and Dr. Asad Khan, a practicing psychiatrist, in analyzing how the different political parties of Pakistan viewed the current predicament of the country, while also drawing attention to important matters that had previously gone unnoticed but are nonetheless critical in understanding and resolving the prevailing crises.

This article is part of a comprehensive report, which the APPJD will be publishing in the near future and which will be available on www.appjd.org.

The panel for this year’s forums included representatives from all the major Pakistani political parties. Two eminent scholars Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy and Mr. Shuja Nawaz were also present on the panel to maintain measure of objectivity in the forum discussions and to help establish facts free from a political bias. Among the representatives of the political parties were Makhdoom Javed Hashmi (PML-N), Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel (ANP), Dr. Farooq Sattar (MQM), Sajjad Burki (PTI), Dr. M. Iqbal Khalil (JI) and Dr. Babar Awan to represent the PPP and government of Pakistan.

Each panelist was called upon to provide responses regarding four major issues: 1) the basic causes of extremism in Pakistan; 2) Pakistan’s identity crisis; 3) the role of the Pakistani Army; and 4) rampant corruption.

The first forum, held on January 3, 2009, entitled, “Swat – A Paradise Lost or Heaven Gained?” furnished most of the substance related to the first issue listed above. The other issues were addressed during the second forum, held on July 4, 2009, entitled “Pakistan in Search of Identity: Constitutional Democracy or Taliban Shariah?”

In the course of these discussions, the following four factors were stressed by the different parties as the root cause of the present situation in Pakistan (the parties favoring each explanation are listed in parentheses): 1) tussles among the global powers, principally the US, Russia and China, including geopolitical issues and struggles for access to oil and gas, and historic conflicts regarding the Durand Line, the war in Afghanistan and the Kashmir issue (PML-N, ANP, JI, PTI); 2) tussles among the regional powers, principally Iran, India and Saudi Arabia (PPP, ANP); 3) religious influences emanating from Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey (PPP, ANP); and 4) socio-economic factors such as poverty and poor governance (MQM, PTI).

One thing of note that emerged from the above exercise was that the different parties laid more emphasis on the present geopolitical and religious factors listed above as opposed to understanding the current crises in the context of economic, social, cultural and historical underpinnings. One can perhaps attribute such a simplistic approach to political maneuvering, populist positioning or simply a lack of vision.

The representatives of the political parties did not cover the following factors which are critical to understanding the subject under discussion: 5) the persistence of feudal and tribal norms and practices within the modern nation state; 6), population explosion; 7) illiteracy and poor educational system; 8) climate change and environmental challenges like water shortage and pollution; 9), Energy crisis and its impact on economic development; 10) lack of emphasis on indigenous research and development.

Understanding and dealing with Pakistan’s troubles require a comprehensive approach, i.e. tackling all the 10 factors simultaneously. In one form or the other these factors existed in the past as well. The political parties need to look at the historical antecedents to some of the current conflicts (e.g. FATA and Swat dilemma). The value of history cannot be ignored in studying the impact of the above listed factors on religious and sectarian extremism, role of army, the fledgling democratic process, corruption and the identity crisis afflicting Pakistan. Such a framework, as discussed above, is more likely to produce clues to solutions for the nation’s woes.

 

A Framework for Understanding the Predicament of Pakistan

 

Furthermore, the role of the national identity crisis calls for more thorough examination, as it supersedes almost all other issues in importance. The identity of an individual or society must be treated within the framework of conflict and political-social crises. For individuals and societies, identity crises occur when their personal, social and political identity is threatened from within and without, i.e. historical continuity is disrupted. Vestiges of colonial past, impact of rapid globalization on the tradition and culture, negative foreign influences, political elite perceived to lack legitimacy, chronic injustice and rampant illiteracy – all can cause a general sense of angst which in turn can result in an erosion of values. If these afflictions are prolonged, a sense of insecurity and alienation from the society and oneself – an identity crisis – sets in. This in turn leads to disdain and devaluation of oneself and one’s own society as a whole.

At present, the manifestations of an identity crisis in Pakistan are all too evident: general intolerance of difference in opinions, traditions and religious identities. At an individual level, involvement in suicide bombings and ethnic and sectarian killings and at the broader level, rape and plunder of the national assets in the form of massive political corruption, destruction of institutions and general lawlessness are all examples of various aspects of identity crisis.

It is important to note that from a psychological perspective, a person or a nation who has not mastered or dealt with issues of identity is likely to repeat these mistakes in the present and the future. Failure to do so could result in that no plans for the future can be adopted with confidence.

After looking at the views of the political representatives, we note that the success of any political party or leader in halting the deteriorating situation will require adoption of a different strategy. None of the political parties presently are looking to meaningfully alter the existing realities by taking a fresh look at them. As Mr. Shuja Nawaz succinctly put it, “Both political and military leadership has lacked foresight, now and in the past.”

We believe that initiative on the part of thought leaders could do much to change these realities. Unfortunately many intellectuals are mired in their own identity crises, leading them to vacillate between a reactionary intellectual orthodoxy on the one hand and a mindless embrace of Western ideas on the other. It is not surprising that observers within and outside Pakistan have questioned the capacity of Pakistani intellectuals to effectively tackle the national challenges.

To implement such a framework, as discussed above, requires a twofold realization. First, the intellectuals will have to step up to their moral responsibility and generate the critical analyses which are sorely needed to find solutions to the Pakistan’s quagmire. Second, a leadership which not only encourages deep introspection and study of the multifarious problems that afflict the country using indigenous non-partisan people sources, but at the same time has the vision to discern and harness the outcome of such analyses. The APPJD plans to pursue discussion on the specific issues raised in this report at its future seminars, starting with its winter symposium in December 2009 to be held in Karachi.

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