On their 70th Independence Day, how are India and Pakistan viewed by the world? A special report by Rifan Ahmed Khan
Like the neighbour that it has learnt to hate perennially, and engage in “me-too” jostling, Pakistan also observed its 70th year or independence this month. While poverty, illiteracy, access to healthcare and infrastructure remain common problems for both, there is a world of a difference in the way the world sees India as a democracy that is moving ahead, a leader on many fronts of progress. By comparison, Pakistan is seen as a terror hub, a client state first of the West and now shifting to China, hence an unreliable partner and a nation unable to get out of the quagmire, much of it being of its own making.
Rather than compare the two, it is more appropriate here to see how some of Pakistan’s own perceptive writers have to say to get some idea of where it stands. It is interesting to see their happiness at the independence being seriously tampered by what they see around them and on the ground in Pakistan.
Writer-journalist Irfan Husain wrote in Dawn newspaper on the eve of his country’s independence:
“The perpetual state of hostility with India over Kashmir has ensured a huge and continuous drain on our resources. And there has been the immeasurable cost caused by our powerful army’s constant meddling in politics. This has skewed and stunted democratic institutions, and given birth to the Islamist militancy used by our establishment to further its regional agenda. And this, in turn, has led to a shredded national reputation abroad, and the loss of thousands of lives to home-based terrorism. “In search of a national identity, Pakistan has looked west to the parched deserts of Saudi Arabia for cultural inspiration. Disregarding our rich South Asian heritage, there have been plans to impose Arabic on schoolchildren; the establishment of madrassas has been encouraged, often with Saudi funding.
“These multiple threads of enforced religiosity have produced an overarching environment where reason and rational thought are rejected as western inventions. To illustrate our backward trajectory, Hafiz Saeed — leader of the Jamaatud Dawa, and a man with a $10m bounty on his head posted by the US government for his alleged history of armed militancy — is setting up a political party to contest the next elections. Unsurprisingly, he is using a new version of Mr Jinnah’s party, the Muslim League, as a vehicle for his political ambitions.
“The growing fundamentalism in Pakistan is the result of the inescapable logic of demanding a state in the name of religion: sooner or later, it will come to dominate the social and political landscape.
“A dearth of vision, imagination and political courage has defined the leadership we have been cursed with for most of the post-Partition years. Mr Jinnah and his colleagues and contemporaries must be turning in their graves at the thought of the pygmies who succeeded them. Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan, Asif Zardari and Tahirul Qadri are only some of the political stars on our horizon, though the latter is more like an asteroid who makes an annual appearance to sow further discord.”
To quote another Pakistani, eminent editor Najam Sethi of The Friday Times who combines his observations about the independence with events that took place on its eve, namely, the judicial ouster of an elected prime minister and the turmoil it has caused:
“Far from the prospect of a “Pakistani spring” on the wings of the latest troika of judiciary, military and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (of opposition leader Imran Khan), the “awakening” portends a deepening of the crisis with fearful longer term consequences. Consider.
“A British Council survey three years ago indicated the direction of “change” in Pakistan. The country is increasingly “young” and “urban”. Half its citizens are under 20 and over 65 percent are under 30. The population has trebled in fifty years. Another 14 million youth will be eligible to vote in 2018.
“Over 94 percent of the youth think the country is headed in the “wrong” direction. Over 80 per cent think their economic position will not improve. Across all divides, pessimism is the defining trait of this next generation “youth bulge”. Violence stalks everyday life. Over 70 percent think life is not safer for Pakistanis compared to the past – Pakistan ranks 149th of 158 countries in the Global Peace Index.
“The survey reveals that the greatest source of anxiety for the youth is not terrorism but insecurity of jobs and justice and economic inflation. Only 10 per cent have full time contracted employment.
“The report notes that approval rates are lowest for political parties and parliaments. Other institutions – religious, media, military and judiciary – have high approval rates. Less than 30 percent think “democracy” can deliver development and employment whereas nearly 70 percent think military rule and shariah can be better solutions. Nearly 70 percent are conservative/religious. A majority of those with mobile phone access to social media are politicised and want to vote because they think they can “change” the system. Significantly, over 8o percent of countries in which over 60 percent of the population is under 30 years of age like Pakistan are prone to violence and civil conflict because the “system” isn’t delivering expectations of social and economic well-being.
“Nearly 15 million youngsters, most of whom are conservative, unemployed and angry, will be added to the voting list in 2018. If they veer to the religio-fascist right at the instigation of unelected state institutions whose own record of delivering jobs or justice is abysmal, the country will inch closer to renewed violence, instability and separatism. But if they are accommodated within the “corrupt” democratic system, Pakistan still has a chance of reinventing a new democracy that is better able to cope with the demands for state security and economic welfare.
“It is, of course, true that political parties and their dynastic leaders are no less culpable for the dysfunctional state of Pakistan’s economy and democracy than military coup-makers and their judicial legitmizers. However, what is interesting in the current quagmire is the political contest between an old party of the conservative-right that was midwifed by the military and judiciary but is now shifting to the centre and trying to become autonomous of both state institutions and a new party of the same leanings and origins that is swinging further right on the basis of the youth bulge and dependence on the same state institutions.
“Under the circumstances, the current political crisis that is pegged to “corruption” and regime change is actually about the direction in which Pakistan is headed in a contest between imperfectly democratic, centrist but corrupt political regimes and equally corrupt but violent, religio-fascist autocracies that are a recipe for anarchy and state breakdown as in the Middle East.”
Does more need to be said about Pakistan after these comments?