by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 6, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1441)
Every year, August 14 is celebrated with much fanfare in Pakistan. On this date in 1947, Pakistan came into existence as a new state carved out of British colonial India. August 14 is called Pakistan Independence Day.
This year, however, the raging pandemic will dampen such celebrations. Instead of military parades and gatherings of political leaders and government officials delivering stirring speeches, there will probably be ‘virtual’ gatherings. Stirring speeches will still be delivered, but on television. Those in power will claim they are well on their way to turning Pakistan into another Switzerland or whatever country currently tickles their fancy. Opponents will decry lack of progress and unfulfilled promises. The masses that constitute Pakistan’s overwhelming majority will continue to toil in the stifling summer heat desperately trying to make ends meet and to keep their families alive.
Pakistan has enormous potential but this, unfortunately, has not been realized so far. It is also beset by numerous challenges, both internal and external. That, however, is the case with almost every country in the world. Most analysts talk about lack of economic progress (which is true), but Pakistan’s real problem is more fundamental.
The ruling elite have not been able to resolve the question of whether Pakistan should be an Islamic or secular state. The elite’s clear preference is for secularism. The masses, however, yearn for an Islamic state modeled on the Prophet’s state in Madinah. They may not know how to get there but there is little doubt about what they want.
It is this divergence in outlook that has prevented Pakistan from realizing its true potential. The ruling elite are quite comfortable operating under the British-bequeathed colonial system because it guarantees their privileges. The masses are trapped in an endless cycle of grinding poverty and bureaucratic red tape. Similarly, the periodic elections that are held (or allowed to be held by the real power-wielders) are a farce. Turnout is extremely low. In the urban centres, people’s vote is bought for a bag of rice or a meal while in the rural hinterland, the feudal lords order the serfs under their command who to vote for (usually the feudal lord, or his son or daughter).
From this, some may conclude that the masses themselves are to blame for their plight because they do not vote for the right candidate. This is a simplistic conclusion. The masses have to choose between the lesser of a number of evil people—two, three or more corrupt politicians. If their choice is not coerced, they will go for whomever they feel would help them navigate through the oppressive system. Whether they are victims of the corrupt policeman, the even more corrupt court system or a local thug terrorizing them, they look for a politician with the most clout. In Pakistan, it is the corrupt politician that has connections and can get work done. Unfortunately, honest politicians are no use to the masses because the entire system is rotten.
Two years ago, Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) came to power amid much hope and optimism. He promised to end the culture of corruption, go after the corrupt politicians and end Pakistan’s addiction to foreign handouts. He also promised to create millions of jobs and build millions of homes for the poor. Far from achieving any of these, under the PTI government, external debt has multiplied, not one corrupt politician has been forced to cough up the loot and prices of basic commodities have skyrocketed, affecting largely the poor people.
True, the PTI government and its supporters will point to circumstances beyond their control—and some of these are genuine—but that does not put bread or rice in the plate of a hungry man and his equally hungry children. People expect the government to solve their problems, not offer excuses.
For Pakistan to make progress, there has to be a revolution in the thought process. It must start with the elite. They cannot continue to treat state resources as family fortune. The culture of entitlement has to end. Similarly, they must abandon the habit of treating poor people with contempt. The elite have an army of servants in their homes whom they treat like slaves. They are made to work long hours but are paid a pittance and given leftover food. Such contemptuous behavior cannot continue; human dignity demands no less.
At the broader state level, Pakistan must end its culture of dependence on foreign handouts. This cannot be realized without across the board belt-tightening. This must apply to all and sundry: politicians, the civil bureaucracy as well as the military. The country simply cannot afford the perks they get.
These perks were introduced during the British raj. The colonial masters wanted to keep the local masses in check whom they treated with contempt. British raj ended 73 years ago but its oppressive policies are still in place. Can Pakistan really claim to be independent with such archaic policies?
Prior to Imran Khan’s coming to power, many people used to say that for Pakistan to make progress, all it needed was an honest leader. Well, they got an honest leader in Imran Khan but has that changed anything? While honest leadership is important, it is not sufficient. If the entire system is corrupt, there is little he can do. He is held hostage by the system. Does he even know this?
Pakistan’s situation can best be understood by looking at the life struggle of many prophets. They were Allah’s chosen people; they received revelation from on high but the overwhelming majority of them were unable to transform their societies because the people they were sent to refused to accept the message. There was nothing wrong with the message; it was divinely ordained. The power elites in those societies—whether at the time of Nuh (as), Ibrahim (as), Zakariya (as), Yahya (as), Musa (as) or Isa (as) and a long list of other prophets—refused to accept the divine message. Similarly, they coerced the people into not following the prophetic message. What was the consequence? Those with even basic knowledge of the Qur’an know that almost everyone of those societies was destroyed.
Allah has no favourites. Just because people say they are ‘Muslims’ will not excuse them from Allah’s corrective justice. The word ‘muslim’ means one who surrenders to the will of Allah. The people of Pakistan must ponder over this carefully before Allah’s wrath afflicts them.