Pakistan - 58 years old

The News, August 16, 2005
The good and bad of Pakistan at 58
Imtiaz Alam

The writer is the Editor Current Affairs of The News and founder and Secretary General of SAFMA

Amazing are the ways, to the point of madness, at least in Lahore, where dozens die in road accidents on the occasion, the people celebrate Independence Day in Pakistan. Such great enthusiasm is seldom seen on any other occasion, nor, perhaps, is it seen in any other newly independent nation, including India. Last year, when I was driving my Indian friends through Lahore on the Day, they were really stunned to see the enthusiasm. The greater the sense of alienation, the higher is the resolve to commemorate one's nationhood. Isn't it fantastic? And this is what surprises me most and keeps my hopes in my country. I am two years younger to Pakistan and have grown though all its ups and downs and, interestingly, my failures in life are similar to that of Pakistan's. Despite decades of efforts we have not achieved what could we have in almost every department of human progress. Let us ask ourselves: What is good and what is bad about Pakistan?

When I asked a group of young media practitioners, before writing these lines, what is so good or bad about Pakistan and asked them to give me five good reasons about our country, they were able to tell only two or three good points to boast about: That Pakistan gives them a sense of national identity and the people are quite caring, while the ruling elite, who did not allow democracy and the institutions to grow and have maltreated the people, is the worse. Despite being dissatisfied with the sate of state's affairs and with the way the country is being run, they haven't lost hope in country's future and want to change things. Their sense of alienation has not still touched the point of desperation or hopelessness and all of them want full return to democracy and institution building with a focus on good governance and human resource development. Their response to my question is quite amazing and encouraging, in the sense that, despite their alienation, they have full faith in the destiny of the nation.

If this is the overall trend of optimism of our youth, then one can have high hopes about one's country. When I asked some of the hundreds of thousands of pillion-motorcyclists on the Independence Day about their sense of jubilation, their hodgepodge answers, however, confirmed that this is just not the catharsis of their frustration but also reaffirmation of their sense of belonging to their country. I wish, if instead of a mad rush for rash driving, they could also reflect rationally bout the nature and future of their country, which is in fact the responsibility of their elders, teachers, leaders and journalists. No less amazing is their faith in the Founder of the Nation, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, whom we have, in fact, betrayed in every sense and also whatever he believed in. What is the balance sheet of 58 years of Pakistan?

Although it is difficult to sum up, we can still identify some of the major areas of successes and failures. To be precise, Pakistan's history can be summed up as a history of missed opportunities and successive failures of too much experimentation with the system of governance. Instead of being self-congratulatory as every government is, we will focus only on our striking failures that are as follows: 1) most glaring is the failure to establish the federal democratic structures and institutions in which the people could have full confidence. Although the politicians failed thrice -- during the late 40s and the 50s, 1972-77 and the 90s, -- the military bureaucratic elite never allowed the people to determine their destiny and kept its stranglehold by authoritarian means and autocratic structures. No other nation, and in such a short time, has experimented with so many systems of governance as Pakistan has under its military and civilian rulers.

2) Although most fascinating has been the battle of ideas in Pakistan, it could not help overcome the conflict of its ideological personality, despite the clear direction set by the Father of the Nation. Mr Jinnah had a very clear democratic and secular view about the nature of the state of Pakistan, which had no place for theocracy or dictatorship. The betrayal of the Quaid's democratic and constitutionalist legacy, by both military and civilian rulers, in internal politics led to an ulterior foreign policy that brought us into conflict with our neighbours, particularly India. The Quaid had no enmity against India, despite a bloody partition, nor had he subscribed to an essentially anti-Indian nationalism, which was, in fact, an invention of self-convenience by an isolated leadership of the Muslim League and the military dictators who thrived on an anti-Indian bogy. Mr Jinnah had a foreign policy in his mind which was based on 'enmity with none and friendship with all' and Canada-America like relationship between India and Pakistan.

3) Disrespect for the rule of law starts from the top state institutions, which defies the Constitution and goes down to the common public that avoid paying taxes or observing laws that are good for their own existence, such as the traffic laws. This has been the fundamental cause behind the failure of governance in Pakistan and systemic collapse of its institutions and imposition of garrison over civil society. If any institution has developed, that too at the cost of all other institutions, it is the armed forces that are proportionately far more developed -- perhaps even over-developed -- than civilian institutions. This can be seen as a blessing in disguise for a new nation, if the armed forces confine themselves to the task of security which they failed to preserve due to their over indulgence in civilian matters. And this is the single most potent distortion that has brought all kinds of other distortions into the system and policies.

4) An overwhelming obsession with the military security, besides bringing the biggest distortion into the whole paradigm of nation building, resulted in various insecurities, including human insecurity. Indeed, we should have a credible defence but not at the cost of our people, a majority of who remain illiterate and vulnerable to endemic poverty. Instead of becoming a republic at the service of its people, Pakistan became a national security state that could protect neither its internal security nor its external security. Neglect of social sectors and human resources have been so glaring that Pakistan lags behind Sub-Saharan Africa on various social indicators. 5) Coupled with an elitist paradigm of development, a flawed import-substitution strategy and feudal large landholdings, Pakistan could not outgrow a slow pace of economic growth that could equally benefit its people. Consequently, the proportion of people living under the poverty-line is one of the highest in world. The development of human resources suffered most under this paradigm of development that encouraged crony capitalism, preserved landlordism and made rent-seeking and corruption the dominant mode of accumulation.

6) Above all, despite having experimented with various forms of government, Pakistan is yet to evolve its social contract that it did in the form of 1973 Constitution that was neither respected by the politicians nor generals.

All these drawbacks reflect upon the failure of governance in Pakistan. The tragedy of these expeditious experimentations is that neither could dictatorship nor could a flawed democracy deliver in Pakistan. Still worse, this is perhaps one of the few nations in the world that has not learnt any lesson from its past mistakes. Like a beginner, Pakistan must go back to its Founding Father, M. A. Jinnah, for guidance and take a secular republican route to people's empowerment and progress for all and not just for the few. It has to be not only at peace with itself, but also with the world, especially with its neighbours. The time is still not lost on us and we must reverse all that has not worked for nation-building and progress. We can mobilise the energies of our people by making them the true sovereign and focusing on their well-being. Only a well educated, democratic, peaceful and progressive Pakistan can ensure the future of our nation and its multi-ethnic components. What Pakistan needs most is a new kind of dynamic, democratic, forward looking and modern leadership that follows the footsteps of the Quaid.


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