It was a strange feeling that day, May 28, 1998, when Pakistan declared itself a nuclear power. I was working in an international bank in Lahore at the time.
Sweets were distributed in the bank and on the streets of Pakistan. Emotional scenes were witnessed and patriotism surged to unforeseen levels. The first Muslim country to join the league of Nuclear Nations, the nation rejoiced on the streets. Though there was national celebration, yet there was a sense of uneasy rejoicing. Foreign Currency accounts were frozen in Pakistan and converted to Pakistani rupees at a pre-determined rate by the State Bank of Pakistan. The economy suffered and the international community ostracized Pakistan for committing the cardinal sin whereas India was let scot free.
In the following years to Pakistan becoming a Nuclear State, history defining moments were witnessed by the still stunned masses.
The controversial Kargill episode with India, coup de etat by General Musharraf, the dismissal of the Sharif Government, a “velvet” Martial Law, an earthquake that devastated Pakistan, war on terror in the North of Pakistan, surge of private channels and media, suspension of the Judiciary, return of late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, mysterious assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the lawyers’ movement for restoring judiciary, an ever increasing and ensuing corruption by an elected regime, heart rending calamity caused by the recent floods and more recently mob justice.
Pakistan is a simple nation, swayed more by emotions than logic. In the ’70s, late Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto raised a slogan, Roti Kapra aur Makaan (bread, clothing and shelter). There are no verified statistics which prove that the nation got these three basic amenities or not, but still to this day late Bhutto holds a strong vote bank. This vote bank rode his daughter to twice being elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. She met with a tragic assassination which is shrouded with controversy and mystery to this day. Yet, this still proves that feudal in Pakistan control their vote bank even from their graves!
A simple nation, Pakistanis reached out in blood and spirit to help out their Afghan brothers in the face of Russian oppression. This was a golden opportunity for a dictator, General Zia to validate his claim to the throne after hanging an elected Prime Minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He became the conduit for US to fight a war against USSR in Afghanistan. Suddenly a dictator who massacred democracy became the closest friend to the champions of democracy, the U.S.
The country opened up its borders to give shelter to the hundreds of thousands of displaced Afghans. Aid poured in from all directions. The country was commended in its efforts to facilitate the US in Afghanistan. The country’s soil was used to train the “Mujahidin”, the Holy Warriors fighting the Russian oppressors. Pakistan became the most favored nation MFN, at the time of the Afghan War and this fan fare continued till the fall of the USSR.
The repercussions of Zia’s self propagated Islam and enforced Islam are visible today! Sectarianism, ethnic cleansing, fundamentalism are rampant today. This has not been an overnight factor. He even created a religious alliance of political parties to sing his own tune. Religion was infused in politics to form political alliances. It was not socialism or any capitalistic overtures, but purely religious.
Late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, though was a proponent of democracy with strong socialistic under currents, he was the first ever civilian Martial Law Administrator in the history of Pakistan.
Zia with his religious overtones, declared himself Amir Ul Momineen, head of the pure Muslims. The self proclaimed coronations did not end as later on, Nawaz Sharif, twice elected Prime Minister nearly declared himself the same as Zia. And yes it does not end here, Musharraf who ousted Nawaz declared himself Chief Executive of Pakistan while still in khakis.
Every so called leader, dictator, elected person has thrived on being elite in one way or another. They have all been faithful to only validating their right to rule Pakistan, and not about the welfare of its ever growing masses which stand at an uneasy 176 Million, 2011 World Bank Report.
One wonders whose sins are these common people paying for?
Deprived of basic amenities of health, education, social welfare, energy, drinking water and the list goes on.
Today the same nation is condemned with the bane of being terrorists and cultivating terrorism. Innocent people are dying each day in Pakistan for a war, battle, combat, retaliation of sorts. They do not even know what it is. Saying prayers in a mosque, walking on the streets, in their houses, in schools, it does not matter anywhere…..a bomb explosion, gun fire or a drone.
Time and again whenever I visit Pakistan, the sittings always unfold a debate about “why us?” This “why us” syndrome is not self perpetuated, and has been in fact been an outcome of facilitating freedom for Afghanistan.
Afghanistan got rid of the oppressors but Pakistan inherited quite a few vices; Extreme fundamentalism, the” Kalashnikov Culture”, sectarianism, drug mafia and regional slogans of independence and an ever continuing thanklessness from the Afghanis, to name a few.
The only Muslim country to oppose the creation of Pakistan in the United Nations, Afghanistan has been a heavy price that Pakistan had to pay, and ironically enough is still paying to this day. In spite of giving shelter and a new life to the” Muhajirs”, the homeless Afghans and paying this heavy price to inherit these vices, Pakistan and Afghan relations are sour today. A war that was de-facto fought via Pakistan over a decade did give root to the above vices. A war that made a little known Congressman from Texas, Charlie Wilson a hero. How could the ramifications of such a war be eliminated or rectified overnight?
Today the American Leadership reiterates that Pakistan’s efforts in fighting terrorism are not adequate. It is the same country that praised Pakistan’s contribution during the Afghan War. Pakistan’s soil and resources were used to train the Freedom Fighters, the Holy Jihadists, and the Mujahidin. The Mujahidin went on to become the Taliban during their civil war and the story continues as a result of covert black operations. But what is so covert about it if all and sundry know this?
