There was a time when August 14 was a moment of optimistic assessment. One set aside the hurly-burly of political discord to focus on the objectives of the state and dwell on the prospects of self-correction and progress. All that is now, at the very least, quite hard to do for most of us. By and large, it must be said that the Pakistani mind has submitted to a pessimistic view of the state of Pakistan. Even editorials in the Urdu press have begun to praise India for holding on to democracy while Pakistan stumbles. Today the state has dwindled and the Pakistani mind is as subject to disorder as society itself. So where does one even begin to think of progress?
One runs the risk of joining this orgy of pessimism unless one thinks within the Third World paradigm and outside the box of pan-Islamic alarmism about what the world is doing to Muslims. Pakistan was never rated a least developed country (LDC) and was better placed to hit the ‘take-off’ stage than many countries in Africa and Latin America and even in the non-oil-producing Islamic world. And now in 2011, it seems to be close to a failing post-colonial state, the kind that seems to be abundant in parts of sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East.
What irks one even more is that South Asia, like Southeast Asia, is no longer the post-colonial debacle it used to be when India was the big producer of poverty with low growth rates and Pakistan the shining success with an average GDP growth rate of six percent. Today, India is a successful state despite its other Third World ailments and is taking along two other states — Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — out of the post-colonial trough. Pakistan has chosen to isolate itself ideologically from the world and is busy fighting its intra-state wars while blaming the outside world for all its ills.
The disease of misdiagnosis is within us too. We go on blaming the US-India-Israel ‘cabal’ for our — mostly homegrown — terrorism. Yes, America was involved in funding and supplying the mujahideen with weapons of all kinds to fight the Soviets and yes America left us in the lurch, but what did we do after that? Did we not carry on with the same policy and did we not try and use these warriors for our own fanciful dreams of ‘strategic depth’ beyond our western border? Did we not send many of them eastward, across the Line of Control, in accordance with another fanciful — and most dangerously flawed — idea, that of making a thousand cuts on India to bleed it dry?
And we did not learn. When Osama bin Laden, the world’s deadliest terrorist, with the blood of thousands of innocent people on his hands, was caught in a heavily militarised city near the federal capital, we didn’t even bother asking the right questions. Yes, American helicopters flew in from across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, almost 200 kilometres, apparently undetected, to land in Abbottabad, But instead of asking why and how Osama could have been hiding in that city for so many years, we instead started beating our chests at our lost sovereignty. Clearly, we don’t understand that in many parts of Fata, our sovereignty has been reduced to the main road, and that the US or any other foreign power has little to do with this.
Now, with the Americans about to yet again leave the region, we think that the Taliban will become our friends and everything will be hunky-dory once the Yankees are gone. We think this even as evidence, post-PNS Mehran, suggests that our military institutions have elements with sympathies to al Qaeda and the Taliban and that they seem to be helping the militants in their attacks on the government and on military installations. The world is offering good advice but we will not listen, creating myths that are believed only in Pakistan, like that of dozens of Indian consulates operating in Afghanistan.
It is not only America we rail against. We also rail against the IMF, though we seem to have no qualms about taking billions in loans from it, or from other multilateral lending institutions or states, including America. Of course, the simple logic that if we were all to pay our share of taxes, the state perhaps might not need so much money from donors or lenders, is clearly lost on us. So, it seems, most of us think that the economy is a mere distraction and that if we were to rid ourselves of foreign influence, all our troubles, economic included, would go away. Of late, this argument has also expanded to include alignment with China, as if we aren’t already allied with Beijing. Also, this ignores the reality that China is not about to get into a war with the US on any account, and that even with its arch-rival, India, it has a rapidly-growing trade and economic relationship.
Coming on to India, which is obviously the centrepiece of our foreign policy, many people consider themselves experts on it, and most of these can be seen on our television channels. Their advice is that Pakistan must not rest till its flag is hoisted on Delhi’s Red Fort. Of course, they don’t understand that the world has moved on and that those who were arch-enemies in the past are now solid trading partners. For these people, and one must say that they exist in India as well, the massive mutual benefits of increased trade and greater people-to-people exchanges are not worth moving an inch from the inflexible official position.
As for domestic politics, so not used to democracy have we become that a government about to complete its full term seems to be an aberration to many of us. Perhaps this is why there have been statements by public figures inviting the military to take over and restore order. For such people, one big source of concern seems to be that the ‘pain’ of democracy is not being cured by a military takeover this time around. And perhaps here lies the silver lining — an elected government is going to complete its full term in office, without being thrown out by the military.
Sixty-four years is a long enough time for a state to mature or at least for it to solidly place a footing on the road to progress. It’s a pity that we qualify on neither of these two fronts.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2011.