We have witnessed decline, failures, and ineptitude of the ruling classes of Pakistan in the past couple of decades, but that is not the whole story. Rational and constructive self-critique is necessary for the self-evaluation of a society. It helps us know what our progress is, what we can achieve and why we are not doing well compared to our past record or to other nations at the same/comparable level of development. Such cold-blooded analysis can wrest our decline, and could help us chart a better course.
There are many factors, both internal and external, at play. For instance, one relates to the fact that two superpowers have occupied Afghanistan during the last three decades or so and have, as a result, shaped its state and society according to their vision. Internally, there is the issue of institutional imbalances, in particular between the civilians and the military. There is also the existence of a feudal mindset, which is driven by arrogance and a winner-takes-it-all attitude. Even with these problems, we have made tremendous progress, though lesser than our potential, and far lesser than we could imagine, given our human and natural resource factors. It is important that we celebrate our successes, build on them and change what is not working in the system by pragmatic and practical reasoning.
There needs to be a serious debate on the progress of Pakistan in every field of national life — from agriculture, industry to education. Progress in these areas will take us forward. It is remarkable that while our population has more than quadrupled, we export wheat, rice, cotton and sugar. And by some estimates, we are now the fifth-largest milk-producing country in the world. There have been periods of remarkable growth, but also slackness. There were times when our GNP and GDP growth rate were faster than that of India. Today, the reverse is true. The point is that we can rise and we can rebuild as we have tremendous potential. At the moment, it is a flawed vision of public policy on critical national issues, political polarisation and a climate of insecurity that our new enemy, terrorism, has imposed on us which is holding us back. It is crucial that the government provides direction and a sense of leadership to the nation.
Our failure, I believe, is neither collective nor so grave as to pull us down — the way some of the national and foreign experts tend to believe. No society can be judged solely through the performance of the government or its elite. Not always, and not on every issue, has the Pakistani elite or the government, now democratic in form if not entirely in substance, has failed. We blame our political leaders for many failings. Sometimes we overextend the limits or our freedom, but they have delivered on provincial autonomy and have restored the original spirit of the Constitution with remarkable consensus. And even in the face of the harshest of criticism from the media and public intellectuals, governments have not reacted with power or overt coercion the way they used to a couple of decades ago. This is no small progress compared to most of the Muslim nations struggling with dictators, monarchies and personalised rule in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Most important of all, it is the Pakistani spirit, the resilience of a Pakistani person and historic bonds of solidarity and pluralism that have kept our society moving forward. The bouts of power struggles and mismanagement of our elected leaders and public officials have often been frustrating, but haven’t destroyed the spirit. In private and societal spheres, our achievements are second to none. It is this sphere that we need to enlarge and empower to force the governments to do better. Democracy and its substance will grow with public pressure, vigilance and by moving the Pakistani spirit to the public sphere.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2011.