MARK Twain lauded three gifts: freedom of conscience, freedom of choice and the prudence never to exercise them. Noam Chomsky observes that speaking truth to power solves nothing. Power knows the truth and is very pleased with it. What is required is for people to speak truth to one another. Only then can they realise their strength and create a path towards a new truth — one which pleases them instead of their exploiters. I.F. Stone said all: governments lie. All state narratives are false.
Moreover, an independent, educated and well-informed public opinion is an enemy to governments that serve financial, social and power elites, and not the common folk, especially in so-called ‘democracies’. A democracy that actually empowered the people would be anathema to those who matter in phony democracies. George Orwell believed an expensive education was necessary to learn what opinions not to have or express in order to prosper.
Within this context, Pakistan finds itself where it is today. At sea, both at home and abroad! At home, it faces a triple whammy: an elected government that refuses to govern in any acceptable sense of the word, a military that insists on governing outside its sphere of competence and capability, and supreme oracular judgements that plunge citizens into confusion and uncertainty. A simple people foolishly expect clear and comprehensible verdicts in complete ignorance of the majestic complexity of the law. They are justly rebuffed.
As for the late and unlamented ‘Dawn leaks’ (no real kin of Panama leaks which remains in intensive care and bleak prognosis) there was an interesting division of interest: the uninformed spectators were interested in how true the report was, while the fully informed players were interested in how the truth got out. The alleged high treason lay in the power question; not the information question.
Sacred cows are no part of patriotism.
Abroad, Pakistan finds itself facing a similar triple whammy. With a Foreign Office rendered irrelevant, the country’s foreign policy is in powerful hands that can ‘sort out’ differences of varying intensity with three of Pakistan’s four neighbours. Our Iranian brethren can’t seem to understand that our joining, commanding or advising a Saudi-led military alliance against them is actually an act of friendship. Would they prefer some hostile Arab commanding the military alliance against them instead of a brotherly Pakistani soldier? But our Iranian friends prefer to recall irrelevant parliamentary resolutions and impractical government policy statements. How unhelpful! They even protest the use of our territory for attacks on their soldiers in most unfriendly terms. Can we really trust such a neighbour? What have they to offer us?
As for Afghanistan, our uniformed foreign policy forcefully assumes that Pakistan is the constant friend and guide our Afghan brethren have always sought and prayed for, even when they are sadly unaware of it. While ‘strategic depth’ has such lovely policy resonance, we should learn from Orwell that it simply will not do to suggest it to untutored Afghan minds. It can lead to Chamans and other unpleasantness for perennial miscreants to take advantage of. Similarly, our uniformed search for the right balance of forces inside Afghanistan to ensure the success of an ‘Afghan-led’ peace process centred round the interests of Afghanistan’s one true friend has often been grossly misinterpreted — even by Afghan leaders themselves — abetted by the usual external miscreants. We can now only rely on forcibly repatriated Afghan refugees from Pakistan, often separated from their families and businesses, to undo the damage.
As for India, there are all the reasons one can think of not to have good relations with it. There are India’s attitudes, policies, provocations, etc. There are issues and disputes. In the 21st century, there will be many more. Unfortunately, no sensible argument can be made that it is not in the interest of Pakistan to work towards a better relationship with India. The same is true for India towards Pakistan. However, there are many powerful vested interests in both countries that challenge this line of reasoning with passionate arguments that cannot survive a moment’s scrutiny. Yet these untenable arguments prevail because vested interests overpower national and people’s interests in both countries. In India the opportunity costs of untenable policies are manageable. In Pakistan they are not.
So, should we forget Kashmir? Should we change our stand on Kashmir? Should we surrender to India on Kashmir? Should we delete all reference to UN resolutions on Kashmir? Should we play down Indian atrocities and human rights violations in Kashmir? Should we withhold support for the Kashmiri freedom struggle? Obviously not.
However, the honest truth is there are no short-term or zero-sum solutions to the Kashmir dispute. Improving the climate of relations with India for a longer-term compromise settlement acceptable in Srinagar, Islamabad and Delhi is the only way forward. There are also undeniable responsibilities in being neighbouring nuclear weapons states. The status quo in Kashmir can change but only through a mutually acceptable process which will take time, and will involve a transition from resistance and repression to negotiated movement. Accordingly, progress on the respective core concerns of Pakistan and India regarding Kashmir and terrorism must become a time-lined policy imperative jointly announced by the prime ministers of both countries.
But for some, relations with India are irrelevant. With China and CPEC nothing can go wrong. CPEC will transform and strengthen Pakistan. Our strategic location will pay for Chinese diplomatic and military support, the working and capital costs of CPEC, including commercial projects, technology transfers, the Singaporing of Gwadar and the infrastructural and intellectual transformation of Pakistan. We shall be handed our future — including Kashmir — on a platter!
But do the Chinese encourage such myths? Do they suggest they will solve Kashmir for Pakistan? Do they say they share Pakistan’s enmity with India? They do not. They are honest. China has its own policy imperatives. Does our government inform our public accordingly? If not, why not? Because it wages political and economic class warfare against them.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.