Rhetoric and reality: Pakistan must wake up and smell the coffee

The coming weeks pose a serious challenge to the Pakistani government to deal with the TLP’s threats and increasing pressure, writes Shantanu Mukharji for South Asia Monitor

Shantanu Mukharji Oct 30, 2021
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PM Imran Khan and NSA Moeed Yusuf

Pakistan is always making half-hearted attempts to extricate itself from the mess it has landed itself in, be it economic, security, external relations, terror, religion, Kashmir and many more. In line with such endeavors which do not appear genuine or focused, the country’s National Security Advisor (NSA), Dr. Moeed Yusuf while speaking at a security-related seminar in Islamabad on October 28, stressed inter alia on these aspects concerning Pakistan:  its character as an Islamic country, its unity in diversity, human welfare for everyone, Pakistan’s democratic and federal nature, the country’s stance for peace within and its neighborhood, etc. On the face of it, these features appear not just rhetorical, but are hollow and bereft of any substance.

First, there is a stress on being an Islamic country. It’s not becoming of an NSA - particularly one seen to be non-political - to touch upon religion. As for the democratic structure, it is well known that in Pakistan, democracy is a sham.

Coincidentally, the day the NSA was speaking at the seminar marked the 63rd anniversary of military dictator Ayub Khan banishing the country’s President Iskandar Mirza and assuming full and absolute control over the country, thus snuffing out any semblance of democracy in the then 11-year-old nascent Pakistan. This set the pattern for several coups and counter-coups and dictators had a field day in Pakistan as they ran their writ unabashedly. So, talking about democracy is just for public consumption and that’s all.

Lastly, raising the issue of neighborhood peace is non-serious as it’s in the public domain that Pakistan has been complicit rather actively in cross-border terror activities in its immediate neighborhood. And, the perpetrators used by Pakistan’s agencies are homegrown terrorist outfits including Lashkar e Toiba (LeT) and Jaish e Mohammad (JeM). Unless Pakistan reins in these terrorist groups, what’s the use of talking about peace in the vicinity?

It would seem the NSA had read out a script prepared by ghostwriters. The NSA had called for a national dialogue on these points during his discourse at the seminar. Judging by the mood of the Pakistani people, it’s doubtful if the populace will ever encourage such a proposal for dialogue. It's superficial in the first instance.

Admission of inherent weakness

NSA Moeed, however, admitted during the course of the seminar the inherent weaknesses prevailing in the Pakistani dispensation. Significantly, he has pointed out that Pakistan needs to unapologetically share its narrative with the world, and further admitted that the country was far behind others in terms of strategic communication.

In other words, the Pakistani NSA implied that his country’s communication system, as well as PR skills to reach out to the world was below par, thus affecting Pakistan’s credibility in the global fraternity. He also described this shortcoming as the weakest link in its chain of functioning. He blamed several countries for making Pakistan the scapegoat. To address this, he suggested a single national narrative.

He cited many instances where the world didn’t take Pakistan seriously and India, he felt, got away by holding his country responsible for many happenings which were not caused by it. This clearly means by default he complimented India’s successful and effective strategic communication. To sum up, his utterances reveal how Pakistan is struggling to find its feet in strategic communication.

Pakistan government under pressure

Talking about the mood in the country, the terror-linked militant outfit, Tehreek e Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), has mounted enormous pressure on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government. Its threat to intensify its march to Islamabad has rattled the government. The threat looks serious and not veiled as some government ministers are trying to make the people believe.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain in a strong statement warned the TLP rank and file of effective and decisive action in case they continue with their protest march. He even cautioned them that they could be annihilated just as the Pakistani government had earlier “exterminated” Al Qaeda.

Such a warning is surely far-fetched and lacks credibility as the whole world knows that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was eliminated on May 2, 2011, in Pakistan’s Abbottabad by the US Special Forces. How could the minister make such a bizarre claim which defies reasoning?

Similar rhetoric has surfaced from Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid whose words are not taken seriously as his past performances show that he is not just garrulous,  but speaks without any substance.

(The writer is a regional security expert. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at prayagstreet@gmail.com)