Country Or Cause: Henry Kissinger's Question Posed To Pakistan

Country Or Cause: Henry Kissinger's Question Posed To Pakistan
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said that Pakistan will have to decide whether it wants to be a country or a cause. A country per se has institutions, which deliver to the people – judicial system, civil service, civil society, education system, financial system, political system and an economic policy. On the other hand, what designates a country as a cause?

There has been a whole narrative, built in the 1980s, based on the clichéd slogans invoking pan-Islamism in Pakistan. Those who lived through those times can’t find it hard to recall Pakistan described as a citadel of Islam and that the entire Muslim world looked up to us for their liberation and defense. Pakistan’s nuclear programme also came to be labelled as an ‘Islamic’ bomb. Pakistan, we were told, fought for a cause in Afghanistan, against the expansionist communist regime of the USSR. This narrative made us invest everything into that cause. Since this cause was a noble one, it was imperative to mould society to stand for it, by educating the nation accordingly. This cause aligned itself easily, rather naturally, with the country’s religious ideology. The eventful decade of the 1980s passed. History moved on. Pakistan, on the other hand, did not.

In 1989, the Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan, the Berlin Wall came down, and the Western anti-communist project was closed. A New World Order was established, with the USA at the helm of it. Europe witnessed a wave of revolutions, as communist regimes tumbled down in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. In the wake of all this, an American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, published his influential essay, The End of History. Fukuyama proposed that with the fall of the USSR, liberal democracy of the west had triumphed eternally, and that humanity had reached the zenith of its ideological evolution. The west had progressed with the new ideas and philosophies. In the other part of the world, China and India had liberalised their economies from socialist structures to markets. Whereas Pakistan, that was part of the Western project against the USSR, remained clinging to its cause – made no changes in its socio-economic attitudes, didn’t reflect on its political system, paid no attention to reforming its colonial administrative style.

It is difficult to let go of one’s old love – no matter how unfaithful and devastating it may have proved to be – because it is difficult to stop feeling attached, and the pain of all the midnight oil burned never allows one to let go. So, Pakistan decided to continue living for a cause, an immaterial cause based on an ideology alone. And therefore, the economic welfare of the people never gained priority. Ironically, while the country had an ideological cause, but there was no immediate project in sight at the close of the Cold War. However, it didn’t have to wait for too long.

Following the demise of the USSR, war broke out in two places in Europe with predominantly Muslim populations, Bosnia and Chechnya, in 1992 and 1994 respectively. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government (1990-92) sent peacekeeping troops to Bosnia under the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in 1994. In Pakistan, common rhetoric in those days was that Islamic forces – the Taliban – had defeated the communist regime of the USSR, and now the they shall liberate the Muslims from tyrannical occupations e.g., Kashmir and Palestine. It was perhaps this pan-Islamic ideology which caused Kissinger to make his remark about Pakistan – a country or a cause? Pakistani leaders have projected a false identity of the nation, and an unfavourable reputation internationally.

Things perhaps changed during Nawaz Sharif’s second term as Prime Minister (1996-99), when the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made his visit to Lahore on 11 February 1999. It signaled a significant change in Pakistan’s foreign policy.

The shift was further fostered by the Musharraf-Vajpayee Agra Summit in July 2001, where they agreed on a four-point agenda on Kashmir – an indication of Pakistan’s willingness to disengage from pursuing the cause of pan-Islamism. General Musharraf proposed the demilitarisation of Kashmir on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), free movement of the Kashmiri population across the LoC, no changes in Kashmir’s borders, and giving self-rule to the Kashmiris of both parts. It could work, but it did not – the 9/11 attacks happened and that changed the course of history once again.

Once again Pakistan became the front-line state: a romance that had ended in a jilt in 1989 was rekindled. And it didn’t come for free. Pakistan became burdened with an undesirable project, the War on Terror.

22 years down the lane, here we stand, with our national institutions in disarray: Parliament and Judiciary pitched against each other, an incompetent and politicised civil bureaucracy, confused and sub-standard higher education, no rule of law, and an economic debacle as a cherry on the top.

The cause that Pakistan lived for doesn’t exist anymore, leaving an immense vacuum behind. The country faces the existential question: what is left to live for?

In 2047, Pakistan turns 100 years old – i.e. there are 24 years to go! How do we want to look at ourselves when we turn 100 years old? Is there a life after the cause?

We can perhaps try to fill the vacuum by transforming into a proper country, in the sense that Kissinger had pointed out. We need to have a dream of our own – not a target that India or any other nation sets for us. That will give us a reason to live, something to look forward to. This can happen by building civil institutions, introducing reforms in key sectors, and disciplining our society along modern lines. This can also provide a clear sense of identity to the Pakistani nation – even though some argue that it is already too late for that.

The author holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow, UK. He hosts a political talk show on TV and appears as a political commentator in TV shows.