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Can Pakistan’s army change its mindset?

In an article in the Pakistani Newspaper ‘Dawn’ of 9 February this year, Pervez Hoodbhoy writes, ‘Its (Bangladesh) growth rate last year (7.8 per cent) put it at par with India (8.0 per cent) and well above Pakistan (5.8 per cent).

Harsha Kakar | New Delhi |

Pakistan’s economy is in shambles.

The nation is once again seeking its umpteenth bail-out package from the IMF. It is under scrutiny of the FATF for supporting terrorist networks. It may be placed on the black-list or continue in the grey list. The CPEC, which is being touted as a major boon to Pakistan, is anything but that. The debts rising from it would drown the Pakistani economy and make it subservient to China.

The Rupee is already in a freefall mode, touching nearly 150 to a dollar and its stock markets are crashing by the day. Increased attacks by the Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) or its offshoots in Baluchistan have the Chinese worried. Their investments in the CPEC and Gwadar port are threatened. They are seeking to directly negotiate with them, ignoring the Pakistan army. Internally, its military has pushed the country away from the development path.

Pakistan’s military terms those who oppose them as traitors and have them jailed. It considers its power flowing from the barrel of the gun, ignoring diplomacy and negotiation. Its media is gagged, truth remains hidden from the national public, who are fed tit bits of information, which also is fake and fabricated. The complete failure of Pakistan is due to desperation of controlling the state by the army which considers all politicians as corrupt or antinational.

It is further fuelled by displaying hostile intentions towards India, projected as an eternal enemy, seeking to destroy the nation. This has been the bane of Pakistani politics. In South Asia, there are other nations which began with an even weaker economy than Pakistan and developed way ahead. India is an economic powerhouse, growing by the day, because the nation believed in democracy and kept the military at bay. It has spent what can be afforded on enhancing military power.

Despite having two hostile neighbours, including Pakistan, which support anti-India groups, the nation continues to grow. Its international stature provides it with respect and standing and nations rush to partner with it. Bangladesh, which began its economy almost from scratch post 1971, has grown manifold. It has made peace with all neighbours, considered India as a friend and a development partner, rather than as a challenger.

Its economic growth would read like a fairy tale for Pakistan. In an article in the Pakistani Newspaper ‘Dawn’ of 9 February this year, Pervez Hoodbhoy writes, ‘Its (Bangladesh) growth rate last year (7.8 per cent) put it at par with India (8.0 per cent) and well above Pakistan (5.8 per cent). The debt per capita for Bangladesh ($434) is less than half that for Pakistan ($974), and its foreign exchange reserves ($32 billion) are four times Pakistan’s ($8bn).’

He adds, ‘Much of this growth owes to exports which zoomed from zero in 1971 to $35.8bn in 2018 (Pakistan’s is $24.8bn). The IMF calculates Bangladesh’s economy growing from $180bn presently to $322bn by 2021.’ His logic for the same is equally interesting. He states, ‘Bangladesh sees its future in human development and economic growth. The bulk of national energies (of Pakistan) remain focused upon check-mating India.

Relations with Afghanistan and Iran are therefore troubled; Pakistan accuses both of being excessively close to India. But the most expensive consequence of the security state mindset was the nurturing of extra state actors.’ In a similar manner, despite fighting a civil war for 25 years, Sri Lanka is growing economically. The recent terrorist strikes have woken its security agencies to prevent similar actions in the future.

Its GDP may be smaller, considering its size but its per capita GDP is $ 4,073 as compared to Pakistan’s 1,555. Its international financial rating is also far better than Pakistan. Tourism as an industry is growing in Sri Lanka while none even venture into Pakistan. All nations in the sub-continent (except Pakistan), which have enhanced their ties with India have gained from Indian investment and economic largesse.

Their economies are on the rise. India has stated in multiple forums that it has no interest in seeking any territory from any other nation, however Pakistan refuses to believe it. Contentious issues including enclaves have been resolved through negotiations with Bangladesh. Pakistan is the only nation in the sub-continent which has not taken advantage of the Indian growth model as their army has ensured that an anti-India bias remains within.

This fear of Indian threat enables it to suck in a large share of the nation’s economy to maintain itself and its terrorist groups. In the current financial year, when Pakistan faces an economic crisis, its education budget is 58.5 Billion Rupees and the defence budget 1.5 trillion Rupees, an amount the nation can ill afford. The suffering of the common man, galloping inflation, rising unemployment and lack of basic amenities is of no concern to the Pakistan army.

The result is that while the rest of the sub-continent grows economically and quality of life of its population improves, the reverse is happening in Pakistan, only because the army projects a fake picture. The world has begun to support nations of the sub-continent, while pushing Pakistan into isolation. The reason is Pakistan’s support to terrorism, which no nation will accept. Its dream of bleeding India with a thousand cuts has failed as India has begun retaliating back, forcing the Pak army to hide the true extent of damage and continue maintaining a façade.

It is time the people of Pakistan rise and push the military for a change. The world respects economically powerful nations, not those who support terror. Peace can only come if the Pakistan military convinces India by closing terrorist camps, arresting those involved in anti-India actions and prosecuting them.

In simplistic terms, it must project a genuine desire for peace. If it does so, talks to resolve issues can commence, alongside development changing the life of the public. Will the Pakistani army have a chief who can consider the plight of his people instead of economically bleeding the nation or is it just utopia?

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army)