by Waseem Shehzad (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 6, Ramadan, 1434)
True independence means to be able to formulate one’s own policies without having to appease foreign masters. Unfortunately, Pakistan like most other Muslim countries does not pass muster.
August 14 is an important day in Pakistan’s history. In 1947 Pakistan gained independence from British colonialism and emerged as the youngest state on the world map on this date. Every year, the day is marked with much fanfare throughout Pakistan as well as abroad where Pakistanis reside. This year’s Independence Day is likely to be celebrated with even greater fervor since a new government (actually recycled old faces) came to power following the May 11 general elections. Every new government needs to burnish its credentials; what better way to do it than by chest-thumping amid patriotic songs and martial music.
Songs and music may arouse emotions but are no substitute for sound policy. This has been a recurring tragedy of successive governments in Pakistan. There is nothing wrong with patriotic songs and appropriate music that goes with them per se; every country has its patriotic songs to stir the faithful. There is a time and place for everything but when songs are used to camouflage obvious failings, they become a source of worry. Would it not be better if Independence Day celebrations were used to take stock of the situation and then address the many challenges Pakistan faces? This is what Allama Iqbal, the poet-philosopher whose dream for a homeland for Muslims of India became what is Pakistan,
Surat-e shamshir hay dastay qadha may wo qawm (Like a sword in the hands of destiny are a people),
Karti hay jo her zaman apnay amal ka hisab (Who take stock of their situation in every age)
We can begin with the month of Ramadan that would end a few days before Pakistan’s Independence Day. Incidentally it was the month of Ramadan when Pakistan came into existence in 1947. To get a glimpse of how far Pakistan has strayed from the ideals for which it was created, consider this. In Ramadan, Muslims are required to build taqwa and develop a social conscience. Abstaining from food and drink during the day and spending nights in ibadat and supplications are meant to sharpen the mind and focus it on our creaturely attitude to Allah (swt), seeking His mercy and blessings. This is done through developing a social persona that becomes even more aware of the plight of the less fortunate human beings for whom abstinence from food and drink is not a choice but a condition imposed by circumstances over which they have little or no control. The individual social conscience must grow into a collective social conscience in which the well-being of each human being becomes the responsibility of all others.
In a well known hadith, the noble Messenger (pbuh) is reported to have said that if even one member of a community goes to bed hungry, the fast of that community will not be accepted. In Pakistan, the rate of poverty has increased alarmingly. At least 60% of the population is food deficient. This need not be the case because Pakistan is a grain surplus country and can feed its entire population. Millions of tons of grain are exported every year. It is the skewed lifestyle of ruling elites and other high flyers that is at the root of the problem. This is most glaringly reflected in Ramadan. For the elites, Ramadan is an occasion for even greater over-indulgence. They organize elaborate iftar parties; most of them do not even fast but such “parties” have become fashionable. This is also reflected in the endless emails (this writer is a victim of such emails) from five-star hotels advertising Ramadan specials. “Eat all you can for a fixed price,” is their mantra to attract customers.
The prices they charge are beyond the reach of most Pakistanis but the hotel/catering industry is not in the business of worrying about the average citizen. It appeals to the expensive tastes of the elite that flaunt their wealth and flash it as a sign of “success” in life beyond the reach of ordinary people. The disconnect between the spirit that Ramadan is supposed to foster — abstinence and patience — and the manner in which such extravagant and opulent lifestyle is promoted and eagerly displayed is shocking.
Pakistan’s tragedy lies not merely in the fact that its ruling elites are corrupt and incompetent; this is the case with elites in much of the Muslim world. The greater tragedy is the sterile thinking that continues to prescribe the same failed policies that have brought Pakistan to its sorry state in the first place. Even the practitioners of statecraft admit that the country is on the verge of political and economic collapse. In his testimony to the Abbotabad Inquiry Commission, General (retired) Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the former head of the ISI, said Pakistan was a “failing state.”
