Pakistan at 50 no cause for celebration

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Awwal 27, 1418 1997-08-01


by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1418)

Elaborate plans are underway for golden jubilee celebrations in both Pakistan and India. Pakistan had kicked off its celebrations last March with a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Conference and an impressive military parade on the main thoroughfare in Islamabad. The fiftieth anniversary of a country may be cause for revelry but is there anything to show for it? It may be more appropriate for Pakistanis to perform a collective prayer to expiate for their sins of omission and commission.

Had the ruling elites been chief executive officers of a private company, they would have been sacked long ago, Pakistanis sooner than the Indians. In 50 years, they have made a complete mess of things. Corruption is widespread. Educational facilities are woefully inadequate; healthcare has deteriorated and basic amenities such as clean drinking water are virtually non-existent. Both countries have also incurred huge debts, making them hostage to world bank and IMF policies, Pakistan more than India.

Both India and Pakistan emerged from the bowels of British colonialism. The wily Hindus wanted the entire country for themselves, aware that their overwhelming numbers would guarantee their monopoly on power. The Muslims, led by the Muslim League under Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted to secure their rights through constitutional guarantees. This the Hindus were not prepared to concede, hence the demand for Pakistan.

Therein lies the dilemma of Pakistan. The Muslim League was not interested in Pakistan because it believed that the Muslims would have a separate homeland in which to establish an Islamic State; they were simply after securing their own privileges. For the Muslim masses, the idea of Pakistan meant the revival of the golden age of Islam - the Islamic State in Medina and the period of the Khulafa ar-Rashidoon.

It is this divergent outlook that has bedevilled politics in Pakistan ever since. One other factor that led to immediate complications in Pakistan was that the movement was led by people who were from provinces that became part of India. The feudal lords from Punjab and Sind were latecomers on the Pakistan bandwagon. And they joined only when they realised that partition had become inevitable.

Thus the Muslim League leadership that assumed the mantle of the new State had no roots in the land that became Pakistan. With Jinnah’s early death (he was already suffering from tuberculosis), the field was left open for intrigue between the feudals and the British-trained bureaucracy that came to dominate Pakistan.

The bureaucracy was a specially-trained class of effete snobs whose peculiar characteristic was contempt for their own people. For the British it made perfect sense to create such a class of people, brown in colour but British in mentality to serve their colonial interests. Throughout their rule, Britain never had more than 40,000 men in India. They seldom if ever dealt with the masses and when necessary, it was through these brown sahibs.

These special agents were more royal than the king. Their contemptuous behaviour towards the masses is still very much a part of the environment in Pakistan. They try to speak with a clipped British accent and prefer western clothes to Pakistani dress. They enjoy raj-style perks long after the raj has ended.

Acting as handmaidens to every tyrant who emerges on the scene, they have helped themselves to the meagre resources of the State as if these are their private preserve. In this, they have been joined by the feudal lords as well as the military brass.

Pakistan has an external debt of $30 billion and an equal amount of internal debt. The country has few sources of income and is on the verge of defaulting on debt-repayments. It is this desperate situation that forced finance minister Sartaj Aziz to scurry to the annual convention of Pakistani physicians in North America held in New York on July 4. He came in the hope that the doctors, perhaps out of a sense of patriotism, would part with a portion of their estimated $4 billion investment potfolio in the US.

The doctors gave a polite hearing to Sartaj Aziz but showed little inclination to part with their money. These doctors are no fools. They wanted to know what the government was doing to recover the loot from the well-known crooks who still roam freely. If the loan defaulters were apprehended and money recovered from them, Pakistan could retire all its debt.

Within Pakistan, there is increasing cynicism about the government’s sincerity to recover the stolen billions. One set of thieves cannot possibly apprehend another. The elite control Rs 650 billion (approx $16 billion) in wealth, according to Dr Mahbubul Haq, a former finance minister. And they pay no taxes.

Pakistan’s literacy rate at 25 percent does not reflect the true state of affairs. Literacy is defined rather liberally. Anyone who can sign his/her name is considered literate. As a Muslim country, most people can read the Qur’an without knowing anything else. Even they are counted among the literate.

Pakistan’s real dilemma lies in its struggle for identity. Without Islam, Pakistan makes no sense. After all, India already claims to be a secular State and the ‘largest democracy’ to boot. What distinguishes Pakistan from India if it is not Islam? The ruling elites who have more in common with their Hindu counterparts in mannerism, lifestyle and tastes than their own emaciated masses, do not understand this.

Feudalism and the feudal mentality rule supreme. The feudals suppress their own people without any consideration for their rights or feelings. They even maintain private jails.

It is precisely this mentality that leads to episodes like those of Mir Aimal Kansi. He was denied due process when he had committed no crime in Pakistan. He was apprehended and bundled onto a US military plane to be flown out of the country because America demanded it.

The feudals demand total subservience from their serfs and they obey unquestioningly those whom they consider to be more powerful than themselves. ‘Might is right’ is their creed. It is a poor ideology to lead a country of 130 million Muslims into the next century.

There is little to celebrate. One can only pray for Pakistan as it enters its fifty-first year of existence. Poor Mr Jinnah must be turning in his grave, with the turn of events.

Muslimedia - August 1-15, 1997

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