In Pakistan self-preservation takes precedence over loyalty to the nation
Many today will be looking back at the two fateful days in our history that share a common date – March 23rd. The first of these was in 1940 on which the Lahore Resolution was adopted, calling for the formation of a separate state for Muslims in the Subcontinent. The second was in 1956 when the Dominion of Pakistan became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with the passage of our first Constitution.
The past is all well and good. And much will be made of it today. But the questions that we really need to be asking, as the years go by and this day comes and goes, concern the future. What will it hold for Pakistan? Will our benighted people see the light of day? Will we overcome the many challenges that we face to become a nation where justice, equality and merit become the guiding principles applied without discrimination to all of our people?
The answers must be in the affirmative.
There is no other choice.
Either we do what is necessary to make our future radically different to our past. Or we continue to descend until what people in the aviation business call ‘controlled flight into terrain’.
Deciding what needs to be done depends on knowing what has gone wrong. Here, there will be little disagreement. Pakistan’s problem since inception has been that the people we elect to power, whenever we’ve had the chance to do that, are those least capable of running the country. They are feudal landlords, or descendants of long departed holy men, or are simply local toughs. They are able to get elected because history, culture and circumstances have enabled them to have a coercive influence on the electorate. People do not want to vote for them but have to for fear of severe retribution.
This is what must change – we must elect into our assemblies the best of our people not the worst. Unless we do this, ‘controlled flight into terrain’ is only a matter of time.
But how to do it?
Start with land reform. India did this early; starting in 1948, a series of laws effectively ended feudalism. Intermediaries were abolished, tenancy reforms were made, a ceiling on land holdings was placed, and land appropriated from feudals was distributed to the poor. By 1955, India had broken free of the feudal yoke imposed by the British. And this is why India is a strong and now flourishing democracy.
Why did this not happen in Pakistan? Because the one man who had the status and power – Mohammad Ali Jinnah – died early. Jawaharlal Nehru, by contrast, arguably the only man with similar status and power in India, lived long enough to push through these fundamental changes.
Congress, long before the British left the Subcontinent, had committed to land reform. There are those who argue that this is the reason why the feudal lords in the area that would be Pakistan supported Jinnah. It was not their love of Islam, or their belief that Muslims deserved a separate state. They knew that had India not been divided at independence, they would have lost their lands. So they bet on Jinnah. It was a bet that paid off. And in the end, this single factor is what achieved Pakistan.
Conspiracy theorists still doubt that Jinnah died a natural death. They wonder why, for example, did his ambulance break down the day he died on its way from Karachi airport to the city? And why did it take two hours as he waited in stifling heat for another one to arrive?
Had he lived, there is little doubt that he would have done exactly what Nehru did in India in terms of land reforms. And we, here in Pakistan, would have been free of the shackles of feudalism that have today brought us to its knees.
This is history. Land reforms remain an imperative. But who will make them happen? Several military dictators – Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq, and most recently Pervez Musharraf – had the opportunity to do it. But they did not. Self-preservation took precedence over loyalty to the nation.
It is also clear that those who now sit in our assemblies will not commit collective suicide by doing away with the very means that allow them to control the country and its resources.
There are no easy answers. As poverty and unemployment push the majority of Pakistanis to desperation and hopelessness, there is talk of revolution as a possible panacea. But revolutions, once unleashed, are unpredictable beasts. Nations can be destroyed just as easily as they can be reformed. Witness what is happening in parts of the Middle East.
The only hope for a structured and controlled change is that a party or a group of parties with a declared agenda of land reform miraculously manages to muster a majority in parliament and push through the needed reforms.
Next is education. One of the reasons why the vast majority of voters cannot break free of their slave masters is illiteracy. And the slave masters, realising that this is their ticket to power, are not interested in educating their serfs. In rural Sindh, for example, there are countless government school buildings appropriated by the landlords for use as personal residences, or worse, as stables. Meanwhile, 25 million Pakistani children – more than the entire population of Australia – do not go to school. This is not unconscionable. It is criminal. And those responsible, those who sit in our assemblies, should be in jail for this offence against humanity.
And finally, there is the issue of population growth. Data from the World Bank suggests that Pakistan has a population growth rate of about two per cent per year. If this persists, our population will double to about 400 million people by the year 2050. Remember that in 1970, we, here in the then West Pakistan, were 40 million. If existing resources and infrastructure are failing to support today’s population of about 200 million, imagine the nightmare that awaits us as the decades roll by.
Pakistan today faces many serious problems. But at some level, all of our problems stem from a single root cause – the quality, or rather lack thereof, of the people who sit in our assemblies. They are people without vision or conscience or competence. Interested only in their own self-preservation and enrichment, they do not see, and if they see, they do not care about the threats and challenges that face us as a nation. Nor do they feel for the near unbearable suffering endured by the vast majority of Pakistanis as they go about their daily lives.
Let’s be clear. So long as these people, or people of their ilk, sit in our assemblies, there is no hope for Pakistan. We must, one way or the other, throw them out and replace them with people of competence, integrity, and decency. Then, and only then, will we be able to ensure that when March 23rd comes around in years to come, there will still be a country on the map of the world called Pakistan.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.