Source: The Express Tribune
By Talat Masood, who is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board
Seventy years is more than a lifespan for an average Pakistani but for a nation it may be a period of its infancy. But we cannot hide behind this cover for we are not a people who did not have a history, rich civilisation or a past. Moreover, we have most recent examples of China, Singapore and Southeast Asian nations led by dedicated leaders that were able to transform their countries.
In contrast, it does not reflect well on us that in 70 years we have not even been able to develop a consensus on the raison d’être for seeking a separate homeland. Many amongst us are still unclear as to what were the motives and challenges that gave rise to the very concept of its creation? We are still interpreting the basis of the two-nation theory. The religious political parties would like us to believe that religion is the conceptual basis of Pakistan. And based on that Pakistan should be a theocratic state grounded in the orthodox principles of Islam. Opposed to that are those who argue that Jinnah used the two-nation theory merely to bargain for a separate homeland and to protect the rights of Muslims who were a substantial minority in India. Jinnah was also more emphatic on the cultural rather than the religious differences. With nearly 96% of the population being Muslim, Pakistan does not need the crutch of religion. Experience has shown that differences among the various Muslim sects tend to make the society more divisive. When religion is exploited for political purposes instead of being a binding force it becomes discordant. Furthermore, it is a misguided belief that a secular state is an irreligious state. Secularism allows greater option and flexibility for people to pursue their faith in accordance with their wishes and not to be straitjacketed by the state or any specific denomination.
Pakistan was meant for all sects be it Sunni, Shia, Barelvi or Deobandi and it was never supposed to be a divisive state. At the time of partition, there was considerable harmony among various denominations of religious belief and it is sad that now it is the opposite. These differences were deliberately accentuated for political gains. Surely, the sectarian malaise will not go away unless our leaders and religious parties focus on being more inclusive and democratic.
Jinnah’s concept to create Pakistan was to protect the minority rights of Muslims so that both Indians and Pakistanis could live in peace. That dream not only remains unfulfilled but we also are in a worse situation where both countries treat each other as enemies. The questions we need to address at 70 are whether the two countries are destined forever to live in a state of perpetual hatred?
This sad state of affairs is sapping the energy of the nation and has to be rectified. For Pakistan, hostility with India is even more costly. With Prime Minister Modi in India and a weak civilian government in Pakistan to expect a bold initiative being taken to normalise relations would be difficult. Unfortunately the media’s role in promoting discord between the two nations has been significant.
On the domestic side, our politics cannot continue the way it is being practised. Difference of opinion and divergence in policies is integral to democratic norms. But the venomous and personalised politics that Pakistani leaders are pursuing needs to be strongly rejected. Their behaviour has lowered the image of politicians in the eyes of the public.
Moreover, political parties need to take their responsibility of empowering parliament seriously. Their lack of interest in discussing national issues and framing laws compatible with running a functional state have further tilted power in favour of the judiciary and military.
Pakistan needs to seriously reassess its economic policies. Heavy reliance on foreign assistance and pathetic tax collection have made our economy highly vulnerable despite the current modest 5.3% growth in GDP.
The education system in general and that of madrassas has to conform to the requirements of modern times. Those few madrassas that are spreading hatred and preaching violence have to be banned. Fear of backlash has kept the government vacillating while dealing with this phenomenon.
Our state education system is also not keeping pace with the requirements of teaching modern science and technology subjects. This weakness could have serious consequences for the national economy and future growth prospects. We are already witnessing a sharp decline in exports and our manpower acceptability in foreign countries is becoming difficult. No country can keep pace with the modern world if a significant proportion of its population is illiterate. It also affects every major sphere of national activity. The quality of politics, economy and cultural pursuits of a nation are in one way or the other related to the level of education of its people.
It is the focus on education and largely promotion of science and technology that propelled developing nations like South Korea, China and Malaysia to progress after their independence. India too is surging ahead in education and many Indians are heading the world’s top multinationals like Google and Microsoft.
Despite many odds and notwithstanding our weaknesses, we can justifiably take pride in what we have achieved in the last 70 years, especially considering from where our journey started. We remain a highly resilient nation that has withstood foreign pressures and achieved stability and relative peace in a volatile region. We can be proud of having one of the finest professional armies that guarantees the integrity of our borders and excels in counter-insurgency operations. We are the only nuclear power among the Muslim world. More significantly, despite all its weaknesses we are one of the few democratic countries among the Muslim countries. Our cricketers bring laurels and make us look tall. We fall but we rise but we need to do a lot more in the next 70 years.