by Zafar Bangash (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 6, Ramadan, 1433)
This year, August 14 — Pakistan’s Independence Day — marks a historic moment. In 1947, when Pakistan gained independence from British colonial rule in India, it was the month of Ramadan.
August 14 coincided with the 27th of Ramadan in 1947, a day considered most auspicious in the Islamic calendar month. This year, too, August 14 falls within a few days of the 27th of Ramadan. A country born on such an auspicious date and with such high hopes 65 years ago cuts a sorry figure today. Many people born in Pakistan but now residing in other parts of the world — North America, Europe or the Muslim East — feel extremely despondent about Pakistan’s future when they see on a daily basis the mayhem and corruption that have become standard fares in the country.
To get a glimpse into how far Pakistan has strayed from the ideals for which it was created, consider this. Ramadan is a month in which Muslims must enhance their spirituality, taqwa and 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.
Yet, for the ruling elites and indeed other high flyers in Pakistan, Ramadan is an occasion for over-indulgence. The elites 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 one victim of such emails) from five-star hotels advertising their Ramadan specials. Many of them openly declare: Eat all you can for a fixed price. True, 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 elites and their expensive tastes. The disconnect between the spirit that Ramadan is supposed to foster — abstinence, frugality and patience — and the manner in which such extravagant and opulent lifestyle is promoted is beyond description.
If past experience is any guide, this year too August 14 will be celebrated with great fanfare in Pakistan. While there is nothing wrong with celebrating a country’s Independence Day, the question that must be asked is: what is there to celebrate? Is Pakistan really better off today than it was a year or four or 40 years ago? Why is the country on fire from one end to the other? What kind of independence does it have when its sovereignty is routinely violated by the Americans carrying out drone attacks killing innocent civilians while the government and military look on helplessly? And what kind of independence is it when its president asks the Americans to prevent the military from carrying out a coup against him because he has committed treason against the country? And if WikiLeaks documents are to be believed quoting US diplomats, Pakistani officials, bureaucrats, journalists and politicians are bought easily, often for a mere invitation to attend a function at the American embassy in Islamabad! Why is there such lack of self-respect among these people? To earn the respect of others, one must first have self-respect.
Pakistan's tragedy is not merely that its ruling elites are corrupt and incompetent, for this is the case with elites throughout 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 June, treasury officials openly admitted that they could not complete the budget without knowing whether any money would be forthcoming from the US. Such dependence is the direct result of the gross corruption among elites and 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 its failure. During military rule, there is clamor for a civilian government; when the civilians are in power — whether feudal lords or industrial barons — there are calls for the military to take over and restore “law and order,” as if simply changing faces would solve the country’s problems.
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 products of colonialism, who could only produce a secular nation-state left behind by their 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 Pakistani 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 have 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 situation? For ordinary citizens, life has become intolerably difficult. To list just a few problems the average person faces, one only need mention the lack of electricity in the Summer’s blistering heat in the month of Ramadan, lack of water, skyrocketing prices of essential food items, stifling environmental pollution and complete lack of security of life and limb. Not surprisingly, almost every Pakistani wishes to flee the country, if only the green passport would allow them entry into another country. In the Muslim 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 that are remitted to allow them to survive. Remittances from overseas Pakistanis, especially from the Muslim East, have become a major source of revenue for Pakistan topping $10 billion annually.
It is the hallmark of all ruling elites that the more they are alienated from their own people, the greater is their need for external support and subservience.
Consider the $12 billion given by the US to Pakistan in the period since 2001 for services rendered — use of military bases, port and transit facilities, as well as deployment of 120,000 Pakistani troops in the border areas to fight America’s war — yet there is constant US demand that Pakistan must do more. Overseas Pakistanis make no such demands but their mistreatment upon return to Pakistan to visit relatives is extremely insulting. From immigration and customs officials at the airport to petty officials in their local area, these workers are continuously hounded. They have no stake in a system that only creates hurdles for them. If they were to withhold their remittances, the Pakistani state would quickly collapse. Thus, for them and the hundreds of millions of ordinary Pakistanis, an Islamic revolution may be the only choice left.
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 demolishing its walls and foundations is one of the saddest parts of Pakistan’s tortuous history.
It is the hallmark of all ruling elites that the more they are alienated from their own 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 cannot be wider; 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 and openly indulges in such behavior.
These elites have to be removed from power and the entire system changed if Pakistan is to have even a remote chance of survival. Nothing short of major surgery would do; the time for half-measures is over. The choice lies with the people of Pakistan. The month of August and of Ramadan, offer them an opportunity to revive the spirit for which Pakistan was created. The ruling elites know their time is up; they are a frightened bunch and can be easily dislodged from their comfortable dwellings. Are the people of Pakistan willing to take this step? Inaction is no longer an option if Pakistan is to be saved from almost certain doom.