Despite tall promises, the new government in Pakistan has again had to go with the begging bowl to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to seek a $5.3 billion loan. This will be used to repay the interest due on previous loans that now stand at a staggering $120 billion. Far from seeing such dependence as a debilitating curse, the elites present procurement of additional loans as a sign of success. They interpret this as the West’s confidence in their ability to govern. Their overriding concern is to seek the pleasure of Western elites because lacking support at home, the only way they can continue to remain in power is to be in the good books of Western rulers.
Corruption and incompetence of the elites have spawned a culture of dependence that has taken root in Pakistan. It has even earned the dubious distinction of a “failed state” with dire warnings about threats to its survival. Seldom discussed, however, are the reasons for such failure.
Pakistan’s fundamental dilemma lies in the unresolved dichotomy between the wishes of the masses that want an Islamic state, and had so desired at the time of its creation, and the country’s ruling elites that are the product of colonialism, who could only produce a secular nation-state left behind by the colonial masters. True, a few symbols of Islam have been co-opted into the system but the overall framework remains secular. The Pakistani constitution actually states in its preamble that no law shall be enacted that is contrary to the Qur’an and Sunnah but does any Pakistani policy conform to Islamic teachings? The behavior, lifestyle and level of corruption and the thieving nature of its rulers would put even the most notorious gangsters to shame.
So what must be done to arrest this endless cycle of chaos to set the country on a course for which it was created? Nothing short of an Islamic revolution would do. All other options have been tried and failed. Some well-meaning observers of the Pakistani scene caution against such an approach fearing that this would lead to even more chaos. What could be worse than the present turmoil? For ordinary citizens, life has become intolerably difficult. To list just a few problems the average person faces, one only need mention lack of electricity in summer’s blistering heat (especially in Ramadan), lack of water, skyrocketing prices of essential food items, stifling environmental pollution and complete lack of security. Not surprisingly, almost every Pakistani wishes to flee the country, if only the green passport would allow them entry into another country. In the Muslims East, Pakistani laborers work in backbreaking jobs for a pittance in the simmering heat but they consider this a better option than facing starvation in Pakistan. Their families anxiously await the meager sums they remit for survival. Remittances from overseas Pakistanis, especially from the Muslim East, have become a major source of revenue for Pakistan totaling $14 billion annually, according to the latest statistics released by the government (Dawn, July 11, 2013).
It may sound ironic to talk about the potential for an Islamic revolution in Pakistan when it should have been a model for the Ummah. It is the only country in the world to have been created in the name of Islam. When Pakistan came into existence in 1947, Muslims throughout the world rejoiced and looked upon it as a “fortress of Islam.” That its own rulers have been busy undermining its foundations and demolishing its walls is one of the saddest aspects of Pakistan’s tortuous history.
It is the hallmark of all ruling elites that the more they are alienated from their people, the greater is their need for external support and subservience. So they become extremely oppressive and tyrannical at home because they have to take the masses in a direction in which they do not wish to go. The alienation of the ruling elites from the masses in Pakistan is total. The gap between the rich and poor is widening; while the elites live a life of rapacious extravagance, the masses suffer great hardships and poverty. This is compounded by corruption, which has reached dizzying heights. Every ruler in Pakistan has publicly admitted that corruption is rampant but still openly indulges in it.
Pakistan was born amid high hopes but also great suffering and sacrifices. Millions of people were uprooted and nearly a million people — men, women and children — were massacred by Hindu and Sikh mobs as Muslims abandoned their homes in India to make their way to Pakistan that was to be their dream homeland. How many women and girls were kidnapped and simply disappeared during this greatest migration in human history is unknown.
The teeming masses that abandoned their homes and trekked to Pakistan with high hopes have been badly let down. Far from fulfilling their aspirations or addressing their concerns, the plight of the people of Pakistan has gone from bad to worse. A parasitical class comprising feudal lords, industrial barons and military officers, has ensconced itself in power and usurped virtually all state resources.
Pakistan has great potential; its people are hardworking (they have shown this by their example outside Pakistan); it is endowed with many natural resources and it is strategically located, which can be leveraged to its advantage. True, it also faces many challenges but these are not insurmountable if there is sincerity of purpose. Sound policies implemented with honesty, not pious words are what Pakistan needs.
Will this year’s Independence Day celebrations be any different than previous ones? Not many people in Pakistan have much confidence or hope at present.