No clear path - Ardeshir Cowasjee - Sunday 17th April 2011

THE phrase ‘no clear path’ has a rather fine ring to it particularly if applied in general to Pakistan, the republic which bears an adjectival appellation to which it fails to live up.
In the present particular context, it emanates from the White House report to Congress on Afghanistan and Pakistan, March 2011, which was released to the press earlier this month.
On page 18, under the sub-heading ‘Objective 4: Develop Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capabilities; contrive to support Pakistan’s efforts to defeat terrorist and insurgent groups’ we read “…but what remains vexing is the lack of any indication of ‘hold’ and ‘build’ planning or staging efforts to complement ongoing clearing operations. As such, there remains no clear path
towards defeating the insurgency in Pakistan….”
Of course, Pakistan and the US are at complete odds when it comes to taming the Taliban, the insurgents for whose funding, sustaining, training and arming Pakistan must take credit during the all-round destructive 1990s when our two main political parties were playing musical chairs.
Old habits die hard, or so the US believes, rightly or wrongly we cannot know. Accusations fly back and forth between the two allies and what is stated by both sides is for public consumption — we also cannot know what actually goes on in the continuous frequent meetings and discussions between the concerned civilian and military representatives.
The US tells us it is committed to a long-term relationship. This is fine and dandy but it can never be forgotten that from its very birth the US has made it clear to the world that it has and will not have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies that
its relationship with other countries has all to do with its own national interest. That is how it should be with all states.
That Pakistan has fluffed up on its own national interest is not in doubt — it has never had a ‘clear path’ in any direction, it has merely muddled through, helped (or cursed) at times with its geographical location which strategically has been both a boon and bane.
Yes, there is no clear path towards its efforts (that is if it is making any) to clear up the militancy in the country or to effectively deal with its ‘children’ the Taliban. Its politics have never been on a ‘clear path’, nor has its economy other than sporadically.
The IMF has also referred to our ‘path’ in a recent programme note which tells us that we have lost the ‘reforms path’ as far as the economy is concerned — that any reforms that were being pursued are now retarded or reversed. This beleaguered hapless government either cannot cope with any needed economic reforms or purposefully, in its own interest, avoids them.
Retardation and reversal applies on all fronts, the path chosen seems to be downwards, the easy path on which turning back is no easy task. In the process, our supposed friends who are few are fast growing fed up with Pakistan’s continual complaint that its ills are not of its own making but are imposed by external circumstances.
The presidential blame on the Afghan war for the government’s failures does not wash. That there is a governance gridlock is entirely the fault of the sitting government — as it has been for decades. That only 1.7 million of the 180 millions are income taxpayers, and that it is a known fact that our political classes contribute little or nothing to the national exchequer irks the taxpayers of the countries from which we beg and take. That the distribution of the nation’s wealth is criminal naturally comes in for bitter and valid criticism.
The American taxpayers are angry, as are the British. Writing in The Sunday Times on April 10, Christina Lamb who “has spent almost as much time in Pakistan as in Britain over the past 24 years” is justifiably angry. British Prime Minister David Cameron on his recent visit announced that £650m is to be given for education in Pakistan.
Why, asks Lamb? Why should Britain give money to a country “that has reduced its education budget to 1.5 per cent of GDP while spending several times as much on defence?” Why give to a country steeped, from the very top, in corruption, to a country which through its internal policies is bent on alienating its friends?
Why give to a country in which the education system is in crisis, in which at least seven million children are not in school.
Why give to a country where the education gap is filled by madressahs which become breeding grounds for militants?
She writes: “After spending two weeks travelling in Pakistan last month, I feel the situation has gone far beyond anything that a long-term strategy of building schools and training teachers can hope to restrain.”
As to a clear path towards the formal and liberal education of the youth of this country to attempt at some future point to bring it into line with the century in which we exist, a clear path is a far cry. We have just witnessed the HEC fiasco — the 18th Amendment to the over-amended constitution not having been fully thought out — and as has become the norm it has been left to our apex court to temporarily sort it out.
But in any foreseeable future, can there be a clear path towards enlightenment? Doubtful, if we listen to those who are exposed to what passes for a higher education system. The lunatic fringe, the intolerant and the bigoted are said to be no more just a fringe, they are the majority.

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