By Najam Sethi
As Pakistan turns 64, it is facing the consequences of the bad decisions of its ruling elite.
SIXTY FOUR years ago, we dreamed of a modern nation- state in which citizens would enjoy the fruits of security, justice and prosperity, one without religious persecution, at peace with itself, its neighbours and the rest of the world. But a litany of false starts, corrupt practices and misplaced concreteness has transformed our progressive reality into a living nightmare. The road not taken has made all the difference.
Shortly after independence our leaders determined to woo the United States and become a client state. This relationship had two disastrous consequences: it made us economically dependent on US handouts so that we could not fashion a self- sustaining and free economy; and it enabled the military to become the predominant political player in the country, to the detriment of developing sound democratic institutions and competent political leaders.
Across the border in India, its leaders did the opposite, fashioning a doctrine of respectable non- alignment that compelled them to stand on their own feet, develop an autonomous economy and put their stakes in democracy. Today, we are rabid with anti- Americanism and reeling under the yoke of our dependency on America.
Pakistan inherited five provinces and a few princely states; India started with nine provinces and scores of princely states.
While India absorbed the states within a constitutional framework and went on to create 28 linguistic provinces to give effect to maximum local culture and autonomy, we went in the opposite direction, first compelling the princely states to swear allegiance to a non- constitutional “centre”, then creating “two units” out of five, ending up with the exploitation and repression of the demographically larger unit (Bengal)! The consequence of this false start was disintegration of the country in 1971 and the rise of dangerous sub- nationalisms and separatisms that have come to haunt us.
Today, India has a vibrant strategic relationship with America that benefits it enormously while we have a transactional one with it that hurts us badly.
Along the way, and largely as a consequence of these two significant decisions, we have committed a series of blunders.
Foremost among these was the decision to fight America’s two wars in Afghanistan, the first time in the 1980s against the USSR and the second time in the 2000s against Al- Qaeda and the Taliban. The consequence of the first war was the rise of radical political Islam and armed jihadi non- state actors as legitimising adjuncts of the state. The first put paid to the notion of a modern and moderate democratic state while the second pit us at brutal war with ourselves.
A second series of miscalculations has robbed us of our social security and welfare.
We miscalculated when we sent Pashtun Lashkars to liberate Kashmir in 1948 because that provoked the partition of Kashmir — instead of enabling its accession to Pakistan — and the compulsion to demonise India as the biggest and continuing threat to Pakistan, thereby creating the budgeting rationale for an authoritarian national security state instead of a democratic social welfare state. The second, third and fourth wars with India were all provoked by Pakistan and lost by it whereas the national security paradigm was constantly strengthened by the propagation of an exactly opposite narrative in which we were portrayed as the heroic victim against a venomous and aggressive India.
Now we have come full circle to the beginning.
We are grappling with the notion of spurning US economic and military aid. We sense the need for more provinces and genuine devolution of power. We are treading carefully in the direction of making peace with India by resolving our disputes at the table rather than on the Line of Control or international border. And our civil society, politicians, judges, civil servants and media have finally woken up to the dangerous consequences of doing the bidding of the generals.
Is it all late already? Are we beyond the pale? Can Pakistan be saved from itself? In theory, it is never too late to do anything.
Every problem can be turned into an opportunity. The military’s incompetence and complicity in contriving Pakistan’s dismal situation can be tuned into a dividend by establishing civilian supremacy over it and consolidating peace with India, thereby abandoning financially crippling notions of an arms race and deterrence.
Building a consensus on new provinces that satisfies administrative, linguistic, ethnic or regional aspirations can become the basis of a new social contract between the people of Pakistan and the Pakistani state.
Learning to stand on our own feet rather than on American- IMF crutches should enable us to build and implement a socially just and efficient taxation and representation system that builds domestic credibility and international trust, encourages foreign investment and discourages the brain and capital drain.
There are two broad lessons of history — our own and that of the world — that we must seriously imbibe. No nation is an island. If a country is not at peace with itself, it will inevitably wage war against others and disintegrate. And, since war is too serious a business to be left to generals on the eastern and western fronts, the civilians must band together to retake control of Pakistan and build it anew.
The writer is editor of The Friday Times
Source: Mail Today, New Delhi