Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rays of hope in Pakistan

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 7-2-08

Rays of hope in Pakistan

In February 1977 a very lively election campaign was going on in Pakistan. We had a democratic government with real power while most of the third world was under dictatorships and military takeover in Pakistan appeared out of question when an American comic commented upon seeing Pakistani faces “I believe Pakistanis are having general elections. Lets see which general they elect this time”. Within months his prediction came true and a General packed up democracy in Pakistan, which got entangled in a web of problems getting deeper and deeper with every effort trying to solve them.

The situation has worsened so much that the world media now is only flashing bad news about Pakistan and doubts regarding its future are being voiced everywhere. There is terrorism, lawlessness, constitution is routinely abrogated, extremism, weak state institutions, jailed judges of the supreme court and many other problems pertaining to economy, politics and law and order. Current events are so grim that we can’t decide whether to watch 6 o’clock news and not be able to eat or the 10 o’clock news and not be able to sleep. All these paint a very bleak picture about the future of Pakistan and prophets of doom are working full time making their pessimistic predictions. Despite the fact that these problems do actually exist we have enough of signals to he hopeful and optimistic about its future. In these times of desperation and despair there are clear indications that Pakistan will not only survive but also overcome its problems and flourish and prosper.

Before enumerating the signs of hope let me remind the readers that the apparent situation can many times be terribly misleading like East Asia of the mid sixties. China then was going through a great upheaval in the name of cultural revolution, Indonesians were busy killing more than a million of their country fellows, Vietnam was fighting a catastrophic war against the worlds greatest power, Malay peninsula was dividing politically and Philippines was being robbed by a military dictator Marcos. The situation sounded absolutely hopeless and the prophets of doom were predicting further disasters. I am not aware of anyone envisaging hope then but the world saw that within 10-15 years this region became a region of tigers and now it is heading towards being the hub of world economy and politics. It overcame all its problems and stared running on the path of progress. Miracles do happen but only if the people work hard enough to make them happen. Pakistan is on that stage and we might be just knocking the doors of peace and prosperity but we have to win a few battles first, the foremost being the battle for democracy.

The biggest sign of optimism is that the level of awareness has improved enormously among the Pakistanis and an average person is much better informed than many residents of the first world. Nations who are not aware of their actual heroes and villains are doomed as the Pakistanis were when many actually hoped for good coming out of military dictators. Significant if not substantial segment of population considered the constitution breaking generals their deliverers and the elected officials the villains. Religious political leaders were revered and fighting foreign wars was considered good and patriotic thing to do. This made situation much easy for the imperialists and their local partners, the unscrupulous generals, to exploit and mess up everything including our most cherished heritage of being the only democratic Islamic country. Now all the current and old supporters and facilitators of dictators are on the run everywhere and supporting dictatorships has become socially unacceptable.

A bit of comparison with the past clarifies the difference. When Gen Zia ruthlessly hanged Bhutto after a dubious trial, the reaction was a fraction of what we saw after BBs tragic assassination. Bhutto's assassination, or maybe we should call cold-blooded legal murder, was celebrated by many but BBs was condoled by all without exception. This despite the fact that in spite of BBs stature, Bhutto was still a greater leader, tells a lot about the progress of our collective wisdom and awareness. Our courts repeatedly yielded to the dictators who always extracted their much-needed legitimacy from them but now they are resisting. Scores of judges refused to legitimize the extra constitutional acts and are paying dearly for their beliefs. This very mature, dignified, bold and graceful behavior was unimaginable an year ago.

Our judiciary is not alone in this tirade as it is being fully supported by the legal community and the civil society comprising of doctors, academics, engineers and people from all segments of society specially the media. Only yesterday I had the privilege of attending a meeting of civil society activists belonging to the socioeconomic class that was always blamed for its apathy and indifference towards national issues. These people are now willing to leave their comfortable surroundings to struggle for civil rights in a military dominated country fully aware of the risks involved for collective good. We see people young and octogenarians alike, struggling on streets and getting beaten who very well could have been beneficiaries of the dictatorships. This has acquired proportions where it has become nearly impossible to find someone talking favorably for the current dictator. Our civil society has certainly come a long way in realizing its national obligations.

