Pakistan came into being in 1947 as the first ideological state founded on the basis of religion (followed closely by Israel). Separated by 1,000 miles of an implacable foe’s territory, the common bond of Islam bringing different races and cultures from the two wings of the country together represented the finest experiment in nationhood of its kind. Full of hope of shaping a model Islamic state and led by one of the most gifted and charismatic leaders of his time, the people were emotionally charged with a new-found sense of nationalism. The patriotism reached its zenith during the 1965 war with India, symbolized by the widespread “Tashkent riots” that broke out throughout East Pakistan (but not in the West) in Jan 1966 to protest the accord with India!
Revered by Pakistanis as the Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah commanded widespread and unquestioned authority because of his honesty and integrity and because he meant what he said. The Quaid unfortunately died in 1948, leaving behind a horde of power hungry opportunists without his charisma and any bedrock support among the masses. Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination in October 1951 further eroded whatever was left of Muslim League’s (ML’s) power and status as a political entity. Using lies and subterfuge, crafty bureaucrats combined with unscrupulous politicians to acquire and wield absolute political and administrative power. The civil bureaucracy systematically tightened their grip on institutions of governance, including talking the politicians out of the powerful post of the Governor General (GG). Eventually they became far more powerful than the political class. With the passage of time, nationalism gave way to territorial nationalism, morphing thereafter into provincialism. Declaring Urdu the sole official language of the State for the sake of ‘unification’ caused resentment among the majority Bengalis and other linguistics minorities, giving impetus to Bengali nationalism.
A not so sane Ghulam Mohd was replaced as GG by Iskandar Mirza, thereafter GG Mirza took several years shuffling many govts before having the first Constitution framed in 1956. Iskandar Mirza conveniently assumed the Constitutional post as the new Republic’s first President. Abrogated by martial law in less than three years, military generals, senior bureaucrats and politicians continued fostering this fait accompli of exercising unbridled power. The only silver lining was the sustained development enacted by technocrats during Ayub’s military decade. Yahya’s Martial Law ensured the first general elections in 1970 after 23 years but overwhelming support for Awami League (AL) in East Pakistan was compounded by a series of blunders committed by the Yahya regime, advised and egged on by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) replacing the feudal elite. Pakistan ML as the ruling party in West Pakistan. A military crackdown only delayed the India-supported forcible secession of East Pakistan, this enduring tragedy of history created a blood cycle exploited since to the hilt by India.
Imposed from time to time, military rule ostensibly had altruistic motives but were really meant for selfish individual reasons of self-aggrandizement. Motivated personal interests in governance continued the downwards spiral. Only a privileged minority has been reaping the benefits of economic gains in terms of education, economic prosperity and political participation, the masses remaining deprived of the economic gains. Successive govts tried to establish their own favored systems and policies, this encouraged misuse of justice, blatant nepotism and corruption etc. Complications were accentuated by the different sects and varying interpretations thereof disfiguring our religion.
The roots of political corruption date back to the colonial period when the British promoted nepotism by rewarding lands and titles to their loyalists. Ours is the only “democracy” in the world where legislators control development funds at their discretion. Resisting any agriculture reforms the feudals ensure no awakening of the poor in terms of their rights by denying them necessities such as education, food and shelter. Feudalism prospered by manipulating the system. The resultant rural and urban divide in the electoral system ensures that only few major parties, feudal, dynastic, family-run and representative of a small ruling elite, continue to rule. With many of our top government functionaries involved in shady practices, corruption has now become institutionalized in Pakistan. With corruption’s nexus with organized crime providing the funds to fuel terrorism. Our version of “democracy” blatantly gives cover to criminals, who in turn provide the rulers the muscle to impose mafia-like rule in the name of democracy.
Considered the envy of the developing world in the Ayubian 60s, Pakistan is trapped in a web of illiteracy, rampant corruption, inflation, poor governance and terrorism. A succession of incompetent and corrupt leaders were given “democratic” camouflage by political lightweight opportunists to rule us. The absence of genuine democracy and political stability, rule of law and good governance has led to organized crime and terrorism creating governance mayhem. Despite the govt best efforts to stall the process, the Pakistan Army through the para-military Rangers have ensured peace returning to Karachi. As the horrific Quetta incident has shown, as long as our rulers play politics in implementing the “National Action Plan” (NAP), terrorism is not going away soon. With the type of protection our politicians get (and that also at State cost), why should they care?
The Quaid strongly believed that Pakistan would become “one of the greatest nations of the world,” what has his dream for Pakistan degenerated into? Why and how? Leaders like Mian Nawaz Sharif with undeniable majority in Punjab could have made a difference, but by following self-interested policies, choosing incompetents as aides and stifling electoral dissent he has cast doubt about his electoral mandate. With PM Sharif unwell, the coterie around him is only intermittently competent to rule in his name. Can morally bankrupt authority be exercised in the name of democracy?
Not an option, military rule is no substitute for democracy, but then how can this runaway corrupt system be corrected? Celebrating our 69th anniversary of Independence, serious soul searching must enquire as to why the political system failed to live up to the social and economic reality? What have we squandered, and why? Within a few years of 1947, we had replaced our foreign colonial rulers by a local colonial version of feudals. Our soldiers keep sacrificing their lives in lonely hilltops and valleys so that our leaders not only celebrate both our national and religious holidays in London and Dubai, mostly on the money looted from Pakistan, but also now hold Cabinet meetings abroad at state expense while we will continue living blissfully in delusion believing in the myth about our independence!
(The writer is a defense and security analyst).