Published in Daily Times on May 17th 2014
I recently returned from Istanbul where the streets in Taxim were choked with protesters rallying against the mismanagement of the mining tragedy that killed hundreds in western Turkey. There erupted a Twitter campaign against a person close to the government who was pictured kicking a protester in the head. Twitter, previously banned there, was still accessible, despite this campaign. Turkey has accelerated its economic growth to an extent that it is not comparable to Pakistan’s but its political questions remain somewhat similar, pertaining to: the military’s interventions, bans on social media, obsession with Islam and trying to either keep it out of the state (Turkey) or keep it in (Pakistan).
There was, however, one thing that was clearly evident in the Turks. They had immense national pride regardless of their political leanings. From the man on the street to those in government, everyone rooted for their country. The enthusiasm about Turkey, child-like and forceful, was difficult to miss. Even when picking up left leaning papers, columnists were solution oriented and spoke as part of the machinery for change. The critics were not disjointed.
In Pakistan, where George Orwell’s fiction reads like fact, it is a bit difficult to keep up the optimism. Trying to search about what is positive in Pakistan one is inadvertently led to the positive cases of polio increasing in the country, and its befitting travel requirement. Is it really that bleak or is there also a bright spot somewhere on its path, raising the trajectory ever so slightly? Let us examine a few cherry picked and random positives from a longer list.
Pakistan’s relationship with India could enter a new era with the right wing party in power in India. What happened to Ehsan Jafri under Modi’s watch notwithstanding, he is unlikely to face the accusation of appeasing Pakistan by Indian hawks and more likely to extend that hand of friendship to Pakistan. Evidently, he has asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to attend his oath taking. This indicates that his government desires dialogue and movement forward, hopefully resulting in open trade routes.
After Raymond Davis, Salala and Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout being busted, there are fewer things now on the list of US grievances with Pakistan and vice versa, and there is even less frequency. This has direct implications for our economy, which comes first, especially at a time when the volatility of extremist threats attempt to destabilise it. Not only are the Chinese investing over $ 50 billion in energy in Pakistan, they are also partnering on smaller infrastructure projects like the Orange Line. Pakistan has played the right foreign policy cards to have not just a friendly border but to also navigate cautiously given that the rise of China unsettles many nations.
With 60 percent of its poor below the poverty line, it is a blessing that Pakistan is holding off on excessive military spending. It has, in fact, got the lowest military spending in the region at almost $ 5.7 billion. Turkey, by comparison, is $ 19.1 billion, India’s is $ 37.256 billion and China’s is $ 115 billion. If we can keep the war drums away we may be able to appropriate some more from the military to education and health — the greatest of all weapons against external threats.
We do also have much to support our troops for. They have begun an offensive in North Waziristan against the Taliban. They are employing Pakistani-made drone technology as well. After playing the futile game of ‘negotiation, negotiation’, seemingly we have managed to call a spade a spade and launch an attack against those who want to see Pakistan returned to the dark ages. The hope is that this will continue until the hydra-headed monster is eliminated.
Above all, we have continued over the past 10 years to integrate women into the workforce. This over 50 percent increase in the workforce means that over eight million women are now more financially empowered, protected and capable of making decisions that impact their and their children’s wellbeing. This is worth celebrating.
So far, a controversial private television channel has not been banned. Undoubtedly, such an action can only be a nail in the coffin of free speech. Whereas there must be more accountability for the press, the solution is not to bully a group into silence, a group that has played a part in civil society’s vibrancy. There is so much to emulate about Turkey. Let us hope the close ties between the PML-N and ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey result in bringing back some of the optimism of the people of Pakistan.