Pakistan in a changing world

Published: February 2, 2015
The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The writer is a former caretaker finance minister and served as vice-president at the World Bank

The Muslim world, of which Pakistan is a part, is in a state of considerable turmoil. While there are some declines in the rates of fertility in recent years, the past high levels have left these countries with very young populations. About a billion Muslims live in this expanse of geographic space. Their median age is 22 years, which means that 500 million people in these countries are below that age. The youth is restive; the young people feel that they are excluded from both the political and economic systems. Their aspirations are not being satisfied.

It is from this perspective that we should look at the four massive people’s movements in the Western part of the world of Islam. The first was the Arab Spring of 2011, followed by the movement in Turkey that demanded that Prime Minister (now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan must govern without dispensing with democratic norms that had been the process of governance in the country for decades. Egypt was the scene of the third mass movement when the democratically-elected government, headed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi, began to disregard one of the more important aspirations of the country’s youth. They wanted a political system that would be inclusive and not exclude those who did not believe in the ideological orientation of the new governing elite — the Muslim Brotherhood.

Pakistan was the scene of the fourth mass movement in the Muslim world. This was the one launched first, jointly by Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri, and later led only by the former. Once again, the young formed the vanguard and demanded what the other youth in other countries had wanted. Like the Arabs, and the Turks, the Pakistani youth also wanted a system of governance that accommodated them and their aspirations. What gave traction to the movement led by Imran and his party was the assertion that the elections held in May 2013 that brought to power the governments led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in Islamabad and Lahore were not fair and honest. Imran’s demands have evolved overtime. After demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his focus had shifted to the constitution of a commission of inquiry to probe how fair the May 2013 elections were, as well as the reform of the election system. He has, in other words, moved from demanding a change of personnel at the helm of affairs to a reform of the system.

There is a good reason why a large number of people bought this argument and were prepared to tolerate the discomfort that was entailed by participation in the dharnas. They were convinced that the system of governance put in place by the elections of May 2013 had not produced the results they wanted. The perception that policymaking is dominated by a narrow elite, many of whose members are drawn from the ruling family has grown. This, in other words, is not an inclusive system but one that is highly exclusive. Being exclusive, it is not producing the results that the youth wanted when they participated with noticeable enthusiasm in the elections of May 2013.

What do the youth want that the government has not been able to deliver? Of the several things that should be counted among the most important aspirations of the youth, five are of particular importance: 1) The youth want an educational system that can prepare them for jobs in the modern sectors of the economy. Their preference would be to work in the services provided by private enterprise; 2) They want employment in the urban parts of the economy; 3) They want a reasonable amount of equality in the distribution of incomes and assets; 4) They want a government that is reasonably free of corruption. And they want a country in which they live to have the respect of the international community.

They don’t believe that these five things have been met by the government that currently holds the reins of power. The feeling exists in other parts of the Muslim world as well. For as long as this is the case, the youth will remain restive.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 2nd,  2015.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Tahir
    Feb 2, 2015 - 4:52AM

    Why shouldn’t be the 2010 mass uprisings in Kashmir and Ivory Coast not included in the Muslim World? Are they not part or the idea of ‘Muslim World’ is not well developed yet among Pakistani intellectuals?


  • wonderer
    Feb 2, 2015 - 9:44AM

    The ease, with which we use terms like “Muslim world”, “World of Islam” or “Muslim community”, in a very casual way, is indicative of what is wrong with us and why we are not considered a part of the civilised world community. We seem to take pride in being different, but still desire to be included by others in their technological and financial advancement. We want to use everything without any contribution by us. That is illogical, and will never happen.

    Just imagine what a mess it will be if there are as many “worlds” as there are religions – everyone with his own exclusive world. We need to become like the rest of humanity of we want to be accepted and respected. Otherwise we might as well shift lock-stock and barrel to some other planet.

    We shall be better off if we embrace humanity instead of shunning all others because, remember there is only ONE world.


  • Toba Alu
    Feb 2, 2015 - 10:48AM

    I agree with the author’s five conclusions. Nevertheless a more sophisticated analysis is required to disentangle relations between poverty, median age, education, religion and many other factors. Beyond doubt, although with exceptions, a low median age correlates well with the level of poverty (the world over). Poverty however, is the end result of many factors, including low education, with many interdependencies complicating the analysis. Reza Aslan is always going nuts when someone uses the generic term Muslims. Nevertheless, majority Muslim countries can be grouped in such a way that religion can be identified as an important (or less important) impediment to economic growth. To mind comes the unused potential of women, rejection of the modern results of science (evolution), the belief that God will take care of you, that the afterlife is long and more important than life on earth and many other believes. The author (in contrast with Reza Aslan) rightly assumes that certain beliefs have certain consequences. But not all Muslims share all the same beliefs.


  • Tousif Latif
    Feb 2, 2015 - 10:50AM

    The writer has wisely acknowleged the fact that whereever the Muslims are ruling a state there is a deep unfathomable chasm and conflict between the street and the elite.This lack of harmony can cause unimaginable chaos and turmoil in these states.But unfortunately elite is not ready to change for the better and to make the existing order more inclusive pluralistic and democratic.Recommend

  • Jabba
    Feb 2, 2015 - 3:11PM

    Muslims are ill-equipped to thrive in the modern world. There are too many restrictions placed on them that makes them unable to compete.


  • Yo2Da2
    Feb 2, 2015 - 6:53PM

    @Tahir: This concept of the “Muslim World” serves to isolate Muslims from the real world of diversity and alienates it from the world’s more than 6 billion people and most of the world’s developed or advanced developing countries. The execrable and violent mindset of the one in five Muslims who hew to the violent and reactionary version of Islam is what the non-Muslim world sees and stereotypes all the 1.6 billion Muslims. The medieval religious chauvinism (which preached that Islam, “the best and last word of God” and thus all other religions (even Judaism and Christianity) were inferior or false and Allah had ordered they had to be converted) has seen better days and is increasingly incompatible with the modern world of openness, rationality, democracy and world awash with fruits of science, technology, knowledge, and capitalism. The spirit of exploration and inquiry motivates modern people into asking questions and seeking answers into everything conceivable subject, including obscure religious myths and histories that continue to poison mankind. Have your heard of Hindus referring to the “Hindu World”? Jews to the “Jewish World”? Even for Christians, the erstwhile “Christendom” has been out of fashion for at least a couple of centuries. It is time to discard this useless and exclusionary mindset of the “Muslim World” and let the healing breezes of liberal, democratic, rational, and freedom’s values liberate and heal you from a very long and cold winter of ruthless, benighted dictatorships and ideologies so you can join the rest of the world. (For the stubborn and ignorant extremist Sharia-loving, people-hating Islamists, there is always the prison of the Caliphate in the deserts of Araby. The rest of the sane world will enthusiastically ensure they are kept there.)


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