China at 70
THE rise and transformation of China over the last seven decades — from an ideological state to an economic powerhouse — has been both complex and impressive. It has indeed taken much blood and toil, and the journey to transform an authoritarian, largely isolated state into one of the world’s major powers has not always been a smooth one.
Today as Beijing observes the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic. Though its achievements should be celebrated, there should also be a critical review to see what can be improved internally to create greater social harmony and freedom, paired with economic prosperity.
The People’s Republic was born in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the first shots of the Cold War were being fired. Led by Mao Zedong, the socialist revolutionaries defeated the nationalists and laid the groundwork for modern China. Mao, along with being the founding father of modern China, was a giant on the world stage, though his era was far from harmonious as the ravages of the Cultural Revolution showed.
This was an era of ideological zeal, when the socialist and capitalist blocs were locked in a global battle for influence. However, the modern financial strength of the PRC — the country is today the world’s second biggest economy — is largely the handiwork of Deng Xiaoping, who oversaw great changes in the economic structure of his country and promoted the development of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.
Today, China is socialist in all but name, though there has been a renewed focus by the state on Marxism under the helmsmanship of Xi Jinping. The current Chinese president has also been pushing economic growth, the Belt and Road Initiative being his signature project. Under the BRI, China is seeking to link continents in a web of trade and commerce, with Pakistan also benefiting in the shape of CPEC.
While the PRC’s journey has been a success story, especially where economic growth and military strength are concerned, there are legitimate concerns about the state of human rights within China. For example, numerous foreign media outlets have highlighted the situation in Xinjiang, particularly with respect to the Muslim Uighur ethnic group. There have been claims that the Turkic Uighurs are being forced by Beijing to abandon their religious and cultural practices, though the state denies this. The unrest in Hong Kong also refuses to die down, as protesters have been taking to the streets in the former British colony for several months now.
It is easy to brush aside these criticisms, but if China is to truly reap the harvest of its economic achievements, there must be internal harmony, with all nationalities given their due rights under the law, and greater freedoms for the Chinese people. Looking ahead, these would be worthy goals for leaders of the PRC to pursue.
GOING by the findings of a recent Gallup Pakistan report, tourism in the country is on the path of revival. According to the report that relies heavily on federal and provincial data, tourist traffic to cultural sites has gone up from 1.6m visits in 2014 to 6.6m in 2018, with Punjab contributing about 95pc to this growth. The spike in the visitors is primarily triggered by domestic tourism. But there’s also a visible uptick in the number of foreign travellers — the figure has doubled for museums and cultural sites. The growth is very encouraging. Many would take this increase in foreign visits as an indication that Pakistan is becoming a popular destination for foreigners; these figures have prompted the authors of the report to suggest that “tourism could be a potential game changer for the country’s struggling economy”. But that may be an overly optimistic assessment — at least at this point — even though the country has so much to offer to tourists in terms of geographical diversity and cultural heritage.
For starters, take the overall negative perception of Pakistan internationally, and the many concerns that foreigners have vis-à-vis security in the country. Although the government has time and again expressed its resolve to make Pakistan a ‘heaven for foreign tourists’, it has done little to sell Pakistan’s image as an attractive, secure tourist destination. We failed to take advantage of the goodwill created by the British Backpacker Society that ranked Pakistan as the world’s top adventure travel destination last year, or Forbes’ description of the country as one of the “coolest places” to visit in 2019, because we could not market ourselves. Countries such as Malaysia and Thailand, on the other hand, spend millions of dollars each year on marketing their attractions to woo a continuous stream of foreign travellers. Indeed, the incumbent government has taken a few initiatives to ease travel restrictions for foreigners. But that is not enough, and there is a dire need to build on those actions to curb officialdom’s propensity to eye international travellers with suspicion. More than that, the federal government and the provinces need to develop a physical and hospitality infrastructure in places where they want to promote tourism. At present, the country remains a tourist-unfriendly place. If we want tourism to flourish, the government will have to work hard on all aspects to encourage domestic and foreign travellers. Otherwise, we can forget about a ‘heaven for tourists’.
Terror in Chaman
THE loss of a senior leader of the JUI-F in a bomb attack in Balochistan last Saturday once again underscores the need for top-level vigilance and intelligence gathering in the province.
The fatal attack in Chaman on Maulana Mohammad Hanif Achakzai, a deputy secretary general of the JUI-F and an influential figure in the area, would not have materialised had proper reconnaissance been carried out. An IED was detonated by remote control just as the cleric-cum-politician came out of a building. The explosion killed him and two other men who happened to be at the spot, while several others were injured.
The bomb was tied to a motorcycle that had been strategically placed near the maulana’s office — an arrangement that would have required precise and prior knowledge of his schedule. Balochistan, especially its border areas, has genuine reasons to be worried about militants trying to create trouble.
The province has unfortunately figured quite extensively in the news for militant attacks, the latest taking place yesterday in Loralai when one policeman was killed in a gunfire exchange with militants. Some divide the perpetrators of such attacks into two categories — the Baloch separatist groups that Islamabad claims are acting at the behest of foreign patrons, and terrorist elements which often operate from Afghanistan or have links to the long-standing Afghan conflict.
JUI-F members are particularly in need of extra protection considering that the party leaders have been frequent targets of planned attacks believed to be emanating from Afghanistan. In recent times, tensions have increased in Afghanistan and there is a need to strengthen border security.
It is inevitable that groups with militant credentials that are unhappy with the JUI-F, would target the party’s office bearers. In fact, in recent months, Balochistan has seen a spike in acts of terror along the Quetta-Chaman road, despite the overall decline in violence in the country.
Unless prompt action is taken and security and surveillance beefed up, the threat will only grow.