Can Pakistan learn from Belgium?

Published: May 4, 2013

Is Pakistan the only country in the world that is facing sectarian violence in today’s world? PHOTO: AFP

Is Pakistan the only country in the world that is facing sectarian violence in today’s world? Can we expect Pakistan to overcome it in the coming years? With a huge population, widespread poverty and various non-state actors, it may take Pakistan many years to fight this menace but it is not impossible to take this challenge head-on.

We have the example of Belgium before us, which resolved this problem successfully.

Belgium – a small but ethnically diverse country in the heart of Europe consisting of French, German and Dutch-speaking population – took over four centuries to learn the lesson of peaceful coexistence.

With a population of just 11 million and a small land mass, Belgium is 26 times smaller than Pakistan. Its deputy head of mission in Pakistan, Dr Stephane Mund, recently delivered a lecture at Area Study Centre for Europe at the University of Karachi.

In his address, he said that his country has triumphed over not only sectarian conflicts that existed between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries, but also over recent ethnic and language issues.

“Until recently, we had ethnic and language issues but we decided to listen to each other,” said Mund.

“Difference of opinion does not mean that you kill each other. We learnt that only dialogue can resolve issues.”

Belgium was the battleground of Europe for centuries as it had no natural protection from its big neighbouring countries. For centuries, armies of almost every big power of Europe have fought on its land for resources and power.

Being a small country, it always relied on active trade with its neighbours – something which contributed to its economic growth.

Today, it is among the top 10 trading nations of the world with most of its trade occurring with its neighbouring countries. Here is another lesson for Pakistan: whatever differences you have with your neighbours, keep your lines of trade open with them.

There are no two opinions that Europe took centuries to overcome sectarian violence but at least it systematically tried to achieve peace.

Regardless of the bloody history of Western Europe, the fact of the matter is that it has not witnessed a war in the last six decades – when it decided to end wars and violence in the continent after World War II.

Read more by Farhan here

Farhan Zaheer

Farhan Zaheer

A reporter on the business desk of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Brandsynario

    Unity is the one thing that can lead any nation to success and Pakistani people need to understand the differences and respect them rather than hurting each other.. Only than we can emerge as a Successful NationRecommend

  • Fahad Raza

    If it takes centuries for Belgium to overcome its sectarian violence; sorry, Pakistan can’t take those anger management classes. No body is denying the will to tackle these Issues, one sure step is deweaponization of Pakistan as a whole, then put an end to protocol culture and most important writ and rule of law. Where if you kill a man for religious animosity or sectarian animosity swift execution after the duo process no plea bargains.
    Belgium took centuries as this blog states. Pakistan should take maximum 2 years if not 3. Recommend

  • Parvez

    The differences between the two countries is so vast that even attempting to make a comparison just comes across as wrong.
    Question : Can Pakistan learn from Belgium ?
    Answer : Of course. As we stand today Pakistan can learn from 95 % of the countries in the world. The moot point is, that do we want to learn ?

  • Raza

    The question should be “can Belgium learn from Pakistan”. We are an Islamic country.Recommend

  • Yuri Kondratyuk

    How can peace be achieved if everyone thinks he alone is pure and everybody else is an infidel?Recommend

  • Anand

    Time to time there are articles telling pakistan need to learn from this country or that country. Basically saying folks, Pakistan or I think anybody need not necessarily an another person or country or whatever to learn something, if you want to learn there is a whole range of things, which starts from the self of you, your’s realisation of your own mistakes, what the time has thrown all these years on you as a history and tried to teach you. The first thing is you want to learn sanning your unnecessary pride and prejudices, you must have continuous desire to learn and accept that change is the rule of nature, you go against this rule on your own peril.Recommend

  • Anand

    @Fahad Raza:
    You are spot on friends, the relevancy of your comments are sooooooooo true.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    fo Pete’s sake why choose Belgium as a model? Belgium has no legitamcy to be a country other than it has a King! Farhan, you said it yourself, it has th population made up of French, Gemans an Dutch. The county for months had no effective Govrnment. It is not the question of language but the productivity. The french speaking valons are lazy and foul, whereas the German speaking are hard working and productive. The central Government system ensures equal shaing though balancing among the provinces and this year after year has caused resentment among them.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rajeev Nidumolu

    This blog is misleading as the cultural and ethnic divisions have made Belgium ungovernable with frequent change of governments . It is a nation were two communities live in segregation isolated from each other,
    The only lesson to learn from Belgium is that even rich educated societies are not immune from virus of ethnic and linguistic separatism.
    For more information the article from Guardian newspaper quoted below gives the true picture of affairs in Belgium
    The language divide at the heart of a split that is tearing Belgium apart
    Belgium doesn’t exist, only Flanders and Wallonia as Dutch and French communites live apart. By Ian Traynor in Brussels

