Normalizing Pakistan’s global image


Fortunately, the decision to hold the PSL final at Lahore turned out to be a great success in many ways. It energised a nation that has been starved of watching international cricket on home ground. For the younger generation that constitutes the bulk of the population it was indeed a shot in the arm. While watching on television the expression of those thousands of spectators at the stadium it was so evident that revival of the game of international cricket had buoyed their spirits to new heights.

It was indeed a difficult decision for the Punjab government amidst strong opposition from certain influential quarters as there was always an inherent risk of a terrorist attack. But the PML-N government took the right decision not just for the revival of cricket but also with a larger purpose in mind. How long Pakistan will remain a prisoner of its past, how long is Pakistan’s latent talent in multiple fields including sports continue to be hijacked by terrorists!

To defeat the terrorist physically we of course have our brave and determined armed forces whose sacrifices have gone a long way in weakening them. But it is not military force alone that will bury their ideology and neutralise their support. A multi-pronged attack by energising the nations full potential in several critical fields of national power both hard and soft would be necessary. Holding the Pakistan Super League cricket final in the country could be a beginning in this direction.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Pakistani people crossed a psychological barrier with the holding of the cricket event as most of the time they are used to news that is negative. Even sports icon Imran Khan was unable to judge the mood of the people and was unprepared to take a risk. Although in taking hard decisions there is always an element of risk.

The role of the army in making the event a success by providing additional security was critical. And so was the civil society’s contribution. Punjab Chief Minister’s untiring efforts and his struggle for perfection in overall arrangements and providing security were laudable.

It is indeed sad that despite Pakistan’s enormous potential in soft power we have failed to utilise it in the past for both domestic and international gains.

In essence our country’s future lies in becoming a normal state. A state that tries to build its strength through economic development oriented for the good of its people. A foreign policy that aims at maximising the benefits of a peaceful neighbourhood and culture that promotes harmony internally and projects a likeable image abroad. Not that all these characteristics are absent in our nation but certainly we need to reassess and improve upon them. From Pakistan’s own experience it is clear that a linear approach of relying entirely on military force to counter terrorism and radicalism is not sufficient to neutralise it in the long term. As such the foremost task is to ensure that Pakistan’s political, economic and social structure facilitates in strengthening the nation and brings the multiple ethnic, sectarian and religious groups together.

As not enough effort has gone in this direction it has given rise to emergence of several sectarian and ethnic militant groups in the country. Neither our religious political parties nor the main political parties have addressed this issue seriously. But the way to counter this shortcoming is to develop the culture of accommodation and belonging. A glimpse of this phenomenon was evident when people from across the country came to attend the super league at Lahore. This exhilarated the nation and gave a boost to its vitality. We also tend to ignore that a nation is built around its people and they are at its centre. Its geopolitical entity and cultural, social advancement are dependent on its people. Material and technological advancement combined with overall value system are also critical.

We, however, cannot ignore the reality that Pakistan is located in a complex and dangerous neighbourhood with a turmoil ridden past. To achieve peace is not going to be easy. Recent surge in tension between Afghanistan and Pakistan seems to be especially disturbing. Both countries are patronising militant groups hostile to the other instead of fighting the common enemy of terrorism. It is an ugly manifestation of a sad reality that the two neighbours so dependent on each other have not learnt to coexist in harmony. The question is not who is right or who is wrong, as both are pursuing policies that are undermining each other. No doubt, history has a lot to do with it and external factors heavily influence this sad state of affairs. But it would be naïve to shift the entire blame on foreign forces as responsibility of carving a mutually beneficial relationship primarily rests on the leadership of the two countries.

Pakistan’s decision to close the Torkham border after a series of deadly attacks that included the Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar that claimed more than 100 lives is understandable. But extending the closure any longer is inadvisable and counterproductive. Further antagonising Afghanistan would only make them lean heavier on India and further alienate its people against us. The answer lies in both countries doing a serious reappraisal of their security policies. Afghanistan cannot continue to support TTP leadership and Pakistan should close its doors to Haqqani network and the Taliban Shura. A stage comes when the old policies need to be discarded. Whereas it is true that the Afghan Taliban are a reality but it is for the Afghan government to deal with them and find a solution to the insurgency. Similarly, Afghanistan should stop playing the dangerous game of patronising the TTP leadership by providing them freedom to launch attacks on our soil.

The vitality and high spirits generated by the return of international cricket will only be sustainable if these are also matched by pursuing foreign and domestic policies that reinforce this trend.

By Talat Masood

(The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board)