From a strong state to a vibrant nation with a shared destiny

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Benedict de Cerjat

After completing two wonderful years in Pakistan, while about to retire from the Swiss Foreign Service, I feel inclined to share some of my observations and thoughts on your fascinating country. This is by no means a lecture by a foreigner — of which this country has had its fair share — but rather a well-meaning piece of advice, or rather an observation.

I am still puzzled by the enormous gap between the rich past and incredible cultural diversity of the Land of the Pure and the lack of common ground within the Nation about the vision for the future.

How is it possible that the country with the 5th largest population in the world, which is home to three of the world’s oldest and most advanced civilisations of their time (9,000 years old Mehrgarh Civilisation; 5,500-7,000 years old Indus Valley Civilisation; and 2,600 years old Gandhara Civilisation), is not playing a more important role in world affairs?

Of course, this may also be said about Iraq and Egypt. But in the case of Pakistan, the elites — including the political, economic and religious leaders — often appear stuck in the management of the short term without providing for the political space to work for a long-term vision together with all parts of the society.

I would argue that a strong State, narrowly focused on its security as it has existed in Pakistan for many decades, is not enough to find the right answers for the future and stimulate the younger generation to get involved. It is true of course that good organisation and the respect of strict control — as we have seen in the past on the occasion of natural disasters and more recently in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which Pakistan did quite well in comparison with other large countries in the region — have effectively prevented mismanagement and possible chaos.

Over the years, Pakistan has developed its hard power, which gives the country some assurances to counter potential destabilisation risks from inside and outside. Your State is strong. The separation of powers does not compare to the West but it works in its own ways and there is an understanding that this has to be nurtured. Civil liberties are certainly challenged but not fundamentally questioned. But is this enough?

A better knowledge, acceptance, dissemination and promotion of the rich history and culture along the Five Rivers, before the partition, which will obviously lead to a broader understanding of the value of diversity in the society, will allow every citizen of the country to participate and flourish in the society. This softer kind of power does not detract from Pakistan’s real challenges. And a shared identity is so much more than a mere intellectual concept — it is the very essence that keeps us anchored and guided in the years to come.

Switzerland owes its economic success to its openness and diversity. Lacking resources, we have built our economy from a poor agrarian country to one which thrives on innovation and is backed by strong institutions and hard work. And although our example cannot be a blueprint for Pakistan, it shows that Pakistan too can be an “Asian Tiger” with the right kind of mental framework. This certainly will take time but it can be done. Improving the quality of governance and increasing economic freedom will provide confidence in the country’s future and will result in increasing its soft power.

As a Swiss citizen who belongs to a linguistic minority (the French speakers) in my country, I feel entirely part of our Nation because we are not only valued and encouraged to actively engage for the nation’s destiny but often given a larger role in than we would numerically deserve. Interestingly, the Swiss national identity has not been defined along any linguistic or religious lines. Rather we have succeeded in creating our own identity based on our history but equally important, on myths which have shaped our perception of national unity. This has served us through the two world wars and has inspired our youth to identify and work for my country.

Followiing the guidance and the excellent precepts of the founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan can take the bull by the horns and become one day the self-confident and vibrant nation that the world expects. The younger generation of Pakistan — the 2017 census recorded that 60% of the country’s population was under the age of 25 — deserves a positive agenda they can support and be part of.

A positive agenda, based on Pakistan’s immense soft power potential, would also help the country and the Nation to be regarded as what it is: the ancient and beautiful place where History began! And let us hope that Pakistan will no longer be an internationally relatively isolated and disengaged country. I wish Pakistan a great and bright future!

The writer is the Ambassador of Switzerland.