In the aftermath of the decision to shut down the NGO Save the Children, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan launched a robust defence of Pakistan’s national interests, declaring that foreign organizations operating in the country would not be allowed to engage in ‘anti-state’ activities, and that any attempt to impose an ‘external’ agenda would be dealt with swiftly and decisively. This stirring assertion of Pakistan’s sovereignty was followed by some tough words for the European Union, with the Interior Minister emphasizing the point that the death penalty is legal in this country, and that other countries would do well to not comment on, or interfere in, Pakistan’s internal affairs. These statements come in the wake of an exchange of extremely heated rhetoric with India, and the message being delivered by the government is clear: Pakistan will not tolerate any attempts to undermine or question the decisions it takes as an independent nation, nor will it idly ignore any threats to its security and integrity.
Cue the slow clapping. While there are many who have strongly endorsed the stance that is being taken by the government, and many who agree with the idea that the greatest threats Pakistan faces are external (as always, the usual suspects: RAW, the CIA, MI6, Mossad ad infinitum and ad nauseum), it is difficult to ignore the hypocrisy that underpins what the government is saying. For all the talk of sovereignty, the fact remains that Pakistan is a country that routinely and habitually compromises its independence in a variety of different ways.
This is something that is not difficult to demonstrate. Take, for instance, the budget that has just been proposed by the PML-N. When presenting and defending it, the government has sought to shape the narrative by stressing a couple of key points; the economy has finally been stabilized after years of mismanagement and stagnation, the policies put in place by the ruling party have started to bear fruit, and the country is now primed for several years of growth. Putting aside the various ways in which this characterization of the economy is patently false, with the record of the past few years constituting a litany of missed targets and squandered opportunities, it makes sense to reflect on the imperatives that have shaped the economic thinking behind the budget. Rather than responding to purely indigenous pressures and requirements, the government remains in thrall to the IMF, whose obsession with deficit reduction and austerity is responsible for the government’s decision to withdraw a variety of subsidies. The impact of this decision will be disproportionately felt by the poor, who will also continue to suffer as a result of incredibly, almost unbelievably low levels of spending on health and education. In a move that will undoubtedly make many a patriotic heart swell with pride, the government is also continuing with negotiations to take yet more aid from a variety of international institutions, even as it earmarks 31% of the budget for debt-servicing. That the government’s entire plan for the economy relies on the goodwill of another external actor, China, is simply the icing on this particular cake.
When the Interior Minister was making his thunderous remarks about international NGOs, he neglected to talk about the various international NGOs that dictate this country’s economic fortunes. The notion that the IMF and other lending organizations are not ideologically driven is laughable but for some reason, the government has very little to say about them. This also true for another category of ‘NGO’: foreign-funded madrassahs, charities, and militant organizations. When the Information Minister Pervez Rashid dared to gently question the way in which some madrassahs operate in Pakistan, the government maintained a shameful silence as members of various ‘banned organisations, as well as some legal ones, openly called for the minister’s head. Similarly, when the APS tragedy finally led some to ask important and necessary questions about the role played by Middle Eastern funding in fomenting extremism in Pakistan, the government did everything in its power to sideline and ignore this particular issue.
Perhaps none of this is surprising. After all, Ch. Nisar is the same man who openly mourned the death of Hakimullah Mehsud, a murderous malcontent responsible for a wave of terror that targeted civilians and state institutions alike. At the time, Chaudhry Nisar termed the drone strike that killed Mehsud an act that was designed to derail Pakistan’s the process through which the government hoped to make peace with the TTP. Again, putting aside the fact that this ‘peace process’ represented little more than an inevitably unworkable march towards craven capitulation, the Interior Minister’s furious condemnation of American drone strikes, which actually do amount to a clear violation of national sovereignty, has not prevented the government from seeking further economic and military assistance from the United States.
Governments attempt to garner legitimacy through a variety of different mechanisms. In Pakistan, whipping up jingoistic sentiment against real and perceived foreign enemies has long been used by the powers-that-be to shore up support for themselves, and the current round of rhetoric fits within this mould. This does not mean that threats do not exist; the Modi government in India seems to revel in the belligerence it displays towards Pakistan, and there can be no denying that Save the Children was ultimately used as cover by the CIA in its attempts to identify and kill Osama bin Laden. Indeed, given that many people working for international NGOs are often motivated by a genuine desire to help people, the CIA’s complicity in undermining these organisations and the good work they sometimes do cannot be ignored. But, by the same token, it would be a mistake to assume that the government’s motives here are entirely pure. As its clearly hypocritical stance on foreign agendas and intervention shows, some forms of external interference are more tolerable than others, even if the acts that are tolerated are sometimes clearly more counterproductive and problematic than the ones that are not.
As the government moves to expel organisations it deems to be inimical to the national interest, despite providing very little information about the process through which it arrives at these conclusions, and as it reiterates its right to execute people, despite the obvious flaws in the process through which cases are tried in Pakistan, it is more important than ever to hold the state accountable with a view towards ensuring its power is exerted in a transparent and just manner. It is also important to question its hypocrisy; if it is so concerned about Pakistan’s sovereignty, it would do well to discharge its responsibilities towards the citizens of this country and take action against the economic terrorism being unleashed by Pakistan’s creditors, and the violent terrorism being funded by ‘brotherly’ nations in the Middle East.