There is hardly a country under so much global scrutiny as Pakistan. What its citizens think, how they act, where they travel, are all under constant surveillance. Sadly, usually any untoward event anywhere ultimately finds a connection with Pakistan and its troubled FATA region. A month rarely passes without an occurrence that brings alarm for international players and is a source of shame for Pakistan.
Just as the global powers are increasingly concerned about the present situation in Pakistan and where the country is heading, the nation itself appears to be least concerned about its international image and about dangerous perceptions that are taking hold in the West especially.
It would not be an underestimation to state that the West’s concern for Pakistan is greater than even the country has for itself. After all, it is renowned as the most dangerous and unique place on earth where the nuclear weapon, extremists, and secular elements coexist. The balance of power amongst these players is by no means stagnant. Consider for example the case of Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour.
The month of October has proven to be no different and has brought its own surprises; Malala Yousuzai was tragically shot. The event ignited another round of international debate about Pakistan. The first and obvious concern is not only the reaction of its citizens and politicians to this outrageous event but also how to interpret various official statements and opinions that have emanated ever since.
Based on these ongoing assessments, prominent figures are constantly being evaluated and dubbed liberals, conservatives or extremists. However, it should be noted that since the Swat operation, Malala incident is probably the first time unanimity of views has reemerged against Taliban, which represents a bad omen for them. This is one of the reasons why there is talk about the North Waziristan operation. In the long run, shooting Malala may prove to be the worst atrocity committed by Taliban and whoever advises them. Irrespective of the motive, killing innocent women and children hardly ever win wars.
The incident has also put the popular politician of Pakistan, who had just led the widely reported political procession to the tribal areas, on the back foot. While he condemned the dastardly act, Imran Khan has reiterated his support for a political solution to the interconnected quagmire in FATA and Afghanistan.
Reaction In The West
On the other hand, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and even former first lady Laura Bush were quick to condemn the attack while conveying solidarity with the people of Pakistan. Obviously, the US recognizes the rare opportunity as the balance of power has shifted in favor of the liberal quarters. US Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Mike Hammer commented, “We feel that working together, we can address concerning issues of extremism and combating terrorism. And we are always looking for a path forward where our interests meet to see how we can most effectively advance these common interests.”
The West is worried not only about the present state of affairs but also the future. For example, this week an event was held at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) examining the phenomenon of ‘Youth Bulge’ in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. To understand the political lineation and thought the process of the youth is of critical importance to the US as anti-Americanism spreads in this nuclear-armed state.
Media In Pakistan
On the other hand, as the western focus and concern about Pakistan grow, the country appears to be shifting its concentration inwards. The TV has minimal coverage of international affairs, and most importantly of Middle East, and most of the media discussion revolves around domestic issues. One explanation commonly presented for this is that it’s simply the dynamics of the market forces at work. Since Pakistani channels cannot compete with the coverage offered by channels like CNN, BBC, and Al-Jazeera, they stick to domestic affairs.
The performance of the print media is not much different. In most leading newspapers, ‘International Affairs Section’ has been reduced to just one page. This points to an alarming emergence of ‘tunnel vision’ at work. If it does not like what it sees, is the nation unconsciously deciding to close its eyes?
The Way Forward
Some intellectuals in Pakistan have also exaggerated matters when they suggest that the whole world is turning against the nation, or that the country stands isolated in the international community. This is far from the truth. In the present geopolitical environment of the Middle East especially, and economic pressures, two dominant scenarios are likely. Either world powers will decisively move towards the political approach, and if that is too much to digest, an even bigger conflict may be in the offing.
The Malala tragedy has been followed up with a drone attack in Orakzai Agency killing about 26, an attack on an army check post in South Waziristan, and a suicide attack in Darra Adam Khel that killed about 18 people. All sign indicate the country is heading towards another bloody round.
While one cannot kill all religious extremists on the planet earth, the chances of success are perhaps better in engaging them and then trying to mellow them down. This is similar to what the original premise of the US strategy for Afghanistan entailed i.e., to wean off the reconcilable Islamists from those that are not. Any strategy that is formulated from this point onwards should not allow mistakes of the past to be repeated and prevent radicals to gang-up.
However, the fear remains if extreme Islamists will ultimately outmaneuver the moderate elements to control the helms of power. And, this is why the evolution of Egypt since the removal of Mubarak, carries immense implications for the rest of the Islamic world.
What Pakistan needs at this point is to move away from reactionary policies that are impacted by the day-to-day events, and focus more on the long-term regional and global trends and patterns. To learn from what others are doing to cope with the dramatic change underway in international affairs and to focus on adapting and not by being aloof. In practical terms, what the country needs to do is to zoom out to see the larger picture, as opposed to just zooming in.