The Incredible State
Our state is incredible. Not because it’s incredibly good, or incredibly bad, but simply because it has no credibility. States that lie through their teeth usually have none.
Some of them cannot afford to tell the truth; others do not know the truth; and still others fatuously believe that economizing on truth was good politics. Speaking with forked tongues was once the exclusive domain of the diplomats. Pitched against the rest of the world that owes them nothing, posturing is as a rule more prudent than coming clean on policy (though there too one was well advised to keep a veneer of credibility). At home, however, wining the trust of its subjects wins the regime half the battle.
People in Pakistan have so often been taken for a ride that even if on an odd occasion the officialdom found reasons to tell the truth: too good to be true; was likely to be the cynical reaction. But frankly, could anyone depend upon a junta that proclaims from the hilltop that election manifestos were more like the pre-matrimonial vows – worse still; where going back on commitments is crowed as the hallmark of leadership!
Some of the recent developments amply illustrate the cost of this trust deficit.
I couldn’t for the world of me imagine that after the loss of war in Afghanistan, Washington would have the gall to seek military bases in our region. But since the US has enough experience in putting the conventional wisdom on its head, and enough power to ignore losses like of faces, it could still make such an outlandish demand in the belief that some of her satraps would do their utmost to put the fear of drones in the faint of hearts. No idea how or when we were sounded out on this subject, but the intensity with which it was discussed, and the anxiety that this red herring generated, clearly indicated that even the most emphatic of denials by the state failed to assuage our ire, which died of battle fatigue and not because we felt assured that Islamabad would not rollover.
The discourse was still useful. It clearly conveyed to the decision makers not to play footsie on such matters, and also drove home the real motives that led the US to test our mettle. It wasn’t about Afghanistan, the Taliban, or even Al-Qaida. Some may call it the New Great Game (NGG), but in simple English it was about hegemony – or about the desire of a global power to keep its foot in a historical revolving door.
And that reminds me of another of our core national resolve that was rigorously tested because of lack of faith in our successive governments. I don’t think any of them at any time had any doubts about our relationship with China, or about the significance of the CPEC – and not only for our economic health. Generations of wise men had positioned the two countries to play a key role in the NGG. Understandably, on such issues no country could be taken for granted and it must play the proverbial hard ball to protect its strategic or even business interests. But that the credibility of our commitment to the project could one day become suspect, would have been pooh-poohed in the days gone by. No longer, it seems.
Before the present regime came to power, spanners in the project were mostly thrown by those vying for its benefits – commercial or provincial. During the controversy over the military bases, when some here started hinting to save the country from the wrath of the Big Brother, who was hell bent to fight our Iron Brother to death, one heard a few knees knocking in the corridors of powers that are now freely trodden by the hitmen precisely to carryout this mission. Their designs will of course be foiled by us, but it’s yet another example of how a vacillating state affects people’s faith.
I do not know enough about debts and liabilities to rationally comment on the budget, but when soon after its announcement some hired hands were launched to rationalize it, anyone could see that the state was now on the defensive. It was only a matter of time that the subject specialists tore down the façade. The credibility of the state may have gone down some more notches, but did it create any health issues at the helm?
A state smug in the knowledge that it rode to power on tanks grows a bullet proof skin. The problem is that the tanks are not snakes that cannot spit out the lizards – nor are the riders riding a tiger.