In 1947, Pakistan and India had roughly the same gross domestic product per capita, i.e. the average Pakistani was about as rich (or rather, as poor) as the average Indian. But with the end of British domination and the formation of a new country, this was an era of great ambition.
Alas, things did not work out as planned. Jinnah died a year into independence, a string of successive military defeats by India — including one which led to the loss of our Eastern half — and deep, corrosive political instability and corruption, plus an inability to even remotely deal with the deep structural problems the British never addressed (such as feudalism), have left Pakistan in a terrible fix. Our country is broken.
For the longest time, however, this hasn’t mattered becaus, as it was said to me many years ago, the most important thing is our national security. It’s true — perhaps after hundreds of years of foreign rule we have an excuse to be a little pathological about our security. But surely we should consider that no one in their right mind would want to annex Pakistan. Countries go to extreme lengths to keep our citizens out, the last thing they would seem to want to do is to invade us. Besides, what are they going to take?
Yet, our elite continues to trot out this argument time and time again, stuck in some sort of time-warp, a time when Pakistan could afford self-importance and lofty concerns about its safekeeping. The stark reality — that we have not only hit a brick wall but that we will continue to sink economically, socially, politically, and in practically every sphere of human activity — has been held off by the illusion of Pakistan’s need for protection.
I think I know what will get the attention of our elite. I accept that many people —perhaps the vast majority of our leaders — are only interested in self-enrichment. In Kenya, whenever a new government comes to power they use the refreshingly honest phrase ‘Now it’s our turn to eat’. But there surely must be some who are thinking of a Pakistan a few years from now, perhaps five, 10, or, even 20 years from now. And what will that Pakistan look like?
With some certainty one can predict that it will be a desperately poor country with a largely illiterate population. Its cities will continue to be overpopulated. A small minority will have access to drinking water and a working toilet. The country will continue to produce little art, possess little advanced technology, publish few books and perhaps will continue to have remotely flown toys police our backyards from the skies. It will have a reasonable sized military though, the ‘largest in the Muslim world’ perhaps.
This scenario isn’t going to be a wake-up call to action. But — and here’s the kicker — although Pakistan will continue to be as poor and as miserable a place as it is now, our neighbour India is becoming a dramatically different place altogether. Last year the average Indian made about $3,500 annually. The average Pakistani, $2,000. Ten years ago the disparity was reversed. Ten years from now the average Indian will be twice as rich as the average Pakistani and this gap is only going to widen in the decades and years to come.
India is racing toward economic and social advancement. Its population is becoming richer, more literate, more tech-savvy. And why is this happening? Because China’s awesome economic growth scares the living daylights out of India and this ensures that Indians are fixated by their economic growth in turn. Our former rival has put on running shoes and barely has enough time to check its rear view mirror to look at us, so focused is it on the Chinese panda.
Even though the Pakistan of the future will still be what it is now — and since our leaders can tolerate the present they will be perfectly willing to tolerate this future — what they and any proud, prickly and pathologically paranoid Pakistani might not be able to tolerate is turning up to a party to find out that your former neighbours who were once as poor and wretched as you now seem to have won the lottery. The sad fact is that unless we do something we will soon be alone in our misery and backwardness. Today’s India is not so much disinterested by Pakistan as it is embarrassed by its continued association with us. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published in the Express Tribune, May 16th, 2010.