“A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.”
–James Freeman Clarke
They say darkest hour can bring out the truth within people. Today, Pakistan is in the midst of a crisis, and we are being forced to reckon with truths we have hitherto chosen to remain oblivious to. Our great nation, with all its potential, is in the grip of an internal turmoil stemming from a lack of direction and vision within its leadership, which in turn is bringing the entire country down. Great leaders are said to inspire greatness in others, by envisioning and creating policy directions that will bear fruits for generations. What we have instead is a greater lack of clarity than ever – resulting in the confusion and uncertainty we are fast becoming accustomed to.
Haphazard mistakes, to which we seem prone, are further complicating our already complex international relationships. The most recent debacles include the embarrassment of our entirely unprepared Advisor to the Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Sartaj Aziz at the Heart of Asia Conference, embarrassment at jumping the gun in a race for ‘credit’ by overstating Russian interest in the CPEC followed by its categoric denial by Russia, as well as the release of the entire transcript of the new US President-elect Donald Trump’s phone call – a humungous, childish diplomatic faux pas if there ever was one.
The successful launch of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) mega-initiative is oft cited as the silver lining of this particular cloud. It most certainly is a historical achievement in the midst of innumerable geo-political and strategic challenges, as the ‘game changing’ Chinese investment of over $50 billion is the biggest by any country in Pakistan in recent times. CPEC certainly looks set to re-establish Pakistan’s economic potential within the global arena, and has generated many positive headlines for a country that has suffered greatly from the fallout of the global War on Terror, by emphasizing the geostrategic importance of these new trade routes in lieu of the far too familiar reports on violent extremism. The CPEC and One Belt One Road Project have been like a much needed reboot for a stressed economy.
Unlike common perceptions however, the CPEC project has come to fruition as a result of years of visionary policies, hard work and preparation, and is not a victory of any one government. Long before the formal launch of the project, intensive effort was put into laying the groundwork for it by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The CPEC is a victory of the will of the Pakistani people, as was perceived by an actual ‘statesman’, who planned and prepared, as ‘for the next generation’, and belonged to the aptly named PPP.
While detractors may disagree, the PPP has undeniably been the only party in the country’s history with a truly long-term, democratic vision, and leadership that has strengthened and stabilised the country time and time again, irrespective of who gets credit for it at the end of the day. Its leadership has always had one priority only – to serve the nation by placing it on the path to progression and prosperity. The formulation of long-term policies that were continued even after the end of PPP tenure, simply because they were too important to be rolled back, is a basic hallmark of visionary statesmanship, and represents how statesmen conduct themselves when in power.
The importance of such visionary leadership is often underestimated, nor is the concept too often understood properly. There is a unique set of characteristics which sets statesmen apart: principles, vision, a moral compass, and an innate ability to unite differing factions.
The founding father of PPP, the late, great Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had a clear vision, and a plan to achieve it. A vision that would lead to Pakistan becoming a frontrunner and leader in the international arena, and a plan that played a vital role in the ‘reorientation’ of Pakistan’s foreign policy in the 1960s, defining then and today, the contours of Pakistan foreign policy. Similarly, it is an undisputed fact that had he not set the foundation and groundwork for the country’s nuclear programme in the 1970’s, Pakistan would not have had the capacity to conduct nuclear tests in response to India to establish nuclear deterrence in the region in 1998.
PPP’s contribution in setting and enhancing the tone of Pakistan’s relations with international partners, particularly China, over several decades is immense. In Bhutto’s Pakistan, relations with China attained unprecedented geo-strategic and geopolitical importance. This anchoring of Pakistan’s foreign policy was also noted by the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who praised Bhutto in his book ‘Years of Upheaval: The Second Volume of His Classic Memoirs’, as a ‘a man of extraordinary abilities, capable of drawing close to any country that served Pakistan’s national interests.’
Shaheed Z.A. Bhutto was far from being the last of the PPP’s leaders with great vision. In the aftermath of his martyrdom, the mantle was picked up by his daughter, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. The Shaheed Benazir, who not only became the new Chairperson of the party but also Pakistan’s only, and twice elected female Prime Minister, continued her father’s legacy of consolidating Pakistan’s ‘special ties’ with China, by conducting her first official trip in 1989 to Beijing. It was the farsightedness of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto that laid the foundation stone of the Fish Harbor Project during her visit to Gwadar on December 14th, 1989, and five years later, resulted in the initiation of a project to develop Gwadar port as ‘an alternative seaport’ (1994), with the help of China.
The life of Bhutto’s daughter was also tragically cut short, but her vision was carried forward and executed once again under Party Co-Chairman and Former President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, who truly opened up new pathways for Pakistan into the region. Under his leadership, many new precedents were set in the domain of foreign policy that were in line with the vision of both father and daughter. His tenure brought clarity to Pakistan’s relations with many important countries and all key regional players. The record speaks for itself; Pakistan’s relations with major powers and immediate neighbours remained amicable, clearly defined and non-confrontational, be it China, the United States, Russia, or our immediate neighbours: India, Afghanistan, and Iran.
The former President visited China alone nine times during his tenure, and helped generate consensus on significant bilateral issues, moving the contract for Gwadar from Singapore to China, because of which the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang proposed the CPEC initiative during his visit to Pakistan in 2013. He was also the first to categorically state that politics would not be allowed on the Chinese investment.
PPP also set a precedent for bringing powers like Russia closer, a feat which previously would have been considered impossible. With the thaw in relations with Russia came Moscow’s nod of approval for the first time for Pakistan’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – another landmark achievement. Relaxation of tensions with both Afghanistan and India, and the signing of the ‘Afghan Transit Trade Agreement’ are further examples of what visionary national policy formulation looks like.
The incumbent government ought to take a leaf from its predecessor’s book, particularly in such complex times, and focus on similar visionary projects instead of the shortsighted/money-pit ‘pet projects’ it currently appears to be focused on. We are all Pakistanis first, and such we seek from the state leadership that is visionary, patient and mature. As Shaheed Z.A Bhutto famously said “You cannot defend the soil unless you know the smell of that soil.” The antics of self-congratulatory regimes will do much harm long-term if not checked, and it is in the interest of all to pay heed to the lessons of history, before any irreversible damage is incurred. Pakistan needs clear direction – and an actual Foreign Minister to begin with. Now more than ever, we need true statesmanship, to lead the country into the future that it deserves.
Same version of the article appeared in The Nation