Is Pakistan a Nuclear Power with the capability of going astray or is it just a nation misunderstood, an unclear country to the powers that be? Use Pakistan when the need arises and send them to detention whenever you feel it has been a bad student.
It is a simple nation that rejoiced over thawing of Pakistan – India relations. In 1999, the sight of a bus driving in from India to Pakistan via the Wagah Border, old relatives meeting each other after decades and the hard liner BJP led government of Atul Bihari Vajpayee, himself disembarking from a bus being received by then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore was indeed an achievement for the former. The Sharif government took pride and celebrated this initiative, but maybe it was something that did not appeal to the powers that be. Soon after, the Kargill episode took place, where the Pakistan Army took over a strategic position in Indian Territory much to everyone’s surprise and shock.
An olive branch at one hand and an act of aggression on the other, left all in gray. Sharif was apparently left in the dark about this episode as he was more interested in extending the olive branch. Vajpayee was left in a state of shock, to which he remarked to Sharif, “You stabbed me in the back.”
The nation was left confused yet again and a bit later the Sharif government was overturned in a coup the same year, October 12, 1999.
This simple nation is over burdened by a deficit which has made subsequent generations a prisoner of debt. Reko Diq with assessed assets in gold n copper worth US$ 260 Billion, as per news originating in national dailies in Pakistan, was covertly handed over to foreign companies at a throwaway price. This treasure lot is located in the Balochistan Province and some reports state that the copper reserves are far more than those in Chile!
A right focus towards God granted resources can not only get Pakistan away from the shackles of debt and foreign loans for good but can also go a long away in alleviating poverty, providing health and educating the masses, a deed unfulfilled by Bhutto’s slogan of bread, clothing and shelter. The current rulers are quite snug and comfy in their exploits of this simple nation, something that even Angelina Jolie could not help but highlight to the UN Chief on her recent efforts in Pakistan for the flood affectees as the UN Goodwill Ambassador.
Pakistan exercised its right for self determination, being egged on by India to declare itself a Nuclear Power; it was not the first to do it. From that day onwards, the course of events has left the nation still gasping for breath, one event after another and it just does not get any better. Pakistanis do want their young ones to go to school, go to the mosque to pray, go shopping to a market, to sleep well at night without any fear of bombs or a suicide bomber . Is that not what every nation would expect? Is it not their right to expect that?
Whether Pakistan is a Nuclear Power or was it never one, somehow misery and misfortune befalls this nation. Whether it is a natural disaster or man inflicted calamity, this nation is still gasping for breath.
The Earthquake of 2005 and the Floods of 2010 in Pakistan wiped out over 100,000 Pakistanis and still to this day displaced millions yet to be rehabilitated.
The country has not been able to even overcome the power crisis prevailing since long and yet we are a Nuclear Power! Massive power breakdowns and load shedding have made businesses suffer; create unemployment and non conducive economies of scale to set up industry.
This nation is simple. They will go to the polls again and elect representatives who will promise but not deliver or they will become subject to a coup or a foreign imposed leadership, handpicked as the “saviors of Pakistan”.
William Shakespeare said,”All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts,
Pakistan is one such stage. The nation lies last on the list of priorities. Leaders and powers that be come and play their parts oblivious of their audience, oblivious of ethics and fearless of any accountability. When the focus becomes remaining in power by hook or by crook, what welfare will reach the masses? There is lack of clarity to do any good for this nation and it does not matter if it is a Nuclear Power, the fact remains it is a nation unclear of what unfolds for it.
In my discussions with fellow Pakistanis, in and abroad Pakistan, this question keeps popping up; where are we headed? I keep watching TV talk shows on Pakistani channels, which portray a façade of patriotism, ethics and sincerity for the masses; a sham and media sponsored entertainment. Unending debates that have no impact but mere fillers for commercials.
One friend quoted; there are three types of people in Pakistan.
The already rich and affluent who stash their looted riches abroad, go into exile and come back to complete their tenure of loot and plunder and then leave again to come back another day.
The rural masses and the poor; who have no option but to watch this stage play of shameless highway robbery of their rights and resources. They have become numb and resigned to the fact that this is their fate. Sometimes, a few of them wake up and feel a right to vent out their rage. This takes the shape of mob justice, whether right or wrong they feel justice has been done and they go back to sleep.
The educated intelligentsia, middle class, who gets frustrated at all this and takes off with their talents and skills to contribute to another nation’s GDP. This is truly the biggest loss to Pakistan; flight of talented capital, a vacuum which will take generations to fill.
The country has abundant natural resources, an envious soil fertile for agriculture, a resilient economy that keeps bouncing back and has never defaulted compared to some European countries and last but not the least a hard working and skilled nation that usually shows its mettle abroad.
Is Pakistan a Nuclear Power that should be taken seriously in the comity of nations or is it just a country that is unclear of its direction? Where are we headed, still remains and grows as a question, with no answers but more questions. Unclear is what we are, yet Nuclear is what we have.
It was a strange feeling that day, May 28, 1998. More than a decade has passed and that feeling continues.
Ali Mehdi runs a Vancouver-based financial consultancy engaged in Private Equity and Venture Capital. An MBA from LUMS and an MSc from the London School of Economics, Ali has been in senior strategic roles in global finance with banking giants as Citi, ABN-AMRO and Barclays Capital in Europe and the Middle East. His late father, Ali Mohtasham, was a celebrated Pakistan Movement worker and an author of four books.
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