It is said that statecraft at the highest level is a most exacting human activity and one that presents distinctive moral dilemmas. It is the ability to discern objectively, not deceiving oneself with wishes followed by affirmative decision making in the actual shape of the concrete realities. All great statesmen in history had the ability not to postpone, procrastinate and waiver when faced by odds to pull them down from the moral pedestals that got them elected to power. In the end, they prevailed. Two recent examples in history are Abraham Lincoln and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

As Hans Joachim Morgenthau wrote in “Politics Amongst Nations”: "The statesman must think in terms of the national interest, conceived as power among other powers. The popular mind, unaware of the fine distinctions of the statesman’s thinking, reasons more often than not in the simple moralistic and legalistic terms of absolute good and absolute evil."

Pakistani statesmen and military dictators have done the opposite for the past six decades and drenched their political diatribes in simple moralistic and legalistic terms of absolute good and absolute evil between the rulers and opposition. In the course, the state has shrunk, institutions politicised, assets mortgaged and the nation of 180 million people plunged into an uncertain future. The saddest part is that at the receiving end is a country that for the past three decades was an ambivalent and for 15 years a declared nuclear weapons state. This came to pass because there was a total absence of complementary policies in tandem with the nuclear capability. There has been a disproportionate influx of external interests and interference in the internal affairs of Pakistan directly impacting on the foreign policy and by implication, its nuclear future.

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto talked of eating grass, he meant acquisition of a capability and prestige that would impact positively on Pakistan’s foreign and economic relations with the world. Nuclear statecraft provides a solid foundation for future policymaking and international engagement. This is what all nuclear powers and Nuclear Suppliers Group barring Pakistan have done. It appears that in case of Pakistan, successive regimes knew too little, or ignored the choicest, or showed no inclination towards overall capacity building. Four decades of having mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle, no country of the world barring China (under IAEA) is prepared to engage with Pakistan. India remains their choice. It is precisely this incapability at nuclear statecraft; that means so much to the world and so little to our statesmen; that Pakistan remains at the receiving end of international politics.

Ever since Pakistan chose the nuclear route, successive governments have failed to formulate a cohesive, objective-oriented policy to make the nation self-reliant and prosperous. After the nuclear explosions of 1998, the obvious choice should have been to ensure a prolonged era of peace for nation building and economic progress. However, the entire rationale of ‘nuclear peace’ was ignored in favour of internal politics, confrontation, institutionalised corruption and politicisation of state institutions.

When the nuclear explosions of 1998 were planned, long hours were spent on the economic ramifications of international sanctions on Pakistan. Development plans harbingered on home-led sustainable growth were ready for action down to methodologies and implementation. All policy planners were aware of the international reactions and how Pakistan would have to fiercely compete within its internal economics. While the military planners worked on the logistics and implementation of the tests, the statesmen remained pre-occupied with the conventional.

Energy prices have quadrupled, while the low middle class is pushed into abject poverty that breeds crime and overpopulation. A country with abundant resources, four seasons, waterways, tremendous agriculture potential, skilled manpower, sustainable infrastructure and one of the highest internet and cell phone densities in the world continues to plummet in deep recession triggered by consumerism, windfalls and energy crises. Dependent on foreign aid, grants and tied trade, this is a sorry state of affairs for a country whose nuclear prowess in the region is second only to China. Much that Pakistan tries to safeguard on the strategic front is lost tamely just because the elements within the paradigm of national power are not synchronised and performing.

So what is the actual construct of Pakistan’s national power? Does it mean  melting economics, fragile and self-promoting political system, unexplored and rented out natural resources, world’s most expensive energy system, an interventionist judiciary, private armies, proliferation of crime and an army that is fighting militancy to gain the trust of USA?

With so many compromises, it is obvious that Pakistan has to resort to flexibility; any self-respecting nation would abhor. This was an avoidable scenario and does not auger well for a country that continues to augment the technical capabilities of its nuclear regime.

Now that a new government would be taking charge in a few days, they are advised not to take too many lessons from their experience of 1997-99.

This is a changed Pakistan manifested by the extraordinary voter turnout, more political awareness of the people and an independent media. In a twist of irony, a military dictator, who led the 1999 coup, has voluntarily returned; ready to face the law than an exit. It has a military that has gallantly fought its lonely conflict with bare minimum political support and urging politics to take its democratic course.

The new government is also advised to take a crash course in nuclear statecraft and national power, so as to prioritise its policies for the next five years towards a self-reliant welfare state with nuclear capability.

The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist