Brazil attracted tourists from all over Europe for its triple ‘S’ appeal i.e., surfing, sun and sex. the world over, its carnivals were seen as synonymous with an extremely liberal society. Brazil was looked down upon as a country that offered cheap entertainment of all sorts; but not anymore. Their political elite are now struggling to rub off that image. The country is not cheap any more and doesn’t want to be known for the triple ‘S’. Today, it stands out as a mature democracy and is among the world’s ten largest roaring economies.
For us Pakistanis, Brazil also evokes some inescapable comparisons. Spread over 8.5 million square kilometres and home to the world’s largest forest reservoir, the Amazon, its transition into a mature democracy — from a country that suffered bouts of political instability, economic adversity and was plagued by brutal military dictatorships for decades — offers a remarkable success story. Brazil, too, won its independence from the Portuguese colonial rulers in 1822. It became a presidential republic in 1889, but full civilian rule returned to it in 1985, followed by the emergence of the federal republic in 1988, comprising 26 states.
Pakistan emerged from British colonial rule in 1947 and almost immediately sank into political cabals with landed aristocracy, which dominated the Pakistan Muslim League, leading a process that was laced with personal and inter-party feuds, thus paving the way for the military to step in. What began with General Ayub Khan, climaxed with General Ziaul Haq and ended with General Pervez Musharraf. All three introduced their own systems, primarily for self-perpetuation and guarding institutional interests.
On the contrary, in Brazil, General Ernesto Geisel laid the foundations of the present dispensation; he became president in 1974 and embarked on his project of re-democratisation. Geisel ended the military indiscipline that had plagued the country since 1889, as well as the torture of political prisoners, censorship of the press and finally dictatorship itself. The military regime continued under Geisel’s handpicked successor, General João Figueiredo, to complete the transition to full democracy.
What put Brazil on the path to economic growth and stability was the Plano Real (Royal or Real Plan) introduced by the former finance minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The peaceful transition of power to Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, who also won two terms in 2002 and 2006 respectively, underscored that Brazil had finally succeeded in achieving its long-sought political stability.
Pakistan’s misfortune, on the other hand, lay in personal greed, narrow-minded visions of democracy, conscious efforts to safeguard institutional interests and to put people in-charge of the economy, who had interests invested elsewhere.
What makes the two nations different is the way their leadership conceived the ‘nation-building project’. In Pakistan, the ruling elite — and foremost the military — raised the project on Islam and jihad. Through his cunning decree and game-plans, General Zia embedded his vision of development in Islam and jihad. The return to democracy in 1985 helped little in undoing his legacy of the Kashmir and Afghan jihad. Eventually the al Qaeda lapped up the jihadi zealots and their sociopolitical supporters within the society. The US used General Zia to mount the jihadi industry and then deployed General Musharraf to undo the consequences of that venture. The obvious consequence is the current debilitating security and economic crisis.
In Brazil, two generals — General Geisel and General Figueiredo — leaned on technocratic expertise and political wisdom to claw the country out of political instability and economic adversity. No Islam, no jihad. Pure secular national interest, solely routed politically and economically. And they did not renege on their promise of democratisation. Brazilians owe a lot of gratitude to the two generals for their current stability and growth. In contrast, Pakistanis owe their current political, economic and security crisis largely to two generals — General Zia and General Musharraf. They represented divisive forces within (Muslim League factions), while the Brazilian generals worked for unity.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2012.