Brexit and what it teaches us

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENTS - Ali Ashraf Khan

THE ref­er­en­dum in UK about its stay­ing in the EU or leav ing it was the re­sult of years of bick­er­ing be­tween Great Bri­tain and the EU and of David Cameron’s prom­ise dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign two years ago to have the ref­er­en­dum and to step down if and when there would be a ma­jor­ity for the Brexit. Now this has hap­pened and Cameron has an­nounced that he will step down in Oc­to­ber. The news about the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple vot­ing for the Brexit has shaken not only UK but Europe as well. In case of Europe this is un­der­stand­able: though for many years there has been formidable cri­tique about the for­mat of the Euro­pean Union the big­wigs in Brus­sels never took those se­ri­ously and de­spite the need for re­forms, none was com­ing for­ward. The re­cent refugee cri­sis has just sharp­ened the dis­sent within the EU coun­tries. Es­pe­cially the new­com­ers from Eastern Europe with a com­mu­nist tra­di­tion have no sym­pa­thy for refugees and refuse to co­op­er­ate in the dis­tri­bu­tion and ac­cep­tance of refugees es­pe­cially Mus­lims.

No­body is both­ered to fix re­spon­si­bil­ity on those re­spon­si­ble for this geno­cide and refugees leav­ing their hearth and homes in com­plete des­per­a­tion be­cause of for­eign in­ter­ven­tion and tram­pling of sovereignty of Mus­lim coun­tries, start­ing from 9/11 drama al­leg­ing Tal­iban and Mul­lah Omar re­spon­si­ble for 9/11 plot to jus­tify their at­tacks on Afghanistan us­ing daisy cut­ters and car­pet bomb­ing mak­ing 5 to 6 mil­lion home­less forced to cross into Pak­istan and Iran as refugees, then at­tack Iraq on false pre­text of re­cov­er­ing WMD hav­ing failed in both wars they plot­ted Arab Spring and Syr­ian mis­ad­ven­ture that forced refugees ex­o­dus from Mediter­ranean to Euro­pean that cre­ated a false fear among na­tion­al­ists against global re­gional free move­ment of peo­ple wit­nessed in EU. Bri­tish out vote de­ci­sion, now de­mands a case reg­is­tered against world lead­ers re­spon­si­ble for this geno­cide and war mon­ger­ing un­der pre-emp­tive at­tack­ing.

Another prob­lem is the huge dif­fer­ence in eco­nomic strength and de­vel­op­ment be­tween the Euro­pean coun­tries and the fact that for too long Europe has led an eco­nomic life based on fis­cal deficits liv­ing above its ac­tual fi­nan­cial means. The hid­ing of deficits in ma­nip­u­lated eco­nomic statis­tics has been tol­er­ated which led to prac­ti­cal de­fault of Greece and the se­ri­ous fi­nan­cial prob­lems of Italy, Spain and Por­tu­gal. Re­forms have been de­layed for too long and while not all de­mands of Great Bri­tain for change in the EU setup were ad­mis­si­ble, some had a point and the mat­ter should not have been pushed un­der the prover­bial car­pet.

The good thing about the Brexit is that it can act as a wake-up call for Europe and ini­ti­ate the long-needed and long-ne­glected change. Given the mea­sure of glob­al­iza­tion that the world has reached by now, there is no al­ter­na­tive for Euro­pean coun­tries in­clud­ing UK to unit­ing eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally given their lim­ited pop­u­la­tion and de­creas­ing eco­nomic strength in the global theatre. Na­tion­al­ism – a prod­uct of Euro­pean en­light­en­ment and once a sign of strength and as­sertive­ness has be­come an ob­sta­cle in the nec­es­sary process of unit­ing Europe.

There is an im­por­tant lesson to be learnt from the Brexit and the woes of the Euro­pean Union for Pak­istan and South Asia. In a glob­al­ized world sin­gle coun­tries are los­ing strength and im­pact and the new need of the hour is to build strong re­gional unions. This is true for South Asia as well de­spite the dif­fer­ence that South Asian coun­tries are much more pop­u­lous than the Euro­pean ones. A glob­al­ized world ev­ery one thrives on in­ter-con­nec­tiv­ity which crosses na­tional bor­ders and makes them in­creas­ingly mean­ing­less and por­ous. That might sound crazy for Pak­istan that is right now in the process of fenc­ing and strength­en­ing its border with Afghanistan but we have to un­der­stand this process as tem­po­rary.

The men­ace of ter­ror­ism has to be stopped but once done the plans for eco­nomic in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity like CASA and TAPI are al­ready in the pipe­line. Though this will take another decade; at least this time is needed to over­come the po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal hur­dles that di­vide and even em­bat­tle the peo­ple of our re­gion. Na­tion­al­ism – a project that never re­ally fruited in Pak­istan be­cause it de­manded from the peo­ple to dis­card their eth­nic iden­tity and cul­ture and ac­cept a uni­form re­li­gious and cul­tural one that did not match their self-im­age, is fast be­com­ing a hur­dle in our re­gion as well. The fight be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan about who was right and who was wrong in 1947 is dam­ag­ing the cause of a pros­per­ous sub­con­ti­nent and makes SAARC a dead body right from its be­gin­ning.

When I had some role in SAARC Cham­ber of Com­merce, I even tried to con­vey to its fi­nanciers to cur­tail the dom­i­nance of a shark in the SAARC if we were sin­cere in growth of a true and mean­ing­ful Re­gional Co­op­er­a­tion, be­cause I had per­son­ally seen the fail­ure of RCD pact in spite of strong com­mit­ment of the three gov­ern­ments then. The Kash­mir con­flict another fight about ter­ri­tory and the right­ness or wrong­ness of par­ti­tion in 1947 is pro­mot­ing the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the sub­con­ti­nent and di­vert­ing sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial means for so­cial de­vel­op­ment into mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture. The fight of In­dia against CPEC and the ri­valry be­tween Gwadar and Chah­ba­har are grotesque when viewed from the an­gle of the need for co­op­er­a­tion and in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity that ap­pears to be pro­moted un­der global agenda.

Glob­al­iza­tion has changed the world not only out­wardly but it has changed the strate­gies that have to be ap­plied in or­der to reach a pros­per­ous in­ter­con­nected world but in re­al­ity WTO is sup­port­ing cap­i­tal­ism and as a re­sult poverty is in­creas­ing man­i­fold. So far com­pe­ti­tion has ruled roost; the new world re­quires co­op­er­a­tion. The time of su­per pow­ers is over as van­ish­ing im­pact and vi­sion of US is demon­strat­ing. The new eco­nomic ‘su­per power’ China is ready to co­op­er­ate in many re­gards within the Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion, with its vi­sion one belt one road. The fu­ture is with re­gional and global unions that are based on co­op­er­a­tion rather than hos­tile com­pe­ti­tion. It is time to rec­og­nize this for Pak­istan and South Asia. There is no doubt that this will take time and needs sup­port from within the re­gion: one can’t clap with one hand only.

But it is im­por­tant to rec­og­nize writ­ing on the wall and start process of change at our own doorstep. So far our lead­er­ship in gov­ern­ment as well as in op­po­si­tion has failed us badly. That means we need new lead­ers that are ready to over­come hur­dles of self­ish­ness, greed and nar­row na­tion­al­ism and are ready for the sac­ri­fices that real ‘change ‘ will de­mand from each of us. Come, let us then to task of Em­pow­er­ment of so­ci­ety for a bet­ter and pros­per­ous fu­ture and throw yoke of poverty once for all. God bless Pak­istan and hu­man­ity. —The writer is a se­nior colum­nist based in Karachi.

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