Our society and state are not in good shape. At the state level, we have the issues of corruption, apathy, stealing and robbery that have seeped into society at various levels, ranging from the secular liberal sections to the purely religious ones. When the state and those in authority show little respect for the law and public interest, ethical values alone cannot keep society honest.
Pakistan confronts major problems from militant groups, which kill fellow citizens based on ethnic, sectarian and religious differences, on a daily basis, from one corner of the country to another. This is not something normal or regular; it is the pathology of a weak, if not a failed society. Militant groups in big cities, rural areas and the tribal hinterland roam around with impunity and strike at will, at times and places of their own choosing. Sectarian groups continue to produce and distribute hate material and promote intolerance and extremist ideas in society. The state authorities, the ruling elite and state institutions, including the judicial system at the district level, where trials are supposed to take place, show no grit against individuals accused of murder and other terrorist acts. Again, these are some of the troubling symptoms of a failed state.
The above brief is known at the popular level — actually at all levels of our society. What is the way out? Some like Imran Khan argue for political change, and by that he means the political replacement of the ruling group from the current lot to the one that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf will provide. The two current, mainstream ruling parties and their allies also want reforms but they would like to place their own political interest before the interests of the public and society. Not that they are against positive change, but they would rather pursue it through better governance than any radical transformation of the culture of power and politics. This is something that Imran promises. But then, in a democracy, you may wish for things to happen but they do not happen until you win the hearts and minds of the people. The big question is, are the people of Pakistan ready for major changes — reject the current ruling groups or opt for those who have an appealing agenda but have light footprints or none, in the constituencies where they reside.
Both prescriptions for recovering Pakistan are outmoded, irrelevant and simply address the question of power first, change later. Any change from above, through any instrument of policy, may work but its effects will be superficial and temporary. We need a big social change at the grassroots level through education for all children.
Pakistan needs what Malala Yousufzai has stood for — education of girls. What a dream! Nobody should underestimate the power of this dream. The West changed, and changed rapidly by accepting that girls’ education is as important as those of boys and finally by accepting that every child must receive an education. Pakistan will begin to change within a few years in terms of its internal social dynamics and its external image as a moderate, progressive society if we decide today that no child will be left out of school.
Facing such an extraordinary malaise of society and state, we will need the hard power of the law and the soft power of education, specifically, education that opens up our minds, makes us reflect and develops our critical thinking. The extremism that we face in more than one form — ethnic, political and religious — has roots in ignorance, weak rule of law and the decline of the state’s capacity to deal with this ill.
There is a lot of work for Pakistan to do if it wants to stand up again and walk on the road to recovery, progress and prosperity. The journey must begin with compulsory, generously-funded education for all Pakistani children. Only this will brighten the future of Pakistan; all other efforts will have little or no effect.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2012.