Brexit: EU’s Epitaph and Take-aways for Pakistan
In 1919 Treaty of Versailles was heaped upon an already defeated and subjugated Germany after a devastating World War I. Its allies humiliated, its resources depleted and economy on its knees, Germany signed arguably one of the most ignominious peace deals in world politics. The terms were so brutal that the reparations included stallions, mares, cows, rams, sheep and bulls along with coal mines and literally everything worth anything. Historians have argued that this was the very blow that drove Stolz German nation to give into Nazi nationalism and die for the mother land. Nietzsche’s works were reinterpreted and Uber alles spirit infested the Teutonic tribe.
World War II ended with similar results but la République and Union Jack’s aspirations were only beginning to materialize. The only problem was to prevent itself from wars and create a combined front to counter future aggressions of Russia, Germany, Japan and anything that rose above its heights. Soft power emerged in the form of United Nations and its international organizations. War-torn economy stood upon its feet by generous Marshal Plan of a paranoid US fearing Cold War escalation. Alliances and Treaties like SEATO and CENTO were forged to keep Kremlin away from the liberal economic world order after Bretton Woods Agreement in 1944.
Most important of all was to create a strong neighborhood that ensured mutual cooperation. 1950 brought 6 powerful post-war nations together in sharing their steel resources, the first step towards what we know as the European Union today. Treaty of Rome created European Economic Community half a century later actually institutionalizing the dream. Today EU’s budget for 2014-2020 is 960 billion Euro with Germany being the largest contributor, a remarkable feat from the war-torn country that could barely survive without the help of its enemies.
Brexit, many say, is the psychological alarm that triggered precisely because of this German dominance in Brussels. Nigel Farage, the leader of UK Independence party, has been the most ferocious of the EU critics. Uncontrolled EU immigration laws, economic dependence, inability to legislate independently, and islamophobia seems to be his key arguments. Even though the UK has opted out from Euro and border control agreements, pro-brexiters argue for complete independence. Populist slogans like more jobs, Brits first and lower tax and welfare benefits for immigrants are working like they always do. The situation has polarized public opinion to the verge of violence and Jo Cox, a British MP has already lost her life to right-wing extremists.
This seething national fervor is not without its opposition. Liberal voices have locked horns with the conservatives on literally every issue from statistics to politics and morality to culture. David Cameron, the prime minister, stands against it with all the forces he could summon. Even US has warned the UK of ‘consequences’ while Putin calls it Cameron blackmailing EU. The UK will certainly lose its negotiation powers in international trade deals, skilled labor attraction, freedom of navigation and a lot more. IMF has already flagged UK’s departing decision as a precursor to British recession and global ‘contagion effect’.
Does Pakistan have a lesson or two to learn from it? Winston Churchill’s famous quote ‘History is written by victors’ appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. While the crimes of Soviet Union are chronicled by pro-western writers and Japanese imperialism is lacerated by American historians the problem doesn’t lie in the history itself. Historical revisionism is what makes it impossible to learn from history and repeat it unwisely. Years ago my visit to Auschwitz camp in Poland was a painful reminder of this. One of the memories I have from the camp was the famous quote form George Santayana that goes like this. ‘Those who cannot learn from the history are doomed to repeat it.’
This seems to be the case for Pakistan at least. Only a generation ago we were told that economic liberalization and free markets are the way forward to prosperity, economic independence, and globalization.
Generous US support through Pakistan during Soviet-Afghan war ensured our allegiance to allies in their new world order. Failed coup of General Akbar Khan with Faiz Ahmed Faiz and other Marxist actors was first thwarted attempt to socialize the country that later resurrected in its short-lived Bhutto regime where nationalization of industries destroyed country’s economy beyond repair. PPPs policies of economic centralization were very similar to Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Marxists in Pakistan, however, didn’t have what it took to overthrow the Czar. Hide and seek between army generals and so-called democratic regimes continued. War on terror electrified public opinion against foreign influence in country’s affairs. Political arena saw a new player named Imran Khan, former cricket player become an emerging star and nuisance for the status quo political parties. More or less a tripartite democracy, free market, and free media, Pakistan has joined the camp of allies into the globalist world. The question is, does Britain feel the same way about globalization?
Brexit is a lesson to the developing world as if it wasn’t clear enough until now. Rules of the game can change anytime its major players find them unfair. Alliances are broken, treaties nullified, promises reinterpreted and arsenals revamped. It was the UK, France, Britain and US that lead the world into surplus economics and multinational corporations. Margaret Thatcher’s vehement TV performances of pitching this new world order with her charming ‘breaking free from the cage’, spread like an epidemic among the masses. Decades later, that same Britain wants to get back into its nationalistic cage because it looks safer, stronger and to be fair familiar. Whatever happened to fighting for freedom, democratic values, and openness?
With China’s rise as an alternative power, US annihilation in Afghanistan and Europe’s pre-occupation with its migrant crisis, the global vacuum of power is emerging. Is it a good chance for Pakistan to break free of its colonial chains? Do we have anything to lose but the yokes around our necks? The jury is still out on it. We certainly need to set our priorities right and choose our partners wisely. This could be a turning point in Pakistan’s history.