Perhaps a lot! All the conceivable and inconceivable ailments be it of any nature have afflicted us. The country has been in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) since its birth — those charged with the maintenance of the incubator, keep changing and; hence, the sickly child (State) remains prone to acquiring permanent disability or will have to have the skill and the will to live with the malady.
Our conscience to this tragedy is our daring witness. By abetment, we all contribute to the growing number, in all facets of the ills that afflict us.
Our afflictions are aplenty. They encompass the political, economic and social arenas. In each of these segments, we have failed to come out healthy and robust, despite the 75 years that lie behind us now.
Political instability has been the most stable and constant factor for us. The early 1950s saw the change of governments with such rapidity, that it is reported, Jawaharlal Nehru, in response to a question from a media person of why he does not hold talks over Kashmir with Pakistan, retorted, that every time I go to change my Sherwani (tunic), they change their government.
Our neighbour who got independence alongside us, became a republic in 1950; we struggled to write and agree upon our Constitution. With much ado and a whole lot of give and take, we came up with the first Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 1956.
Even before the relevant clauses were read and applied in the governance of the state, the legislature or even the judiciary, it was guillotined. The Constitution perished and got abrogated under the boots of the first-ever martial law in 1958.
The martial law and the basic (controlled) democracy co-existed in an environment of mistrust and disunity. This dispensation lasted till 1969.The eastern wing of the country had begun to get absolutely disenchanted with the policies evolving first in Karachi and then in Islamabad. This 10-year period saw some serious positive economic growth and was christened and celebrated as a “Decade of development”. Vainglory can blossom but lacks sustainability.
In this period, the presidential form of government was fully tested — it failed miserably. The economic setback caused by the 1965 war with India eroded the popularity of the president. Another martial law restored sanity by bringing an end to the social turmoil and civil unrest, which was created largely by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shaikh Mujeeb Ur Rahman and other little political minnows.
The second martial law supervised the breakup of the country. We lost a war. We lost East Pakistan. The inclination was to live in shame, then to die in honour.
At this juncture we were politically, financially, economically and socially bankrupted. We were then only a young 25-year-old country. Following this devastation, we saw the installation of a politically astute, brilliant orator and negotiator, a feudal turned die-hard democrat, ZAB, as the first-ever known in history, a civilian martial law administrator and president.
Just when there was hope that the democratic dispensation would last forever, given the fact that ZAB then was only 45 years or so old; then his chosen army chief became the source of his undoing.
A third martial law, darker and even more stringent followed. The country regressed by a few centuries at least on the plain and horizon of political thought. The Brutus (General Zia) to Caesar (ZAB) renegaded on his “solemn promise” to hold elections within 90 days. False tongue speaks no truth. Power had charm; hence, corrupted the general. Being foxy he used the religious card with great deceit than any political party could ever have imagined to do so. Muslims were being preached to be Muslims! The dark era lasted 11 years and only a divine intervention saw a return to democracy.
The period between 1988/99 was again a political circus — the sham democracy just like in the 1950s was played out to its fullest misuse. With the corruption reeking from every single pore of this land of the pure, we distributed sweets on the streets of Pakistan on the imposition of the fourth martial law.
The managed democracy prevailed till 2008 elections; since then, and till now, no government has completed its term barring the 2008/2013 period, where again the demons of corruption were ruling the roost. It is by degrees, men get corrupt, no man was ever born corrupt. In our land, poverty is not the mother of crime; but it is the rich and the loaded who put crime to shame. It; hence, serves as no wonder that a chief justice, while writing a judgement against a prime minister, quoted the famous lines from the movie, “behind every fortune there is a greater crime”. It is always greater crimes that go to protect the smaller ones.
Are we politically sick? Yes. We have the best brains that any country or society would yearn for, but we cannot and have not been able to arrive at any conclusion on what the political system suits us — our mental makeup as a society continues to be in disarray. We still debate between presidential and prime ministerial form of government and then end up having martial law after very brief interregnum of sham democracy. How come our neighbour, which is a larger country, has no such ailment? Ponder.
