Much of the news nowadays is bad. Pakistanis are leaving in great numbers; also fleeing the country is capital – as much as $25 million a day, while incoming foreign investment has been reduced to a trickle. Multinationals like Shell and Castrol plan to relocate their main offices from Karachi to Dubai; ICI has already packed up and left; and Citicorp’s presence is a fraction of what it was.
Major world airlines give Pakistan a wide berth and notwithstanding the lure of a good market are keeping their distance.
On developmental charts Pakistan features at the bottom of most national indices for moneys allocated to public health, education and social services.
As if that was not depressing enough, the latest PEW poll lists Pakistanis as the most disliked nation in the world. Even the Chinese think we stink; and among Muslim nations we are the least liked.
Nevertheless, the good news is that our malaise is not terminal. The economy will recover in due course; multi nationals will return at the first whiff of easy lucre and the homicidal maniacs that are bent on destabilising Pakistan, with the help of RAW and Karzai will be outed. Of all that I am confident.
Just as I am confident we are not destined to suffer crooked leaders endlessly or be ruled by sheep in sheep’s clothing for much longer. Going by the law of averages we should have had a good leader by now; and we may soon enough once the democracy-loving Kayani retires and Tahirul Qadri collects his hordes for another run on Islamabad.
But what is bothersome is the explosive interaction between an unruly, restless, hungry, superstitious and illiterate populace and their gluttonous, dull-witted and insecure rulers. That’s a lethal brew and it is that which may finally sink us.
The trouble began early in our existence when, instead of being preoccupied with solid, measurable, sensible reality and with men and things being as they are, we allowed our imaginations to stray too far. We debated endlessly whether sovereignty on earth belonged to man or God, forgetting that while everything must perforce belong to God, God left it for man – his vice regent on earth – to decide the political dispensation that suited him best. Instead, we hankered after the world of the rightly-guided caliphs and a community ruled by some oxymoronic ‘just despot’ and and went on and on about Pakistan being a bulwark of Islam, so much so that an irate King Farouk of Egypt turned to his chief of protocol, after being lectured on Islam by the first Pakistani ambassador to Egypt, and remarked, ‘I had no idea Islam came into existence on 14 August 1947’.
We failed to understand that the only way of surviving in our world is to beat the west at its own game – by going to school, working hard to acquire western skills and to master their methods and technology, like the Japanese did, and as the Turks did under Ataturk.
Instead we did the opposite. We pretended the west had little to teach us; and that religion-based values were really all that we should strive for. We thought cultivating those values and virtues would make us invincible. Of course, all they did, as history proved, was to make us the easy victims of our enemies.
And we still haven’t learnt the lesson perhaps because modernity is so frightening and disorientating. Hence, innocuous practices such as women driving cars, the population watching TV and girls going to school, etc, etc are considered ‘haram’ and are banned in the jihadist-controlled areas that are cropping up in Muslim lands as the self-defeating wars that have long plagued them intensify.
An equally unwelcome development since independence has been the transformation of the Muslim clergy in Pakistan from a hitherto benign, mostly spiritual, body of men to an assertively and abrasively temporal one. The mullah now exploits the hold of the mosque on the population to establish his spiritual hegemony. He rouses the populace, or keeps them docile, as suits his fancy. His presence may not amount to much politically but he wields considerable influence especially at times of stress.
Noticeably, the interlocutors chosen to negotiate with Hakeemullah Mehsud by our convent-educated interior minister were die-hard clerics. The interior minister clearly felt the peace process would benefit from the inclusion of clerics, whereas in the past giving clerics a leading role in important negotiations would not have occurred to a government. The Frontier government of yore, for example, when seeking a rapprochement with the Faqir of Ipi, left the ensuing discussions to be handled by the relevant political agent.
The new found prominence of the ‘religious’ figure in Pakistan is also the reason why Munawar Hassan received so much attention when he bestowed the status of shaheed on a mass murderer. Had Munawar Hassan not been prominent that way, few would have taken his remarks seriously. But because he is, he stands accused by many other clerics of treason or, at the very least, of aiding and providing succor and comfort to the enemy in the midst of a war. But, ironically, it is for the very same reason that he won’t find demonstrators outside his home threatening to burn it down and being worked up to do so by clerics.
Of course, one hopes no harm will befall Munawar Hassan and that he will learn to bridle his tongue, so that when the new TTP chief, Fazlullah bites the dust, perhaps at our hands, for a change, Munawar Hassan, if he’s still around, won’t make the same mistake.
But this article has not been inspired by what Munawar Hasan thinks God will make of Hakeemullah Mehsud’s life and the manner of his death. What prompted it was the feeling that, rather than fundamentally transform the country and the socio -political environment in which we lived under colonial rule, all that independence did for Pakistan was to bring to power another elite, as disinterested in achieving prosperity for ordinary folk and as keen to feather their own nests as the Mughals and the British had been.
In one respect it did something even worse. It brought to power a useless governing class – comprising the bureaucrat and the soldier as much as the politician – and their misrule made it possible for mullahs and semi-mullahs to instill illiberal concepts into the nation’s body politic and insist that they should be compulsorily followed, thereby destroying the philosophical basis of democracy, namely, the sovereignty of the individual.
It also made it impossible to solidify popular support for the cause of liberalism and modernism and for a progressive society.
That’s really why Pakistanis are fleeing, multi nationals and capital are leaving, investments are not trickling in and, by the looks of it, we are not winning the war. It is also the reason why the public and the leaders are squabbling and the mullah is coming into his own. We had our chance; perhaps we still have a last opportunity, although most feel we have blown it.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: [email protected]( Zafar Hilali )
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