By Manzoor Ahmed
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi was Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India during the most difficult times when the two neighbours were engaged in a conflict in Kargil. Despite numerous adversities, the soft-spoken, pleasant, level-headed man maintained his cool and he and his wife had remained the favourites at New Delhi’s elite parties and events.
A career diplomat, Qazi went on to become Pakistan’s ambassador to US and China and before retired, was head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan. Now a writer, Qazi writes with levelheadedness, unlike some of his colleagues and contemporaries, and is as respected for his views as he was when he was engaged in diplomacy. He is generally critical of not just diplomacy, but also the way his country is being run. With this record, his views merit attention and respect. In his latest opinion piece in Dawn newspaper (December 8, 2017) Qazi uses the “India rhetoric” to drive home his points in a forceful manner on the way the elite that governs Pakistan is conducting itself. He repeatedly asks: “Why should India try to destroy Pakistan when the country’s (Pakistan’s) rulers are doing it themselves?”
The November 26, 2017, six-point agreement between the Faizabad protesters belonging to various extremist groups who had laid siege of the main artery connecting Islamabad and Peshawar for over two weeks, and the government/military, was “a major setback for the reputation and image of Pakistan.” The agreement, imposed on the political leadership and brokered by the army was between the Interior Minister and the leader of the newly-emerged Islamist party, Khadeem Hussein Rizvi, a cleric of the Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims who are trying to counter the majority Deobandi Muslims.
The way the agreement was reached, leading to the resignation of the country’s Law Minister, has left many questions unanswered. Qazi sums them up wondering whether Nawaz Sharif “the disqualified boss of the ruling party” engineered this to target the military, especially its chief, Gen. Bajwa, or whether it was “the other way around.” The net result, he laments, was that “the government finally surrendered its constitutional authority to the military.”
He alleges that the military in turn “transgressed its constitutional limits and ‘saved the country’ by conceding the unconstitutional demands of foul-mouthed religious politicians who threatened chaos throughout the country.” The message, the outcome of the whole exercise sent was that “at home Pakistan is for the taking by extremists; abroad it has made a laughing stock of itself.”
Taking an overall view of the way Pakistan is moving, if moving at all, and in whatever direction, Qazi says “Pakistan’s national and foreign policy are now without a coherent governmental base. Accordingly, they have no credibility. Every ideal and value the Quaid’s (founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah) Pakistan embodied has been betrayed.” “Those who think the country has been saved need only consider: Saved from what? For whom? For how long? At what cost?”
He charges that “firm and just governance has been rendered impossible by corruption, fear and treachery.”
On the diplomacy his country’s government conducts in West Asia, particularly the ‘slavish’ one vis a vis Saudi Arabia, Qazi recalls that last June, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia referred to Pakistan as ‘a slave country’. He can summon the prime minister and the army chief at a moment’s notice – even in the midst of a major domestic crisis. This same crown prince (Prince Mohammed bin Salman ) is supposedly embarking on the path of ‘moderate Islam’ and clean government for his country to enter the 21st century while Pakistan chooses to sink ever deeper into the morass of religious extremism and criminally corrupt governance to stay far away from the 21st century!”
Qazi does not say so, but the Pakistani leadership proved right by both Prime Minister Shahid Khaqqan Abbasi and the Army Chief, Gen. Bajwa rushed to Jeddah to confer with the Saudi royalty jut when the crisis at Faizabad was turning violent. There is nothing to indicate any link between Faizabad crisis and the Jeddah visit.
Pakistani leaders rush to Saudi Arabia more than any other nation, even a Muslim nation. The public back home is not told what transpires during these expensive visits that distract the leaders from exercising whatever governance they are capable on. He paints the political picture thus: “The ousted prime minister (Nawaz); his brother (Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz) in Lahore; the irrelevant current prime minister (Abbasi) who cannot even address the nation; the bewildered remnants (ministers) of the elected government. He lambasts the “opposition parties and their bickering and quarrelling leaders.” Pakistan’s “pathetic” parliament, he says which only produces rupee billionaires and dollar millionaires.”
The military and its intelligence establishment, he says, “wield unauthorised political power without knowledge or wisdom.” The police who have been “used, abused, discredited and finally betrayed. The officialdom, “with honourable exceptions, some would also include the judiciary; and those violent opportunists who politically exploit the people’s passionate love for the Prophet (PBUH,) have all brought about this anti-Pakistan farce.”
Qazi dwells on diplomacy, his area, thus: “Leave India and the US aside. They are unfriendly countries. What about China? What must it think as it beholds the endlessly silly and scary spectacle in Pakistan? What future can it envisage for CPEC and its strategic partnership with Pakistan? At the very least, it will feel compelled to have alternative plans.” Of the last, Qazi may be hinting at Chinese efforts to involve Iran and other West Asians in its CPEC plans. On the volatile sectarian situation, he asks: “With religious extremism rampant in Pakistan, what assurances can Pakistan credibly extend to China or any other country with regard to stopping extremists from using its territory against them?” Returning to the woes at home, he asks what are the implications of the two “surrenders for Pakistan’s constitutional, democratic and counterterrorism credentials?
The country is ‘imploding’ Qazi says, with forces pulling at each other in opposing directions, both unwilling and unable to tackle extremism.
Of Pakistan’s political, security, economic, social and external challenges, he says any discussions about road maps and timelines for their possible resolution, are all rendered irrelevant by the “tragic state it has been reduced to by its rulers and guardians.” The country’s elites are opposing any change. They “rule without conscience or pity, readily plead their inability to address this situation while doing everything to ensure that it remains unaddressed. They deliberately rob the people of faith in themselves.” How does the world look at Pakistan? “The world sees the situation in Pakistan as not merely ridiculous, but dangerous, since it has a nuclear arsenal, which India and the US will argue has an even higher risk now of falling into the hands of extremists.”
India and the US “will refer to the latest victory of the extremists over the government and security establishment. What will Pakistan’s diplomacy – even at its best – avail in the face of such perception,” he asks, adding: “Simple dismissals of obvious realities cut no ice at home or abroad.”
Will the election next summer change anything? Qazi says NO. “Given the triumph of religious obscurantism, the politically motivated security establishment, and utterly corrupt and therefore cowardly governance, what can another election achieve even if it is held fairly and leads to a change of faces? The parameters will still confine any elected government to tinkering on a ship that is sinking. No amount of charisma, flamboyant rhetoric and heroic posturing will change anything.”
Of the socio-political conditions in Pakistan, Qazi says: “Pakistan is a poor country with horrible inequality and social indices. Yet there are no significant pro-poor or progressive parties. There are only religious, nationalist and populist leaders who are all right-wing, conservative and pro-establishment.”
Of these parties’ ineptitude, he says: “They all talk in the name of the poor and the weak but they walk with the mighty. Only one national leader, within his limitations and despite his mistakes, has sincerely tried to serve the people. Most of the rest are corrupt and all of them pander to religious and power centres.”