Men of straw as Jinnah’s successors

S Iftikhar Murshed

The Quaid-e-Azam believed that the emergence of Pakistan on Aug 14, 1947, was merely the end of the beginning of a long and hard struggle. Formidable challenges still lay ahead. The following day, during the inauguration of the Pakistan Broadcasting Service, his message to the nation was: “The creation of the new state has placed a tremendous responsibility on the citizens of Pakistan. It gives them the opportunity to demonstrate to the world how a nation containing many elements can live in peace and amity and work for the betterment of all its citizens, irrespective of cast or creed.”

This was wishful thinking. In the 64 years of its existence the country has repeatedly been destabilised by recurring crises and bled from self-inflicted wounds. In the mid-1970s, Zia Mohyeddin, the country’s only internationally renowned actor, commented wryly during a television appearance: “Pakistan must be the strongest country in the world. Everyone is trying to break it, but yet it doesn’t break.” But at no time during its short but turbulent history has the country faced graver challenges than it does now.

In his column last Sunday, Ghazi Salahuddin disclosed that the prime minister had had four rounds of consultations with opinion-makers, literati and academics to glean inputs for his address to the nation on Independence Day. This was a waste of time and effort because no amount of sugar-coating can mitigate the suffering of ordinary citizens. In a recent survey they identified inflation, terrorism and unemployment as the three main reasons for their misery. These interlocking grievances reinforce each other and are compounded by atrocious governance and corruption.

People for whom the grotesque reality of everyday existence is one of violence and economic deprivation do not need another prime ministerial Independence Day address. They deserve an unqualified apology and an explanation for all that they have had to endure. They do not want to be told again about the 18th Amendment to the constitution, the NFC Award, the Balochistan Package and other imagined achievements of the government. A number of questions must be answered.

For instance, why has the situation in Karachi been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that it has? Since January more than 800 people have been killed in the city, and this parallels the fatalities in the ongoing militancy in the tribal regions. The gruesome casualty count mounts each day.

Chaos in Karachi spells economic disaster for the country. This is elaborated by an analyst who cited an Asian Development Bank report which estimates that the city generates 20 percent of Pakistan’s GDP. Furthermore, a third of the nation’s large-scale manufacturing capacity is located in Karachi, and this includes 54 percent of its textile units and 45 percent of its sugar mills. In addition, the city accounts for 70 percent of Pakistan’s income tax and 65 percent of its sales tax.

There has been talk about the de-weaponisation of Karachi. But this is easier said than done. Television anchor and columnist Talat Hussain has revealed that an official count of illegal weapons places “the number at 20 million,” with “almost 5,000 documented killers” on the rampage. Senator Faisal Raza Abdi of the ruling PPP is said to have conceded that “most of them are politically protected.”

If this is correct, then the assumption that the turmoil was deliberately instigated is not entirely farfetched. How else does one explain the provocative statement of Zulfikar Mirza, the PPP’s senior minister in the Sindh government, which ignited the initial violence? How was MQM leader Altaf Hussain able to bring the mayhem to a sudden but temporary end from far away London? If one of the major reasons for the carnage was the replacement of the 2001 local bodies system by the commissionerates of the colonial era, then why was this farcical decision taken in the first place if it was to be reversed 28 days later?

What emerges is that it is the incurable power addiction among political leaders, whether they are in government or in the opposition, that has been the primary cause for the ruthless slaughter. Yet, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, would have us believe that many of the killings were instigated either by jilted paramours or jealous spouses! His fertile imagination also sees the involvement of a foreign hand behind the violence, as is evident from his claim that many of the weapons were of Israeli make.

In his address to the nation the prime minister should also explain why after more than six decades since independence, an increasing number of Pakistanis are sinking below the poverty line. A survey conducted this month by Oxfam shows that 26 percent of the population is undernourished. The situation is deteriorating rapidly and 57 percent of the respondents said that they could no longer afford the food that they did two years ago. Earlier this year, UNICEF equated malnutrition in Sindh after the 2010 floods to that in sub-Saharan Africa. A year after the deluge, more than 800,000 people still live in makeshift tents.

Last month the Planning Commission conceded that the government has been responsible for prolonging the economic recession. Because of the curtailment of the public sector development programme for the financial year 2010-11, investments fell to 3.3 percent of the GDP from 5.6 percent in 2006-7 and, resultantly, the growth rate plummeted to a paltry 2.4 percent, the lowest in South Asia.

As if this were not enough, tax evasion (61 percent of parliamentarians declared nil taxable incomes), corruption and chronic mismanagement of state-owned enterprises have cost the country dearly. Shahid Kardar, till recently governor of the State Bank, has disclosed that PIA, Pakistan Steel and the Railways alone are losing an astounding 10 million rupees every minute.

In the global prosperity ratings of the Dubai-based Legatum Institute, Pakistan ranks 109 out of 110 countries. Whereas the findings of the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute show that the country’s military spending through the last two decades has been a startling 4.33 percent of the GDP (the US spends 3.9 percent). In other words, one day’s expenditure on the armed forces is equivalent to the annual education budget and is half of what the government spends on development.

The government’s self-created fiscal crisis makes the recent US decision to put on hold $800 million in military assistance consequential. The angry reaction in Islamabad is that the shortfall will be defrayed from its own resources. But this is wishful thinking. With 28 percent of the budget earmarked for the armed forces (inclusive of pension liabilities) and a hefty 38 percent for debt rescheduling, there is no money to spare. Thus, conflict or even regional tensions are just not affordable and this should be factored in the formulation of the country’s foreign policy.

These grim, though undeniable facts, assail the mind as the country celebrates Independence Day. However the foremost threat that Pakistan faces is from terrorist outfits within its own borders. Till this scourge, which thrives on a distorted interpretation of Islamic tenets, is defeated there, can neither be progress nor prosperity. The first step is to overcome intolerance and bigotry.

In Jinnah’s Pakistan, religion had “nothing to do with the business of the state.” Significantly he took his oath of office as governor general of Pakistan under the Government of India Act, 1935, Article 298 of which affirmed that no citizen would “on grounds only of religion, place of birth, descent, colour... be ineligible for office.” Jinnah’s dream of a Pakistan where the rule of law and equality for all would always prevail faded after his death. Will the men of straw at the helm today be able to retrieve that vision?

The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly. Email: iftimurshed@