A. We need to remain steadfast against such pressure tactics by the West, as it increasingly gets frustrated in Afghanistan. However, since British or Western misperceptions about Pakistan are also partly an outcome of ignorance, it is extremely important to re-double our diplomatic and scholarly efforts to reach out to Western media, academia and officialdom, and engage them in healthy discourse. For instance, even at a place like Oxford, one often, quite surprisingly, comes across known social sciences figures sketching a doomsday scenario for Pakistan. However, instead of reacting to such irrational arguments, I generally prefer to engage the critics in positive dialogue.
Q. But, don’t you find it difficult to reshape the thinking of people who have already made up their minds?
A. No, this is not the case. We need to understand that Western societies are essentially individualistic, modernistic and, therefore, quite receptive to logical argumentation. In an environment of free enquiry, it is possible to persuade or convince the misperceived lot to re-think their understanding of Pakistan by underscoring our unique attributes such as the resilience of a nation amid recurrent state crises, an expanding middle class reshaping national politics, and an extremely proactive civil society and independent media. Even on the issue of terrorism, Pakistan’s crucial role in Afghanistan, both during war and for peace, when logically explained does make a difference in the debate. We make a mistake when we adopt reactionary and emotional attitude while responding to Western criticism of our policies.
Even in the aftermath of NATO’s attack on the border posts that killed 24 of our soldiers guarding the country’s frontiers with Afghanistan, we need to be proactive rather than reactive. That out leadership has finally decided to re-negotiate the terms of counter-terrorism cooperation with the US and NATO is a good omen. The preservation of Pakistani sovereignty should be the central point of the new relationship, which must be pursued along with exercising all of the alternative options available to us, including taking our ties with China to a higher plane. We cannot ignore the US and the West, where bulk of our exports end up and whose support is essential for securing direct and indirect international financial and economic help for the country. Simultaneously, we need to be self-critical. We need to ask ourselves as to how come three successive governments were unable to chalk out clear-cut framework for counter-terrorism cooperation with the US and NATO in the last over ten years. Had we done that right in the beginning following 9/11, Pakistan might not have confronted recurrent challenges to sovereignty that it has since the start of this year.
Q. In what way do you think a sizeable community of British Pakistanis have contributed to Pakistan’s cause?
A. Whenever Pakistan has faced any crisis, be it terrorism or calamities such as earthquake or floods, British Pakistanis have been at the forefront of offering generous funding for the millions of victimised and displaced Pakistanis. Their role in recent rioting in the UK was also exemplary—when Tariq Jahan, despite losing his son Haroon at the hands of a rioter in Birmingham, kept his cool, calmed the protesting mourners and urged Britons of every colour or creed to “come together” as a nation in a moment of crisis. There could be no better example of Britishness than this, a high moral standard for the rest of the UK citizenry to emulate.
Q Point out a major shortcoming you think British Pakistanis have, one that also indirectly affects Pakistan?
A. Despite their extraordinary charitable nature and responsible social role, they have not been able to excel in higher education and play as formidable a role in professional and business careers in the UK as, for instance, the Indian expatriate community has started to over time. This explains why British media, academia and officialdom continue to be heavily influenced by Indian narrative on Pakistan and South Asia, and its predominantly wrongful assumptions. However, just as the ground reality in Pakistan may be changing for the better—with more people gaining education and making a credible difference in various walks of life—a similar promising trend, better late than never, can also be visualised among a million Britons with their souls in Pakistan.