    “Belgium has a population of 10.5 million, split into the Dutch-speaking Flemings who make up 58% of the population and live mainly in the north, and the southern French-speaking Walloons who make up 31% of the population. The next most common language is German, spoken by about 1%.Language is the fundamental flaw at the core of Belgium’s existential crisis, taking on the role that race, religion, or ethnicity play in other conflict-riven societies. The country operates on the basis of linguistic apartheid, which infects everything from public libraries to local and regional government, the education system, the political parties, national television, the newspapers, even football teams.”Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Belgium’s parliament took out a whole day to ban the Niqab for Muslim women. You know how many Muslims were there? around 200 something. So less that they could be counted. Yeah offcourse we should learn from them. A country which was facing economic problems took out a dayto ban the Niqab. WOW!Recommend

  • Ali

    Please! Don’t keep your hopes too high. Pakistan has been a failed state from it’s infancy and is definitely doomed to destruction. The kind of cultural and racial diversity and hatred based on their differences we have here can NEVER allow for peaceful coexistence. I used the word “racial” here because the nationalistic differences are treated by the people themselves as good as racial. Take the example of Sindhis and Punjabis and the social conflict between them.
    Religion also plays a huge part here. Islam has hardline fundamentalist principles that do too well to usurp the rights of minorities (that includes sectarian minorities). It’s true no matter how fiercely people may deny it. Recommend

  • Milind

    I started reading it in the hope that the author has uncovered a silver bullet to achieve this unity from the Belgium experience. However the article has no such prescriptions.

    Basically its a no-brainer, reiterated over and over – Adopt a constitution separating the Church/Mosque and the State., relegate religion to the background and let it be a private affair of the citizen.

    If Pakistan (or for that matter any Muslim country) can achieve the separation of mosque and the state it will suceed… Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Only if people would just study the concept of an Islamic State there would be no such debate as separating the Church/Mosque and the State. Where in Pakistan is the STATE run by ISLAM. Is there zero interest economy?NO. Are theives punished by cuting their hand? NO. Is there segregation between men and women? NO. Pakistan is not Islamic. It’s problems are not because of Islam. Look again please . we say we are the “Islamic” Republic of Pakistan. But we’re not.Recommend

  • p r sharma

    @Raza: “The question should be “can Belgium learn from Pakistan”. We are an Islamic country.”
    Mr. Raza , The statement gives me an impression like that — Islamic country doesn’t learn from others” ( Others should follow them) and to me this appears to be true. But will Pakistan learn from mistakes committed by herself ? Recommend

  • p r sharma

    @Raza: – “The question should be “can Belgium learn from Pakistan”. We are an Islamic country.”
    Mr. Raza _ Your advice to Belgium is absolutely right.Recommend

  • Mehdi

    @p r sharma:

    Mr Sharma, now you can see why Pakistanis can’t improve. In US I don’t entertain meeting a pakistani for people like Raza. They think that if they are Muslim they are all knowing and learned.I am a Shia Muslim and I deplore this kind of Muslims. Recommend

  • Katarina

    There are around 900 000 muslims in Belgium.

  • Ahmed


    I said the number of Muslims who wore the burqa. Please read this.

    It is 270. 270 women wear hte burqa in Belgium. Still it was a NATIONAL issue. Yet still in a SECULAR STATE there is religious freedom.Recommend

  • Katarina

    The burqa ban does not have anything with religious freedom. Everyone is allowed to practise their religion. Requiring women to cover their faces is very discriminatory and should not be allowed in a free country.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    There are no model countries or Nations for Pakistan to follow!! The majority of the people In your country are believers. They are what the scriptures say they are, they can be what the sciptures say they can be; they need not fear nor take the role of being victims. They cannot be intimidated, though they have allies and enemies who reckon differently. They are the majority and need not take the role of the minority. They are the most powerful force when in unity, tey must carry out constitutional reforms as well as in education sector and the judiciary.
    Their economic model should reflect the compassion for Ummah, based on the union of Provinces which reflects solidarity and transfer union, each province to organise its resources independently with a loose central Government. Pakistan could look at social market economy as is pacticed in Germany and review how Switzerland allow several languages in different cantons.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • senmc

    Its not the country which fails.. its the people who fails their country.Pakistan is not a failed state,it still have many humble and gentle ppl like Abdul Sattar Edhi,intellectuals like Asad Umar and a just like Choudary Ifthekhar Ahmed.Things which fails the state r ppl like u who cant do anything nor can encourage any one to do but as an ordinary person i can make a difference…i can hope and encourage others for a future to come.If it wasn’t the God’s will this state wud never have been founded and offence but we shud not blame our failure on our state or on our believes Recommend

  • senmc

    @Rex Minor:

    True…only if the country learns to exploit its resources properly,i believe one can thrive even in the great storms.Pakistan should stand on its feet and system should be based on equity.Let anything come if we stand united we cud make our way out of distress and disasters.. Recommend