What distinguishes the developed world from Pakistan is the prevalence of tolerance in their societies, and their capacity to resolve disputes amicably while being inclusive and fair. In our case, tangible evidence exists to indicate that the institutions of the state are crippled by a pervasive deficiency of effective dispute resolution.
It goes without saying that, amongst other factors, feudalism and extended periods of blatant dictatorships have played a major role in not allowing the culture of dialog, reason and conciliation to develop.
Political elites did not seek to engage on the basis of inclusivity and mutual respect. None of the leaders being discussed had any radical leanings. They could easily have been won over through granting them the place of an equal on the table.
In view of the rampant culture of giving primacy to vested interests and cronyism, instead of merit and professionalism, we have hardly been able to develop any negotiation skills in most of our nation’s institutions. The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 is a notable exception. However, that is primarily because of David Lilienthal – who wrote the famous article “Kashmir: another ‘Korea’ in the making?” in 1951, which involved global powers through the institutional ambit of the World Bank and facilitated the negotiation of a sustainable arrangement. The agreement which our finance minister had earlier signed for the water dispute in May 1948 was indeed a suicide note for Pakistan’s economy. Vide the same, Pakistan had accepted India’s undisputed rights over the water flowing from their side to ours, a progressive reduction of its flows to Pakistan and it gradually tapping alternate sources.
Another exhibit of the above phenomenon is the fact that the exercise of force by the state is a common recourse in settling disputes. When Kalat declared independence for Balochistan on 12th August 1947, its ruler was compelled to sign the instrument of accession by the deployment of the military in Baluchistan in early 1948. Similarly, on 6th October 1958, a heavy deployment of military in Kalat and the arrest of the ruler took place, under allegations of his collusion with Afghanistan. Unfortunately, we there has not been much evolution in our ruling elites’ approach towards resolving disputes.
Thus, Baluchistan is still the least developed province among the four with a 44% literacy rate, more than 50% of the population living below the poverty line and 64% of the province still disconnected from the electricity grid. No wonder that such acute deprivation encourages disengagement and alienation, sometimes outright hatred towards the rulers, among the masses.
The volume of mutual annual trade between India and China totals some $130 billion, despite their extremely thorny relations. There is nothing that says we can’t walk down the same path.
Similarly, though the Bengalis had been at the forefront in the Pakistan Movement, after independence, our political leadership started emphasizing the significance of Urdu as the sole national language, striking a wedge between the country’s two wings.
The treatment meted out to Hussein Shaheed Suharwardy – a Bengali politician who had played a leading role in the Pakistan Movement is reflective of the intolerance that is rife among our leadership. His speech on 6th March 1948 in the Constituent Assembly was an appeal for tolerance and accommodation towards minorities and good neighborly relations with India. However, his words were twisted and highly surreptitious antics were deployed to terminate his membership of the Assembly, and he was ostracized from mainstream politics. Later, during the martial law regime of 1958, he was banned from participating in elections, and was later put in jail on the ridiculous charge of being opposed to the concept of Pakistan. He died in Beirut in 1963, and the separation of East Pakistan happened only 8 years later in 1971, as he had warned.
In both of these cases, political elites did not seek to engage on the basis of inclusivity and mutual respect. None of the leaders being discussed had any radical leanings. They could easily have been won over through granting them the place of an equal on the table. A glaring example is the disregard of the election results of December 1970 by the dominant leadership of the then Western wing of the country, which led to the undoing of the state a year later.
Toleration in the neighborhood
It is high time for us to meaningfully engage with all of our neighbors, especially India. The volume of mutual annual trade between India and China totals some $130 billion, despite their extremely thorny relations. There is nothing that says we can’t walk down the same path.
We should stop trying to put an end to what has morphed into a multidimensional conflict with India in one go. We should rather park a few issues for now, and negotiate others. It would be wiser to take measured steps towards augmenting trade and commerce. Peaceful coexistence with others, objectivity and hard work are the only solutions for a prosperous future.
The fault in our contracts
Poorly negotiated commercial agreements and an aversion to being thorough among negotiating parties is almost a norm in Pakistan. The Reko Diq case is a textbook example; poor negotiation and ill-advised terms of contracts cost the country $100 million in litigation costs alone.
All indicators point to the fact that we have not learned anything whatsoever from the global embarrassment that the Reko Diq episode brought for us.
Undoubtedly, the original contract from 1993 had some gaps. The Baluchistan government still had a 25% share in the project however, which would have sufficed for any competent team to exercise the required leverage over the project and steer it to success.
However, it appears that even barebones coordination and progress monitoring was not paid attention to. The issues which later erupted into legal disputes could, otherwise, have been easily resolved at a whole host of joint venture forums in the conducive environments of boardrooms. It is surprising that even before the submission of the feasibility study for the project in February 2011 for approval, the project was all over the media with widespread accusations of fraud. Declarations were made that the chances that the mining lease would be awarded were slim.
This was despite the fact that as per the 1993 agreement, disputes were to be settled through arbitration at the ICSID, the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, and ICC, the International Chamber of Commerce. Pakistan was not only a signatory to both, but also to a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Australia, which mandated arbitration at the above forums for settling such disputes.
The Supreme Court ignored all of this in 2013, and annulled the agreement of 1993, dragging the Reko Diq project back to ground zero. It was not an unfair expectation that declarations of heavy penalties by the aforementioned courts and the resulting exposure of almost $10 billion, which loomed over us till the negotiated settlement of March 2022, would compel us to learn some valuable lessons. However, all indicators point to the fact that we have not learned anything whatsoever from the global embarrassment that the Reko Diq episode brought for us.
What is to be done?
The lethal mix of an acute lack of professional capacity in the nation’s most significant institutions, coupled with the bigotry and associated intolerance of the ruling elites will continue to affect our growth and nation-building. To ensure survival and prosperity for the millions of people that call this country home, our ruling elites need to be learn the value of forbearance, tolerance and professionalism.