Except for the seven to eight years of the 1960s, we have been in a dismal economic state, since 1947. The growth in the economy does not compare well with the countries who almost around the same time as us, gained independence.
Are we short on economic planners? Yes. Collectively, we are a mess; individually we have brilliant minds. There has been a lack of consistency in the economic policies. Every incoming government undo the previous policies. The corruption laden minds frame self-serving economic policies. The people of this country are generally poor. Those who are rich and mighty can make no claims to morality in the conduct of business.
The Federal Board of Revenue does not give “tax holidays” but then the entire nation seems to be on a perpetual tax holiday. Revenue targets are consistently missed. The claims of enhanced revenue collection do not justify the embarrassingly low tax-to-GDP ratio. Little doers are always great braggers. Like every bird loves to hear itself so does our revenue collectors love to hear only about themselves.
The fiscal arrangements remain in disarray. Are we incompetent economists? Yes. Not so because, we have no skills but for the reasons of yielding to corruption of the politicians and the businessmen. After 75 years, we remain directionless — we have miserably failed between the two extreme economic systems — exploitative capitalism to selective socialism. Today, our economy is a spaghetti — cannot be unravelled.
The systematic destruction of the societal set up is a stark reality. Socialist slogans took away the standard of work ethics. Education has been on the back burner, as a non-priority area. The knowledge economy that is booming in the neighbourhood is a far cry for us. We take from Bill Gates, polio injections in aid; Modi negotiates for setting up more IT centres in India by Microsoft. That country sports over 22 institutes of technology of international repute and standing — how many do we have? Guess it all.
We have led ourselves to be suitably called the sick man of South Asia. So, what it is that ails us? Does this need an answer! We are morally, financially, economically, and socially exhausted — is it due to the lack of talent? The lack of human capital? The lack of enterprise? No. None of it. It is all about leadership and corruption. If these two are conjoined in the political dispensation, then the possibility of any economic development of the man on the street will remain a remote possibility.
We have had no leader with any economic foresight. Like many other developing nations we must admit that we have corruption — but they still have economic growth, we are struggling. Corruption manifests itself financially, morally and above all intellectually; unfortunately, it is now the mainstay of our society.
In view of the scribe, we are an arrogant nation — arrogance does not permit us to learn or make amends. Leadership is defined as “my way or the highway”. Good manners and ill communication do not ever make friends. If such leadership ends up in cells or on the gallows, it should not surprise any.
An attitude of general despondency hangs like a thick cloud over the hopes and ambitions of the people. Negativity appears to have taken permanent residency in our beings. We cannot see anything good or bright — now or in the future. With a government that believes austerity begins by switching the light at the end of the tunnel what can anyone expect! There is; hence, a wholesale market of sooth sayers, who run the shop of selling at discount the doomsday scenario.
Amazingly, we discuss and debate in public about the appointment of the chief of the army staff! Is there any country where such sensitive issues are discussed in print and electronic media. In fact, ask any ordinary Indian or even a Bangladeshi about who is your COAS, chief justice or the head of their intelligence agency — they will draw a blank face. Ask any common man here, he will not only mention the right names but also voice on who will succeed whom!
Till 1947, we were together as one people of the subcontinent with similar attitudes so what is it, that has made us so different today. Politicians’ interest in collusions with bureaucracy has brought us to this precipice.
Nations are built by leaders and policies. It is not severe necessity to have brilliant leaders but indeed it is a primary requirement that the leader must be honest and sincere. Credibility gaps can never be filled. For policymaking any country needs to have a solid, independent, and well-versed bureaucracy. Those who make it to the bureaucracy or civil service must arrive there as a result of meritocracy — none should be made a bureaucrat based on the recommendation or as a result of any bias like the quota system.
Bureaucracy assists elected governments, it is not to be used to undo politicians. A fairly healthy combination of honest and sincere politicians and bureaucrats are a guarantee for creating a successful nation — that it must be adequately backed by a fearless judiciary is a given thing. As a nation, we have done all that should not have been done. The consequences are before us.
Yet, we all live in hope.
(The writer is a freelance contributor)