What future for Pakistan?

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Rabi' al-Awwal 04, 1430 2009-03-01

Reflections

by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 1, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1430)

March 23 is an important landmark in Pakistan’s history. It was on this date in 1940 that the All-India Muslim League passed a resolution in Lahore demanding a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. Within seven years Pakistan emerged on the world map as an independent state. Badly weakened by the Second World War, the British colonialists were in no position to hold on to India but even in the dying days of the empire, they deliberately left a number of unresolved problems. These included manipulated boundaries that deprived Pakistan of its rights as well as a number of princely states whose future was left in limbo. India quickly grabbed all of them through military aggression, including the state of Jammu and Kashmir that has continued to bedevil relations between the two countries.

The greater damage the British caused to Pakistan was to saddle it with rulers, nurtured and groomed by the British, who had little sympathy for the masses. They had brown skin but were otherwise thoroughly Westernized; educated in Western institutions, they spoke English and had acquired the domineering habits and tastes of the departing colonial masters. The one attribute they did not share with the British was hard work. The new elites were lazy and thoroughly corrupt. For them, Pakistan meant a place they could plunder and continue the policies of the raj without the colonial masters.

For the Muslim masses, Pakistan meant something very different. They envisioned a state that would be patterned on the model of the Khilafah where the rulers would serve the people and where justice and fairness would prevail. For this, the Muslim masses had sacrificed millions of lives. Pakistan came to symbolize one of the greatest betrayals in Muslim history. It has been a great disappointment because those that occupied positions of power and authority had no clue what an Islamic State would look like. For them it simply meant a state where the majority was Muslim. Nor were they interested in ascertaining the wishes of the people considering them too ignorant to understand the finer points of statecraft. That the elites have made such a mess of affairs is something they are not prepared to accept even today.

Pakistan has often been referred to as a “failed” state. This is not far off the mark but instead of simply repeating what is wrong with Pakistan let us identify those responsible for this state of affairs. At creation, three distinct groups came to dominate the new state: feudal lords, the bureaucracy and the army. It is interesting to note that none of them played any significant role in the creation of Pakistan. In fact, another problem Pakistan faced at the time of its creation was that Muslims who had struggled for it belonged to areas that became part of India. Thus, most leaders of the Pakistan movement had no roots in the areas that became part of the new state. This naturally created a mindset that excluded the masses from determining who their rulers should be. Palace intrigues flourished in such an environment and provided ample opportunities for the bureaucracy to play one feudal group against another. Soon the army also jumped into the fray and being better organized, it quickly came to dominate the political scene. Pakistan’s entire history can be summed up in the struggle for political dominance between the feudal (and now industrial) lords and the military.

There is one other group that must account for its failures: the Islamic movement. Represented most prominently by the Jama’at-e Islami — there are others as well but their failures are equally glaring — the Islamic political parties are impotent because they joined the corrupt colonial-imposed system that they were supposed to condemn. Today the Islamic political parties are no different than their secular counterparts. It is in this environment that the masses have turned to extremist groups like the Taliban to seek redress for the gross injustices they suffer at every level in society. While the Taliban-type outfits are good at fighting, they cannot offer any solutions to the myriad problems facing people whether relating to social, economic or political justice. Merely insisting on long beards and ankle-high trousers are no solutions. Further, such groups are easily manipulated by the military that has always been in cahoots with the US. In the 1980s, the Americans supported these groups to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan so jihad was not only good, it was glorified. Pakistan had an appropriately Islamizing general at the helm. Today, the Americans themselves occupy Afghanistan so resistance is bad. Thus, jihad is vilified and those supporting the Afghans are branded as terrorists. Now thoroughly secular generals lead the Pakistan army. There is no independent thought that guides Pakistan’s policies. The less said the better about Pakistani civilians that masquerade as rulers.

Once a dream for million of Muslims, Pakistan has turned into a nightmare. There is no safety or security for anyone. The military is fighting and killing its own people and there are grave fears for the very survival of the country.

What a pity!

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