STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan
Desi drama serials are an integral part of our lives in the sub continent, especially amongst women. I have sat through some of them giving company to the family. Invariably, there is a main story and then some side plots as a distraction to prevent monotony and prolong drama. At times this distraction becomes the main plot. That is what happened to US and their allies in Afghan war.
The conflict was triggered as a reaction to events of 9/11. It started as a popular war with the express intent to root out Al Qaeda, bring Osama Bin laden to justice and dismantle the Taliban regime. Before these objectives were achieved another distraction emerged; invasion of Iraq to bring down Saddam Hussein and destroy weapons of mass destruction. Saddam went but no such weapons ever existed.
These two wars sucked in the West, mainly US, leaving the world stage free for China. This allowed for an economic leap forward unseen in recorded history. The recent “Fortune 500” report says it all. Numbers don’t lie. China has overtaken US having 129 of the largest companies in the world followed by 121 American companies. In 1999 China had only 8 such companies. Amongst top ten banks, US used to be the leader having 8 of them. Now it has only 2. The top 4 banks are Chinese. The world economic scene has turned on its head.
Western claims of being the “biggest and best” sound hollow when compared to realities on the ground. Hence President Biden’s determined effort to end the distraction of being mired in Afghanistan by August 31st 2021. It is a reality check and realization that real challenges to the West lie somewhere else. Trillions spent in Afghan and Iraq war were a waste of unprecedented proportions.
Biden wants to reboot to confront the real challenges. It is the West competing with China, Russia, Iran and now Afghanistan. He has coined the proposition as “a choice between Western democracy and autocracy.” Their viceroy in the region is India backed by “Quad” that includes Australia and Japan. Where the Arab monarchies fit-in is yet to be determined.
A twenty year military adventure in Afghanistan has left large wounds amongst neighbors. Pakistan is the biggest sufferer. We were sucked into a conflict, not of our making, and paid a humungous toll of over 70,000 lives lost and an estimated $150 billion in cumulative losses. The biggest tragedy was total disruption in our society. It is difficult to quantify in numbers, however the price we paid and will continue to pay to rebuild a broken society will require enormous resources, political will and unwavering commitment.
We have always looked towards the West to keep us afloat in Pakistan. They obliged as long as we signed onto their agenda. It was a perfect recipe for disaster. USA was the dominant player. As long as we were subservient, they ignored dictators, corrupt rulers and ruthless exploitation of the exchequer. Most recent example being Ashraf Ghani fleeing Kabul with hundreds of millions in cash stolen from US largesse.
Where did it land us? A snapshot of what we face will put issues in perspective. We had the worst kind of corruption amongst the rulers stealing the country blind. Corruption became an acceptable way of life at all tiers of governance. The population has exploded beyond imagination. From 50 million in 1970 we are at 220 million, growing as rabbits. We have a broken court system incapable of dispensing justice.
Healthcare and education is severely lagging. Religion has been radicalized. There is total breakdown of morality in society. Kids and women are fair game for rape and brutalization. The police are corrupt and incompetent. Prosecution is a disaster. Money and being part of elite is a license to break law and get away with it. Politicians are selfish, driven by greed and short term gains. The list goes on.
We are seeing it manifesting itself in everyday life. The tragic assault of a lady on 14th August at the venue of the Pakistan Resolution is a slap in the face of the entire nation. The worst part is demonizing the victims. Watching images of young girls and boys violated and often murdered is the ugliest shape of humanity. The present depravity and degeneration is a devastating failure of the system. Rule of law has been replaced by the law of jungle.
The head of the snake is just as rotten. It is 3 years into the reformist Government of PTI. Yet there are no convictions of past rulers who stole money every which way. Their cases linger with no punishments being meted out. Our justice system stands neutered and is ineffective. Despite tons of evidence, the cases are crawling and culprits pretend to be martyrs.
PTI’s flagship slogan of “Justice for all” has fallen flat on its face. A judicial emergency needs to be proclaimed and every resource deployed to bring in massive reforms at all cost. This is the only path available to achieve even a semblance of “Riasat e Medina”. The present democratic dispensation shall not permit radical reforms. Ground realities dictate emergence of a new system other than the Western democracy. A presidential system maybe the only answer unless we drift into the autocracy column, as defined by President Biden.