Pakistan’s Missed Potential

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Pakistan’s Missed Potential

Pakistan has enormous potential. But it can only be realised if it accepts it needs to rethink its security.

Osama bin Laden was found hiding in a military cantonment. Yet, the Pakistani establishment – the barely in control civilian administration, the all-powerful military and the supremely potent Inter-Services Intelligence – denies any knowledge of his presence in the country.

If this was any other man, these protestations could have been taken at face value. After all, Pakistan is a fairly large nation geographically and the sixth most populous country in the world. How could the government be expected to keep track of every one of its about 180 million citizens? But this was the al-Qaeda leader, and the most wanted man in the world.

Strangely, the US government is still ready to grant the benefit of the doubt to Pakistan, even while the trial of suspected Mumbai attacks conspirator David Coleman Headley is every day providing new details of the extent of the involvement of the military and the ISI in acts of terrorism.

China, for its part, has suggested all this is of no great significance, and is instead full of praise for Pakistani co-operation with the global war on terror. The Chinese pat on the back has indeed warmed the Pakistani heart in these difficult times. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani recently arrived back from Beijing with the promise of a gift of 50 fighter jets and a strong admonition for Uncle Sam over the possibility of more operations like the Abbottabad killing of bin Laden.

But while the United States might still find it convenient to ignore Pakistani acts of omission and commission, and while ‘brother’ China may find little that is offensive in Pakistan’s behaviour, this business as usual attitude is doing enormous harm to the people of Pakistan. Indeed, the ostrich-like attitude adopted by other nations is preventing the Pakistani public from seeing how the cancer of violence, which was bred to be directed outwards, has begun to consume lives and resources within the nation.

Anti-American, anti-Indian attitudes are devouring a country that could otherwise have been thriving today given its strategic location, its resources and its human potential. Pakistan is a young country, with almost half its population below the age of 20. Such a workforce would be an enormous asset for any nation, but only if combined with a robust economy that provides jobs for these young people. Unfortunately, though, education and the economy – the force multipliers for a young population – are in dire straits in Pakistan.

As a result, Pakistan is unable to leverage its demographic asset. Indeed, the too often undereducated and unemployed youth of Pakistan could well become a liability for the world as they turn to terrorism.

But it’s not too late to turn the tide, if enough right thinking people in Pakistan begin to question and challenge the path that the military has set for the nation – a path of jealousy and even hatred.

The United States might keep the aid flowing and China might act as a bulwark against the country’s collapse. But the only chance for Pakistan to change lies in a realisation from within that something needs to change.