Imagine a country where 55 per cent of people have no access to sanitation services and where half the population is deprived of clean drinking water, takes pride in deadly nuclear warheads and diverts all energies to protect them! Nothing defines the continued paranoia and insecurity of a state than its nuclear capability above everything else. The truth is that Pakistan’s post-colonial state has exhibited one permanent trait: its utter failure to serve public interest.
The good news on this Independence Day is that the federal government has finally initiated reforms to integrate the people of federally administered tribal areas (Fata) in mainstream Pakistan. It took 64 years for this to happen. However, ‘citizenship’ remains denied to several communities in the country. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and in several parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochsitan lack full citizenship rights under the Constitution. Similarly, religious minorities face exclusion and in some cases suffer brazen persecution.
Mourning the state of Pakistan is also a cliché. Each year, August 14 generates a plethora of empty rhetoric by the ruling classes and corresponding cynicism by the shrinking intelligentsia. Civilian and military rulers have had their share in creating the mess, which has led to the construction of global myths such as ‘failed’, ‘failing’, and ‘imploding’ state. In all fairness, Pakistan’s resilient people, their kinship networks and their social capital have allowed life to go on. We need to introspect if the Pakistan Project has delivered for the ‘common’ man in whose name all politics is engineered and policies are drafted.
It is also a matter of record that Jinnah did not want a theocratic state and his repeated pronouncements between 1947-48 confirm this. From the 1949 Objectives Resolution to the takeover of several districts by the Taliban in 2009, religious and sectarian ideologies have acquired immense power. The state has conveniently exploited religious passions and its alliance with Saudia Arabia since the 1970s has led to acceptability of a pernicious ideology, which undermines the essential pluralism of South Asian Islam.
In 2011, Pakistan appears to be a country battling for its survival. There are omnipotent non-state actors operating in every nook and corner of the country threatening to annihilate the state. Our armed forces are engaged in yet another damaging war as a frontline ally of the United States. The civilian institutions are weak and in dire need of reform; and basic services such as security are not available to most. Democracy remains as fragile as ever; and there are daily predictions of how the current democratic dispensation will not last for long.
All the recipes for reform and change are well known. There is no dearth of well-written policy frameworks but the creaky state machinery and the capture of top institutions by powerful vested interests hamper any progress. There is simply no alternative to strengthening Pakistan’s democratic institutions and letting the system cleanse itself over time. We need to formally say goodbye to all military-technocratic solutions for they have failed to deliver in the past decades. The young population of Pakistan wants to participate in national affairs. Pakistan needs to prioritise economic growth, human development and social justice as the national agenda. Only civilians can achieve the objectives of resetting our national priorities and changing the direction of a paranoid national security state towards a progressive and prosperous Pakistan. One can only hope that they rise to the challenge.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.