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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Can we rise above “Political Interest” to protect Pakistan’s national interest

Pakistani politicians thrive on seeking international attention by practicing the art of exaggeration and obfuscation. After all, in an otherwise disinterested world, how else would an impoverished country like Pakistan find its relevance? Let us congratulate them for sacrificing our collective interest on their personal whims!

National interest off-lately has become a bad term, it now sounds like Dr. Goebbel’s propaganda – though it should not be. In essence it only means, “collective interest of a nation” But this definition may be unfamiliar to most Pakistanis. And those of us who have some knowledge about it, fail to comply.

Who needs an enemy when you are your own worst adversary? We know where it hurts most, yet we don’t stop striking. We know which issue is sensitive in nature, yet we keep divulging. Pakistanis we are. And this has become our identity.

My struggle to disassociate from the rest in this aspect, and not talk about the subjects that are harmful to my country — could only get me this far. But the good part is, in the future, no one can question my level of Pakistani-ness.

To convey what I intend to; a bitter pill has to be swallowed — for eventual course correction, if realisation be there.

Read more: Pakistan’s Prime Minister thinks Osama bin Laden was martyred: huge debate sparked

Two events that took place recently, disappointed the patriotic Pakistani inside me. It was a frustrating experience, to say the least. Citizens bringing a bad name to their own country — and without realising that they were — was disheartening.

Martyr or no martyr?

PM Imran Khan in an unscripted speech referring to OBL as “was martyred” was a faux pas – a huge one given Khan’s position in the country’s system. As prime minister he needs to audit what he is going to say and how it will be perceived inside and outside the country. But apparently he lacks that responsibility that his position demands.

The outburst over Prime Minister Imran Khan’s most recent statement in the National Assembly was thus expected. Although OBL is a closed chapter for long, the PM Khan somehow miraculously managed to open it. Had it been any other country, sparking a debate, in such cavalier fashion, on an issue of such sensitive nature wouldn’t be possible.

We have to accept; we thrive on discussions which expose us, put out the bad in us and evoke plentiful criticism from the international community. After all, in an otherwise disinterested world, how else would an impoverished country like Pakistan find its relevance? We have to keep giving reasons to the world so that they talk about us, no matter how degrading the conversations are.

Hating Imran or demonising Pakistan? 

Prime Minister Khan, although twice used the word “killed” for Osama bin Laden (once before and once after the infamous sentence) which makes it clear that he did not attach any particular reverence to OBL. But it failed to satisfy the people who were bent upon finding a deeper substantive meaning in his cavalier style of speaking.

To many in the west it was a “Freudian slip” – that suddenly overrides hundreds of hours of speeches, comments and tweets Khan has done about almost every issue that sufficiently lay bare his mind. But far more interesting was the reaction of Pakistani opposition – leaders like Bilawal and Khawaja Asif.

It didn’t take long enough for their statements to go viral over social media. Everyone – from East to West – started attacking Imran Khan as a bigot who had somehow hidden his mind. Suddenly Khan was not the Oxford educated playboy but a disguised jihadi who secretly admired the likes of OBL, but had remained undiagnosed so far. Khan is now almost 68.

All major news agencies, including The New York Times, picked up the story. Most international publications were drawn to it by the histrionic reactions given by Pakistan’s opposition leaders. Ironically, it was Bilwal’s father, Asif Ali Zardari who was president in May 2011 when OBL was found and killed in Pakistan.

Yes, it was extremely silly of Imran Khan to say something like that. But was it wise for Pakistani opposition to give it a meaning and context which did not exist?

The Prime Minister of Pakistan committed a serious mistake — the opposition, media and civic leaders of people of Pakistan committed a felony by repeatedly calling attention to it.

It must’ve been a slip of tongue, a faux pas, on part of the prime minister. But was it the case when so many Pakistanis repeated it? Ask yourselves, at what stage was Pakistan’s national interest compromised?

But that’s not the end of the ordeal. There’s more to the story – even more sordid.

Hitting at Opposition or the country?

Who would’ve thought that PIA PK 8303’s crash on May 22 wouldn’t just take 97 innocent lives, but go on to consume the entire aviation industry of the country. And that May 22 wouldn’t just be remembered for the death of 97 innocent passengers, it will be known to be the day when Pakistan’s aviation industry collapsed. You must ask, who was behind it? Here’s a hint: look for the culprit at the least likely place and position.

A few days ago, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Federal Minister for Aviation held a couple of press conferences in addition to a speech in the National Assembly where he made a startling revelation: more than 30% of civilian pilots in Pakistan have fake licenses. Trust is something that takes years in building, but can be broken in a fraction of a second. That’s exactly what transpired here.

Read more: PIA PK 8303: The cost of incompetency

The news is everywhere; CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, all have extensively reported on the issue. CNN took the lead where Richard Quest the editor-at-large at CNN called it “the most extraordinary story in aviation”, while raising serious questions about the flight safety in Pakistan.

Quest was right! Minister blew the facts out of proportion to create impact. Sarwar Khan, PTI minister, wanted to hit at opposition parties – PPP and PMLN – who had mismanaged the national airline. His comments were misleading; most Pilots under such doubts or accusations were grounded, they were not flying. Current CEO tried firing them but most managed to avoid outright firing as they took stay orders from courts. But they are not flying.

After seeing the international reaction — which was quite anticipated — I’d just like to wish our aviation authorities the best of luck trying to convince foreign passengers that we are still “Great people to fly with”.

72 years is a long enough period to learn from the past and correct course. The founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s motto, “Unity, faith and discipline” has been replaced by division, self-doubt, and disorder. The aforementioned events have only exposed the deeply entrenched fragilities within the Pakistani society that go way back then these two events.

Read more: 150 pilots at PIA have dubious licenses: Aviation Minister

The country cannot afford a repeat performance, particularly as other challenges to our society already loom. What better opportunity than a pandemic, when the entire world is locked, to look inwards and emerge as a stronger nation, more just, more free and more resilient. We must seize the opportunity. Let’s hold each other’s hands and rise together.

Shahmir Niazi is a Sub-Editor and Research Associate with Global Village Space with deep interest in international relations and technological developments. Views expressed here are his personal opinions and may not necessarily align with GVS Editorial policy. He can be reached at his twitter handle: @Shahmir_Niazi