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Nasty Nationalism

by Newsweek Pakistan

File Photo. Rizwan Tabassum—AFP

A ‘national interest’ divorced from economic concerns does more harm than good

Two conversations on Pakistani TV last week highlighted a problem faced by many nations in the 21st century; they also highlighted the flaws in the thinking of Pakistani policymakers who can’t fathom why the country is in trouble. In the first, former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked about the drivers of foreign policy. In the second, physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy had an argument with the Jamaat-e-Islami’s Samia Raheel Qazi about a foreign policy that has left Pakistan estranged from its neighbors and caused much suffering for its minorities.

The understandably guarded reference by Khar was to the “longitudinal” advantage that gave rise to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor at the expense of the more advantageous “lateral” trade routes between South Asia and Central Asia. Dr. Hoodbhoy’s plaint, meanwhile, was that nationalism was threatening Pakistan’s minorities. Qazi made short shrift of this argument by referring to two articles in the Constitution that mandated nationalism based on Islam and Sunna, arguing that Pakistani nationalism was constitutional and couldn’t be changed.

In the West, where nationalism was born, “national interest” as a driver of foreign policy is identified with economics. Elsewhere, states have modified the concept of “national interest” in their own way, and nationalism has come to underpin domestic policies that ape Pakistan’s toxic direction. India, under BJP, has reversed the “secularism” of its constitution and started being like Pakistan towards its own minorities. When India persecutes its Christians it forgets Mother Teresa who got her Nobel Prize serving the Indian poor, just as Pakistan forgets Madame Pfau—who spent her lifetime looking after Pakistan’s lepers—when it entraps dirt-poor Christians under the blasphemy law.

Turkey, which once was Pakistan’s inspiration, has changed course under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is persecuting liberal Muslims in the name of religion and killing Kurds on the basis of ethnicity while doing fine economically like India. Jews and Alawis have suffered under his Islamist policies. The economy in the two cases has permitted this outrage. Pakistan is under double jeopardy: it is belly-up economically and nonetheless persecutes its minorities by invoking its Constitution.

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