Joe Biden’s categorization of Pakistan as the most dangerous country in the world sparked quick retaliation from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, other politicians and officials. Imran Khan took the advantage of the situation and advanced his popular narrative of “Independent Pakistan” – that was bought by his followers as a sign of his far-sightedness. They however missed one point: what is it that we consider as independence?
Defiance and dependence determine a country’s level of freedom. A country can defy dictation from a super power but it cannot free itself from financial and technical dependence on other countries if it lacks the strong economic base. Afghanistan is a good example.
During this year, Afghanistan has received aid from different countries on humanitarian grounds because of the multiple financial crises emanating from poverty, earthquake, and flood. Most of the countries that provided aids to Afghanistan were part of the coalition force fighting in Afghanistan against the Taliban. In January 2022, it was reported that the UN had issued the biggest-ever-single-country appeal seeking $5 billion aid from the world community to avert a humanitarian catastrophe faced by Afghanistan. Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank also granted aid of $405m and $1 billion to Afghanistan.
Besides the monetary support, Afghanistan also received food items from many countries during the year.
While the UN and other agencies provided aid for the economically vulnerable people of Afghanistan, the Afghan government found nothing wrong with its policy of defying the world community’s demand for more inclusivity, women’s freedom for education and employment, and press freedom. Not only did they defy basic human rights to the citizens, they even suppressed the peaceful rights movement launched by the Afghan women. In June, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva criticized the Afghan Taliban for continuing a policy of “gender inequality”, despite their promises of following a softer policy than their 1996-2001 rule.
No criticism or persuasion from the UN and other countries could convince the Taliban to change its course of defying universally accepted human rights values. For Taliban, their defiance was a sign of freedom and independence, from accepting dictations from outsiders.
The claim for “real freedom” is meaningless when the country’s PM runs from one country to another for financial support. For people’s consumption such slogans may prove effective — and give them hope for a brighter future.
The Taliban government’s dependence on financial and material support from other countries makes their defiance a mockery. Though they defy the world community’s demand for change in ‘behaviour’, yet they expect them to recognize the Taliban government.
Slogans for “freedom from slavery” sound hollow if the country is heavily dependent on external funding and technical support for the initiated development projects. Similarly, the claim for “real freedom” is meaningless when the country’s PM runs from one country to another for financial support. For people’s consumption such slogans may prove effective — and give them hope for a brighter future.
Prior to assuming premiership, former Prime Minister Imran Khan disapproved of foreign loans. But once in office, he changed his opinion and, holding the begging bowl in his hand, he went around the world, seeking financial support. He set an unprecedented record of receiving the largest amount of foreign loans during his term. From a relentless opponent of foreign loans, he became an ardent supporter of loan procurement policies. He changed his mind on the IMF loans and tried to implement recommendations that required changes in the State Bank’s administrative policies.
Clearly, the idea of national freedom did not bother him during his money borrowing endeavours.
He started using the mantra of foreign conspiracy against the country once the sign of his doom became apparent. He sold his idea well to his followers. They did not question the authenticity of their charismatic leader’s claims.
The conspiracy theory was not his brainchild. His predecessors have used it as well to gain power.
Loaded with this new brand of patriotism, Imran Khan appears all set to launch jihad to free the country from slavery. He will most likely abandon the political gimmickry of “freedom from slavery” if and when he regains power.
Will his followers then pause and question how an “Independent Pakistan” may overcome economic dependence?