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“Dialogues in the country the way forward to resolve country’s festering issue” – PIPS Dialogue Pakistan 2019

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  • Dialogues missing among different segment of the society, including civil and military
  • Parliament carries sanctity; it can take the reform agenda forward
  • Religion has been used time and again to impose uniformity, at the cost of diversity
  • While our engage in old debates, the world around us continues to change.

PR/26 January 2019

Islamabad

The only way forward for Pakistan is dialogue. Different segments of the society, irrespective of their political leaning; civil and military players; government and opposition should hold dialogues with each other to get out of the problems they often blame on each other. Even now, many of our critical debates are outdated, inviting polarizing opinions or leading all the way to the genesis of the country. This despite that the world around has changed a lot.

These thoughts came in daylong first-ever Dialogue Pakistan 2019, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), a leading think tank of Pakistan. Renowned experts, serving and former parliamentarians, political leaders, former military officials, and religious scholars participated in the dialogue.

Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology Dr. Qibla Ayaz said religious slogans were used in the run-up to the country by the mob not the elite. Karachi University’s Dr. Jaffar Ahmed said the country was founded as a result of separatist ideals, rather than any religious ones. After the country was formed, the discourse shifted to political Islam, which was used by successive governments and bureaucracy to further their end. Former senator Afrasiab Khattak argued that enforced uniformity is problematic. Such top-down approach has failed in the past, and will do in the future, he said.

Former chief minister of Balochistan Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch said the religious construction of Pakistani nationalism is not creating cohesion, the brunt of which is borne by smaller ethnicities. He said as Pakistanis, we want preservation of our languages, cultures, and resources.

On the issue of national security, former senator Farhatullah Babar called for dialogue between civilian and military leaderships, so that the two present their cases and then take about moving forward. The issue of national security, the dialogue noted, often ends up with polarizing debate on civil and military relations, with no way out being sought. PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana noted the issue seemed to be more about struggle over resources between the two players.

The issue of parliamentary supremacy also came in the dialogue. Several former and serving parliamentarians wondered if parliament really is supreme, saying there always are constraining forces. Farhatullah Babar said it is incorrect to blame parliament for not doing its job, saying that many a questions of parliament were unanswered on the grounds of being “sensitive and secretive.” PML-N’s Senator Parvez Rasheed argued that political parties are fighting for their own survival. They have to bear cases which are implanted on them, he said, leading to situation in which parliament takes backseat.

Meanwhile, former military official Lt. Gen. (Retd) Amjad Shoaib wondered who stops the parliament from taking matters of public interest. He asked why the parliament did not discuss economic issues. He contested the view that the country is becoming a security state, saying there is no controlled environment. Former MNA of Jamiat Ulema Islam Hafiz Hussain Ahmed said political parties are also responsible for weakening the parliament. PPP’s Nafisa Shah agreed, saying parliament has often not been treated seriously by members. She called for making it more transparent and accessible to the people.

On foreign policy, scholar Moeed Yusuf said while we continue to indulge in debates about facts, the world around is changing. He said ten years down the road, India-Pakistan power differential will be equal to India-Sri Lanka’s. He said Pakistan’s foreign policy centers around India. It is reflected in all its relations, with all its neighbours. “Virtually every single decision we made has been driven around India”, he said.

Journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai said insecurities emanating from India essentially tailored our policy around India. Former foreign minister Inam ul Haq said India appears to be more obsessed with Pakistan than Pakistan is with India. After all, while Pakistan is an issue in India’s domestic politics, in Pakistan, India is not, he said. Similarly, former Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations Maj. Gen (Retd) Athar Abbas said one has to be prepared for challenges. “When Indian National Security Advisor talks about covert operations”, he said, this is a challenge to be confronted.

On Afghanistan, Inam ul Haq said Pakistan is “overly apprehensive” of Indian influence. He argued Pakistan should have no qualms about Afghanistan trading with India. Meanwhile, Rahimullah reminded that since 1960s, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been supporting each other’s opponents.

Sharing the rationale of the Dialogue Pakistan 2019, PIPS director Muhammad Amir Rana said that problems in the country can be resolved by promoting the culture of dialogue. Former CII Khalid Masud said dialogues are rooted in Islamic traditions, and that dialogues, which are about exchanging views among each other, can help achieve consensus on different issues. Dialogues, he said, not only provide rights to the citizens but also strengthen the state.

Others who spoke included former chairman of CII; Sohail Sangi, intellectual; Harris Khalique, author and poet, Khursheed Nadeem, anchor and columnist; Parvez Hoodbhoy, academic.

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