Pakistanis were raised with a few myths crafted to serve the interests of some at the expense of the nation. The most damaging myth was that an enemy nation existed in the neighborhood justifying funneling of most national resources towards buying of arms neglecting the people. Then they were told that Russia is their enemy and wants to break Pakistan to reach the warm waters and it must be fought. Another established myth talked about an effective Islamic world and the Pakistan army being the army of this Islamic world. Then another popular myth was that bombs and weapons made a country strong so it was perfectly patriotic to make people suffer to get more lethal bombs. Fortunately all these destructory myths have been adequately exposed and hardly anyone is ready to buy them any more. This might have removed the most serious impediment to progress.

To succeed in any contest correct analysis of the rival is important and we can easily see major cracks in the ranks of undemocratic forces of Pakistan. Ambitious law and oath breaking generals could previously count on the unquestioned support of the bureaucracy. They also had a host of religious and other political parties fighting with to outdo each other in supporting them. Then the worst came from the judiciary whose support also went with the generals at the expense of the nation. Due to different reasons these unholy alliances are either totally broken down or are in shambles. This break in the oppressive forces has certainly weakened the undemocratic forces making the struggle for democracy and rights easier for the Pakistanis.

Then the biggest hope for Pakistan’s future lies in its very talented exceptional people. These are the people who survived the most testing times in Pakistan and despite all the problems kept the country going against all odds. They could endure the worst kind of dictators and bigots and unlike the Arab dictatorships never gave in and kept on resisting. Whenever these brilliant incomparable Pakistanis got an opportunity they performed miracles weather in the field of sports, banking or building bombs. The top squash professionals were astonished to see the state of squash courts here and the number of top players we produced. Whenever these gifted people went abroad they always excelled despite the obvious deficiencies our criminal neglect of HRD imparts. We have all the reasons to be proud of them. The recent unfortunate developments like the close relations of our PM and Edhi being humiliated abroad has nearly shut the door closing the options to migrate forcing them to improve their own country. Now the options are straightforward; you can always buy an expensive ticket and get embarrassed in countries at your own expense or improve Pakistan. The choice is all too obvious.

To recount a few other blessings we have wonderful fertile land, rivers, seasons, mountains and everything a nation can wish making it potentially an affluent and desirable country. On top of all this its special strategic position puts it in a very advantageous position. By supplying energy to India from the Middle East or central Asia through its land Pakistan can earn more than what Egypt is earning from the Suez Canal. But wait a minute it can be used other way too. India, the second largest country and one of the fastest growing economies of the world needs a land route for supplying goods to the new oil rich central Asian states. And for this also it needs Pakistan, which can earn enormous income by taking advantage of its peculiar geography. Not many nations can be luckier. Fortunately this thought is spreading and support for fighting foreign wars for peanuts has nearly ended. Pakistan will never play a willing dispensable pawn again.

Despite these very hopeful signs everything will not be easy as the local beneficiaries of the rotten system or the foreign benefactors using Pakistan for peanuts would certainly resist. Although we have sufficiently learnt the importance of democracy and institutions, awareness of our criminal neglect of human resource appears to be inadequate. With the condition of education and health in Pakistan and the allocation of resources it might be time for the Pakistanis to make HRD their first priority after democracy. For this, extreme steps like major shift of resources might be needed. We must give a decent opportunity to our people to compete in this world which won’t be possible without educating them well. All this can never be achieved without empowering our people by establishing true democracy because military dominated democracies only further complicate matters. Our dictators have systematically destroyed our political parties which have been unable to lead democratic movements. This inability forced the civil society in the lead role somewhat like the Palestinian intifada but still the political parties must rise and play their role.

Pakistanis will have to keep on struggling until they achieve the desired results. Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without patience, labor and disappointment and we will need them too. This transition towards democracy and empowerment of people might be painful but it has to be endured. Only Pakistanis can fight and win this struggle for Pakistan as no one else can do it for them. They have to win, as they don’t have options.

So we see there is hope for Pakistan and lots of it. Hope, the most desirable phenomenon, sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible. Hope is the anchor of the soul, the stimulus to action and incentive to achievement. You can’t live on hope alone nor can you live without it. We might be well advised to listen to the pessimists to correctly assess our foes but being Muslims we should not lose hope. We must keep on struggling. Our destination is around the corner as we have successfully endured very tough times while maintaining our sanity and even humor. We have survived insurmountable hardships of many wars and now we will not let our will to survive get dented by a few local and foreign pessimists. Proud Pakistanis! Keep on struggling. Allah will help you in this noble endeavor of yours. No power in the world can deny these highly talented exceptional people their demands if they are sufficiently serious about them. Let us continue with our struggle for democracy and make Pakistan what it deserves to be; a peaceful and prosperous country..

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