The butter versus gun debate has become a perennial part of our national discourse. It was bound to be. The country has faced external existential threats since its inception. No matter what spin India tries to put on its machinations the truth remains that its intervention was instrumental in the fall of East Pakistan. And that was the least of its posturing. Today India’s rulers openly vow to isolate Pakistan in the international arena and the head of the RSS, the ideological fountainhead of the ruling party, daily predicts that the Pakistani territories would soon become part of India (Akhand Bharat, if you please). I don’t get this obsession with trying to occupy a sovereign country. Usually, countries that seek to gain territory try to do justice to the people already under their control first. Unlikely to happen anytime soon. But if this is not textbook revisionism I don’t what else is.
This month the butter versus guns debate has acquired new importance for two reasons. The government has finally managed to get the Finance (Supplementary) Bill, 2021, and the State Bank of Pakistan (Amendment) Bill, 2021 passed in the National Assembly. The opposition claims that the bill ensuring the central bank’s autonomy compromises the country’s sovereignty. That is a likely story. The last we checked the SBP was headed by a Pakistani national. I am loath to this particular brand of parochialism that seeks to cast aspersions on the integrity of a perfectly patriotic citizen. Those who question Dr Reza Baqir’s loyalty to the country because he served at the International Monetary Fund should be ashamed of themselves and should look up Dr Raghuram Rajan, one of the best governors of India’s Reserve Bank who served as the Fund’s Chief Economist and Director of Research between 2003 and 2006. Sound technocrats do not fall from the sky. They work and a job is just another job but this should never be used to question their loyalty to their motherland. Let’s do something new. Let’s put faith in people and see if they ever disappoint you.
The second reason why this debate has acquired importance is the adoption of the country’s first National Security Policy. Dr Moeed Yusuf is the country’s fifth National Security Advisor that I questioned more than once about a national security document. While his predecessors were also thorough professionals none could give me a satisfying answer or a definite date for the formalisation of such a policy. From this, I deduced that either there was systemic resistance or that the governmental machinery’s many moving parts were failing to align at the same time. It was only the incumbent who promised that the government was on it. And finally, we see the fruits of his labour. We have finally managed to find a doer, a closer.
And guess what? Dr Yusuf’s loyalty to the country was also questioned when he assumed office. Some went to the extent of calling him a foreign national. I have seen many countries grappling with a critical pundit class but I have seldom seen or heard such toxic punditry where loyal citizens of the country are disowned based on insinuations, hearsay, or egotistical likes and dislikes. In fact, something deserves to be said about the pundits of this country too.
As the abovementioned two bills were being voted on news emerged of a tiff among the ruling party’s higher echelons. Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak had expressed his displeasure over gas prices and the lack of gas availability in the province. Then guess what happened. It was as if Christmas had arrived early and our pundits flocked to the TV screens and reminded you that their predictions about the end of the current political dispensation were coming true. What I particularly find almost physically painful dear readers is the savage pleasure this lot, nay this rot, takes in the prospect of an elected government’s fall. I know it is not your first rodeo and you vividly recall the previous cycles. When the PPP was in power, you could be forgiven for thinking that this breed of primarily Punjab and Karachi-based hypergeniuses was brought up on the invective and a healthy distrust of all things Bhutto. When the PML-N was ruling you could deduce that this party was brought back to power after a long exile resulting from a military coup. Ergo the apprehensions were systemic if not endemic. But what is the excuse this time? You and I were lectured ad nauseam for decades for allegedly lacking the fundamental patriotic fibre because we were late to support the Khan train. And now that their promised Valhalla has arrived why are they the first ones to jump the ship? I have seen many vices in nations but never an intellectual class that is so hopelessly wired to undermine the idea of democracy. Lest you forget free press and civil societies are functions of democracy and the former two cannot hope to survive without the latter being buttressed. Two explanations present themselves. One, the God complex. We alone know what is good for you and if you put one toe out of line you be damned. Two, naked ambition. Most pundits you see on television are prospective federal ministers. So, when they are not picked (and I dare you to earn their ire by picking one of them, leaving others baying for your blood), they want to derail the system. Let us invent a third and a charitable one. In their infinite wisdom, these pundits have been trying to sell their idea of national security and that’s why they do this. Milking guns so to speak. Too bad then that half-way through their security paradigms magical creatures start appearing, chittering birds hold extensive though instructive human-like dialogues, genies present themselves, pitched battles take place on flying carpets, end of times lay everything to waste and donning blue turbans they work themselves into such a frenzy that watching from your living room you fear that they would soon shatter the TV screens, step out to choke you into submission.
Given such benightedness, you needed a national security policy. As long as everyone has their own, reductive interpretation of national security it is easy to undermine every institution, every good intention. Working as a blockchain this document will ensure that interpreters do not drift too far away from the agreed-upon path. Seen through this prism the said national security policy is a coup de grace against the forces of anarchy and chaos. Hopefully, it will put an end to the dimwitted industry of milking guns. So do not expect the pundits to come welcoming this development. Just feel grateful that the state sees what you see now, that without a sustainable economy no aspect of national security can be safe. This nation is bound for greatness. When you get there, spare a moment for the men and women who allowed their souls to be crushed by this disgraceful insanity, constant questioning of their loyalty, and the disgusting whispering campaigns to take you there.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2022.