What has Stymied Pakistan’s progress?

Developing Just Leadership

Zia Sarhadi

Rajab 17, 1442 2021-03-01

News & Analysis

by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 1, Rajab, 1442)

On March 23, Pakistan will celebrate what is referred to as Pakistan Day. Normally, celebrations include a military parade in Rawalpindi as well as presentation of honour guard at the mausoleum in Karachi of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah affectionately called Quad-i Azam (the great leader). This year’s celebrations are likely to be somewhat low-key because of the pandemic that has surged again because most people simply refuse to take precautions.

Low-key celebrations would be appropriate even without the pandemic. There is little to celebrate. With the exception of Afghanistan that has been engulfed in war for more than 40 years, Pakistan seems not to have done too well economically, socially or even politically compared to its neighbours.

India is a historic rival and enemy of Pakistan. This needs no elaboration. In the initial decades after independence in 1947, Pakistan outpaced India on several fronts. Its economy grew at a much faster pace than India’s. Socially, Pakistan was more cohesive because India practises a rigid caste system that divides people and stigmatizes those at the lower end as untouchables. Caste is still very much a feature of Indian life but economically, it has made much greater progress than Pakistan in recent years.

What has enabled arch-rival India to outpace Pakistan?

Born amid great turmoil as well as hope, Pakistan had to cope with multiple challenges. The turmoil resulted from the hastily-drawn up borders of the partition plan that forced the migration of millions of people. It was not only a nightmare, it also resulted in bloodbaths along the way.

Pakistan’s creation aroused great hopes because it was among the first countries to gain independence from colonial rule in the twentieth century. Further, it was the first country to be created in the name of Islam. Muslims throughout the world rejoiced in its creation and reposed great hopes in it.

In the intervening years, however, successive rulers have betrayed the trust of the people as they set about plundering state resources. While the new state faced immense challenges—lack of institutions and finances, for instance—it also came endowed with great resources. Its fertile soil and numerous rivers ensured adequate food production, one of the essential ingredients for society’s progress. Yet, over the years, this resource has been poorly managed. In some instances, it has been wasted.

Corruption has reached dizzying heights. True, there is corruption in every country in the world but Pakistan seems to outdo others. Even with an honest person like Imran Khan as prime minister, he has been unable to end the rot. In the past, Pakistanis used to say, all we need is an honest leader and the country would make great progress. They got their wish; now what?

There are certain conditions necessary for a society to make progress. First and foremost, there has to be clear understanding about the role of state and society. There is social contract between the state and people. It is the state’s responsibility to provide food, security, health services and education to the people. In turn, people must abide by the laws, pay their fair share of taxes and if need be, come to the defence of the state in case of external aggression.

These are basic principles known to every student of political science and most reasonably informed citizens. Yet there is a disconnect between the state and society in Pakistan. Most people do not see it as representing their interests.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has often talked about establishing a system modeled on the Prophet’s state in Madinah. It is an admirable sentiment but there is little evidence of this in Pakistan. One of the basic pillars of the Islamic system is justice—social justice, to be precise. It does not exist in Pakistan. The law applies differently to the rich and poor. Bequeathed by the British, the legal system is thoroughly corrupt. Far from getting justice, people with money and connections can subvert the entire process.

In the unlikely event of being arrested for a crime, the rich demand preferential treatment in jail. An ordinary person is locked up in a filthy cell; the rich get several furnished rooms with television as well as servants at their beck and call. The only discomfort they face is that they are unable to walk out of that “house” in prison. It is not very different from those in quarantine today due to the pandemic!

It would, however, be unfair to put all the blame at the official level. The vast majority of people are also to blame. For instance, people sell adulterated food, milk as well as medicines. Donkey meat has been sold to people as lamb.

There are people that have illegally occupied others’ properties. Unfortunately, there is no recourse in law to secure their fundamental rights. Most offenders and violators pray five times a day and even go for Umrah and Hajj, yet they see no contradiction in their un-Islamic conduct. When people’s basic morals have declined to such low levels, how can society make progress?

There is total lack of basic hygiene. While most people are aware of the Prophetic hadith about cleanliness that it is half of Iman, yet there are piles of rubbish everywhere.

Open sewers run everywhere. Even in places with underground sewers, the pipes are invariably clogged. The stench is unbearable. Similarly, environmental pollution is a major problem resulting in premature deaths of babies as well as people with asthma.

One upmanship is a peculiar trait found in the subcontinent. Everyone claims to be important. While it is important to be important, in Pakistan, it is even more important to be important. There is not only a VIP culture but also a special category of VVIPs (Very, very important persons). They demand special privileges. Traffic must be stopped for them so that they can pass without being “inconvenienced” at traffic lights.

The mega-thieves—the Zardaris, Sharifs and their ilk—have stashed away the stolen loot in countries like Britain, France, Switzerland etc. When not in power, they flee the country to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth while whining about not being treated fairly by the current rulers.

Such people need to be hanged in public to make them an example to others. Unfortunately, it won’t happen. And, therefore, Pakistan will not make progress!

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