Last Tuesday, Karan Thapar, an eminent writer and television personality from India interviewed Dr Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security and Strategic Policy Planning.
Thapar had worked hard to get the interview. On the Pakistani side it took a while to decide whether granting the interview would be any use. No Pakistani official has spoken formally or informally to anyone in India since India’s illegal decision to annex the disputed and occupied territory of Kashmir. That’s unfortunately the new normal. Since 2019, when India voted in Narendra Modi’s rightwing government the second time and with even bigger majority than in 2014, India’s relations with all its neighbours — China, Nepal, Bangladesh — have deteriorated. As for Pakistan, that’s a constant with India anyway.
The decision to grant the interview was made for a number of broad reasons: one, unlike many other Indian anchors, Thapar is considered to be a professional; two, it was considered important to signal to Indian audiences that Pakistan stands for peace in the region; three, Pakistan is grounding itself in geoeconomics and connectivity (in other words it is looking for cooperation, not conflict); four, equally important, that for this to happen, India needs to reverse its August 5 decision to illegally annex Kashmir; five, while there can be no equivalence between discussing Kashmir and terrorism, Pakistan is prepared to talk about terrorism emanating from India; six, let the Indian government consider this as Pakistan’s official position.
Unfortunately, while Dr Yusuf managed successfully to signal what was important, the first assumption was proved mistaken. Thapar has been out of favour with the BJP and as per his own admission, has been trying unsuccessfully to get back into favour. He therefore decided to play it unprofessionally by cutting off his guest, interrupting him constantly and trying to keep the conversation focused only on India’s known talking points. I do hope, as I have also noted on Twitter, that his efforts get him back in the good graces of a right-wing government. Such are the ironies that attend this profession.
Two sectors are crucial to a broad definition of national security:
health and education
But taking a cue from Thapar’s line of questioning, let me raise some points here for the Pakistani government, starting with Gilgit-Baltistan.
I don’t want to go into why GB and the liberated areas of Azad Kashmir should not have been part of the UN Security Council resolutions because I have talked about those issues in these pages before. My point is with reference to the handling by the government of the current debate about GB’s future and the growing demand by the people of GB to integrate with Pakistan.
Thapar quoted two federal ministers, Sheikh Rashid and Ali Amin Gandapur (of ‘honey’ fame), as saying that GB has been granted provincial status. Thapar was wrong in thinking that any such decision had been taken because, as Dr Yusuf pointed out, none has been taken. But the prompt for Thapar’s question was provided by two federal ministers whose collective IQ is possibly lower than the diligent Athenian mules that helped build the Parthenon.
The lesson: the government should strictly forbid irrelevant ministers from coming on TV talkshows and shooting their mouths off. Sh. Rashid, of course, is incorrigible and cannot be made to stick to talking about his own ministry (which he has singularly failed to manage). Perhaps the government should consider giving him all the perks of a minister but only on the condition that he stops talking about any issue concerning national security.
Gandapur is dealing with the Kashmir Affairs ministry. Given his general state of knowledge about most things, he probably knows as much about Kashmir as I do about interstellar time-travel (that is, nothing). While the perfect solution would be to send him to a distant galaxy, that might be politically inexpedient for the prime minister. At the minimum, however, Gandapur should also be told to stick to honey and not talk about things that require adult guidance.
As for GB’s future, the debate is important and a solution has to be found. There are two reasons for that: one, the people of GB must get out of the present doldrums; two, no matter what Pakistan does, India will create a false equivalence between GB and its patently illegal annexation of occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
The second aspect is about Dr Yusuf’s effort to broaden the definition of national security and move and ground the concept in geoeconomics. It is a no-brainer to say this is the right approach. The problem, however, is in making other organs of the government to understand and implement this approach. That is not Dr Yusuf’s job, but the failure to do so could bring a fine effort to naught.
Let me explain. Two sectors are crucial to a broad definition of national security: health and education. On the health side, the pathogen has, hopefully, put us on warning about why it is important to have a robust system to deal with such emergencies. However, that in and of itself doesn’t take care of another important aspect: a system that keeps people healthy. Without a healthy society, we cannot expect to move forward.
Education. I consider our education system to be a national security emergency. Whether it is the economy and its attendant sectors or warfare, Pakistan will continue to be a laggard without educated people. Experts have already written much about the pathetic situation of STEM education in Pakistan. If it doesn’t improve, we just would not have the skillsets for improving the economy or defending ourselves. This government’s effort so far to effect any improvement has failed. In fact, if the much-touted Single National Curriculum is any guide, we are headed towards increasing the numbers of unthinking clones.
Dr Yusuf’s presence in the system does show that Pakistan is poised to make the necessary changes, as opposed to India which is headed in the opposite direction. But those changes would need all hands on deck, including the political opposition. Hounding the opposition will — as it already has — bog the government down in day-to-day fire-fighting. So, there’s a need for a major rethink on that score too. Future challenges and opportunities require that we heal the internal wounds, not deepen them.
The writer is a former News Editor of The Friday Times and reluctantly tweets @ejazhaider