Pakistan's Place at Davos

Commentary | February 03, 2012

Writing for The Telegraph, India's former foreign secretary and EWI board member Kanwal Sibal discusses instability in Pakistan and assesses Turkey as a model for maintaining an institutionalized military in an Islamic republic.

Click here to read this piece in The Telegraph.

The feudal mindset is conditioned to accept defeat militarily, never in sports and/or politics. The sportsmen’s spirit rhetoric that the British endlessly spout is just that, rhetoric. Casting aspersions of the nasty kind after being “Aj-mauled” and “Rah-mmed” was certainly not cricket. Two of Pakistan’s world-best young fast bowlers were successfully framed for “spot-fixing,” and subsequent humiliation at the hands of our spinners four times in a row must be frustrating and painful.

During the traditional “Pakistan Lunch” at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Summit 2012 at Davos two days earlier Imran Khan was emphatic about cricket: “We will win.” He confidently predicted a similar sweep in politics for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the next elections. Nearly 250 WEF participants crammed “Lounge East” of the “Steigenberger Belvedere” to hear Imran Khan in his element. 

In sharp contrast Prime Minister Gilani was being his usual bland-faced evasive self across town. Except for Jahangir Tareen, none of the speakers preceding Imran Khan in presenting the positives in Pakistan that the world is deaf, dumb and blind to, belonged to the PTI. Tareen was very impressive and eloquent about the necessity of good governance to really tap Pakistan’s potential. The speakers provided Imran the perfect platform to expound upon his vision despite the country being plagued by perennial bad governance complicated by the “war on terror.” 

Industrial tycoon Husain Dawood spoke about massive opportunities in business and industry, banking titan Zakar Mahmood eloquently laid out the amazing stability in our banking and finance industry while public health expert Dr Sania Nishtar was articulate about possible reforms in Pakistan. No words can really describe Dubai-based expatriate Yum International and “Mera Passion Pakistan’s” Irfan Mustafa doing what he is best at besides his job, being passionate about Pakistan!

One is indeed fortunate to have witnessed the charisma that Ms Benazir Bhutto exuded at the WEF in 1994. Another Pakistani’s charisma was on display 18 years later to the day. Davos-ians are a hard-bitten lot, the heads of state and/or government, academics, business and industry potentates, media giants, political figures, etc., are no gullible pushovers. Well received at Davos in January 2011, Imran Khan at his brilliant best in 2012. The instant feedback from virtually a world’s “who’s who” was elevating, despite our current problems force-multiplied by adverse and motivated media vibes, the message of Pakistan’s rising political phenomenon radiated hope. 

With entire groups of political activists at every layer, from the PPP to the PML-N, joining at the grassroots level, Imran Khan will sweep any free and fair elections as he confidently predicts, a management team for transition into good governance will be much harder to craft. The ANP and the PML-Q are in virtual disarray, and their cadres are defecting wholesale to PTI. When so many expectations are placed by so many on one human being alone, the danger is that while political weaknesses can be overcome, human failings can be exploited by friend and foe alike for their own selfish interests.

One cannot discount the tremendous contribution made by the Rangers in Karachi. By instilling a modicum of political stability with active help from the intelligence agencies, they have raised aspirations for massive economic emancipation. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and fellow justices in the Supreme Court deserve the ultimate kudos. The law enforcement agencies got the judicial cover badly needed to enforce the rule of law that the government intentionally and criminally abdicated to protect their “target killers.” Time to replicate the “Karachi Model” for Pakistan?

Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh (on John Defterios’ CNN Debate about Emerging Markets) and Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar (on the South Asia panel with Young Global Leaders, YGL, and Imran Khan) did extremely well. Khar politely fobbed off Imran Khan’s public offer to her to emulate three other former Foreign Ministers Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Khurshid Kasuri and Sardar Assef Ali and join the PTI. What political party or leaning any Pakistani who comes to Davos belongs to does not matter, that he (or she) represents the country in good light is all that counts.

My fellow panellists in the “Global Security Context” Session were Richard Haas of the Council of Foreign Relations, John Chipman of the IISS, Yan Xuetong of China’s Tsinghua University and Moon Chung-In of Korea’s Yonsei University. William T Davell’s WEF Summary reflected my views. “The US withdrawal from Afghanistan promises to be troubling for Pakistan, which currently hosts three million refugees. The Afghan army is likely to collapse if the US stops footing the bill. With troubled relations with the US falling below the level of a partnership or alliance, Pakistan can be expected to rely more heavily on China for help, although the Chinese are making it clear they do not want to become involved militarily.” 

Pakistan has been receiving economic help for decades, even when the Chinese could not really afford to give it. The ongoing joint production of modern fighter aircraft and tanks is a credible military reality for which one must commend all previous governments, Nawaz Sharif’s, Benazir Bhutto’s Musharraf’s. 

Richard Haas could not resist taking a pot shot at Pakistan’s “agenda.” Every country has an agenda about its core interests. Anybody who claims otherwise is a hypocrite. Our “agenda” is real: the three million refugees on our soil and the long difficult border we share with Afghanistan. The US can walk away at will whenever they are militarily and/or economically and/or emotionally exhausted and the US public cannot bear further loss of US lives fighting a war with no crucial interest or strategic meaning for the US. 

To quote then Senator Barack Obama in an anti-war rally in Chicago in 2002, “I am not opposed to wars, I am opposed to a dumb war.” A decade later his presidency is bogged down trying to extricate the US military with honour from a really dumb war. The US can still “declare victory and go home,” but Pakistan does not have the luxury of walking away, we will have to cope with the bloody aftermath and clear their mess like we have done previously.

“Experts” in different sectors from all over the world confidently give diverse predictions every year at Davos of what is likely to happen in the future. Why is it that they are mostly wrong? One was witness in Davos on the first day of the “Arab Spring” in Egypt in January 2011 coinciding with Muammar Gadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam being contemptuously dismissive of the movement as being of no real significance. Before the year was out Saif’s father was dead, captured on the run he himself has an uncertain future awaiting trial for atrocities committed on the people. Destiny is unforgiving when the masses are aroused. You can run with your money, you cannot hide!

Our land reforms being a total farce, the feudal mindset inherited from the British is alive and well in Pakistan, camouflaged under the garb of a democracy it allows our rulers to run riot. What does destiny have in store for Pakistan and our corrupt leaders? Constitution or no Constitution, the equation is simple: either they go or the nation does!