Going Nowhere

by Imran Khan

As a cricketer I toured India several times between 1977 to 1989 and I felt that it was a country going nowhere, with its highly centralized and over-bureaucratized inefficient governance system. I had never seen such poverty anywhere in the world. The infrastructure was decaying and Delhi and Calcutta were so polluted that playing cricket there was not a pleasant experience.

Compared to India, Pakistan looked a developed country. Our economic growth rate and per capita income had been higher for the previous four decades. Though Pakistanis were crazy about Indian films, our television was far superior, and we would thrash them regularly at hockey, squash and cricket despite being seven times smaller. Not surprisingly, the Indians had a Pakistan complex.

In the last year my two visits to India have come as a bit of a shock. India has overtaken Pakistan in per capita income while its economy is growing robustly at 8%. Delhi is being cleaned up, while Bombay is one of the most expensive real estates in the world. Poverty is decreasing. But above all and what is most striking is the growing self-belief of Indians. The Pakistan complex is gone and the Indians see themselves as a future superpower, as, indeed, does the world. They view their future with optimism and hope.

India has achieved this remarkable turnabout due to the strengthening of their democratic institutions. The self-corrective mechanism inbuilt in democracy has led to the evolution of two vital institutions: the Election Commission and the Judiciary. The other great quality of democracy is its capacity of debate and consensus building. Hence, around a decade ago, the political parties came to a common economic policy consensus to open up the stagnant socialistic model that had existed since independence. This insulated the investors from the political process and paved the way for investment and growth.

Secondly, the weakening of the Congress party and the emergence of regional players allowed decentralization and devolution of power enabling provincial chief ministers to compete against each other for investment. It was this healthy competition that led to the emergence of Bangalore as a software-exporting city.

Additionally, and unlike Pakistan, India has no political uncertainty as a powerful independent judiciary and Election Commission have always ensured a smooth transfer of power. In this year’s election some 350 million people went to the polls, knowing that their vote mattered. Only three constituencies complained of irregularities and a sitting government gracefully conceded defeat.

In stark contrast, since the 90s Pakistan has been going around in circles and heading nowhere. Our institutions and our democracy are sadly in an advanced state of decay. According to the UN Human Development Index Pakistan has slipped 20 places to 142 behind Nepal (which had 1% literacy in 1947) and Bangladesh. During the 9/11 Commission hearings in the US Senate, it emerged that Pakistan’s state school structure had collapsed. According EFA (Educatio for All), Pakistan has not met any of its targets and is bottom of the pile along with sub-Saharan Africa. In my constituency, Mianwali, out of the 470 government schools, 20% exist only on paper (i.e. there is nothing on ground), while 50% are closed, as there are no teachers. What future does a country have which does not invest in its people while the tiny elite hogs all the country’s resources?

Additionally, while every country in the sub-continent has reduced its poverty, in Pakistan it is rising sharply – especially in the last few years. The governance system too is deteriorating as reflected by the finding of Transparency International; according to it corruption has gone up 20% in the last one year. And there is not much chance of governance improving when minister ships are not given on merit but dished out as political bribes. India, with its huge size has 26 federal ministers to Pakistan’s 136 army of ministers and those holding ministerial status.

The way things stand today there is little hope. We have a military dictatorship with a democratic façade propped up by its civilian collaborators. When a military dictator tries to gain political legitimacy he can only do so by destroying all state institutions – in the process doing far more damage than a straightforward dictatorship. Hence the constitution can only be mutilated through a pliant judiciary that endorses the doctrine of necessity. The Election Commission could only rig the elections to get the desired results by first installing a discredited election commissioner. When the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) is used for keeping crooked politicians in line and victimize the opponents, it means another institution bites the dust. The local government system too has been created to support the military dictator rather than devolve power to the grassroots. Not only has the system failed to empower the grassroots but it has also resulted in being far more corrupt and inefficient than the previous system. In India the governance system has improved considerably through a genuine devolution of power from the center to the provinces, to the districts and right down to the village level.

However, the greatest damage done to the country is when, to perpetuate military dictatorship the establishment chooses ‘controllables’ to fill the top slots in the country. Since the easiest to control are crooked politicians whose files are lying with NAB, they have been installed in the most important positions. Also controllable are those who are incompetent or who do not have any power base in the country. How can any country or even any institution work if such are the criteria of those running the show. Are we surprised today if there is a moral collapse and the message to the youth is that crime pays? No wonder the law and order situation is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

Perhaps the most damaging blow dealt to the country’s self-belief and self-esteem is the shameless way our leadership has abandoned its sovereignty and forced a reluctant nation to be co-opted in a phony and immoral war on terror. Since the days of the Cold War the US realized that it is much easier to control, pressurize and manipulate dictators to serve their interests rather than democracies. Hence, while lecturing the world on the merits of democracy the US has supported, amongst others, all four Pakistani military dictators. But even the US government must have been taken aback by the way the current military dictator obliged to fulfill every US wish. Hence the fundamental rights of Pakistani citizens were violated as they were picked up and handed over to the FBI without allowing them to appear in a court of law to prove their innocence. There were extra-judicial killings of others, while under US pressure our own soldiers and our own citizens are being killed in Waziristan every day in the so-called war on terror with far reaching adverse consequences for our federation. All this is being done under the Musharraf ‘no choice’ doctrine. The nation is being scared into submission and told that unless we bow to every US demand we will be ‘Tora Boraed’.

Moreover, to serve US interests and accept total subservience and loss of sovereignty, a new terminology has been invented to put to rest troubled consciences and moral outrage at the injustices being done against Muslims in Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and Kashmir. New terms like ‘Pakistan First’, ‘pragmatism’ and ‘enlightened moderation’ are being coined to make slavery more palatable. In its attempt to convince the West that we are a moderate country the regime is promoting the blind aping of western culture. Hence a modern Muslim is not who has an enlightened understanding of Islam like the Great Iqbal but who is a western clone. Both Raza Shah in Iran and Kemal Ataturk in Turkey tried such superficial attempts at modernity by forcing western clothes on their people. Both failed. Can a country ever modernize when there is no quest for knowledge and when its education system is decaying?

Since 9/11, through the servile behavior and fear-driven policy U-turns of our current leadership, national self-confidence has been badly shaken and is at its lowest ebb. In fact, the very reason for the creation of Pakistan is being questioned. A few days ago while visiting India the leader of a major coalition party in government rubbished the Two-Nation Theory and hence the reason for our existence by claiming that the partition of India in 1947 was a great injustice to the people of the sub-continent. Such is our state of demoralization today that even the custodians of our ‘geographical and ideological frontiers’ are silent at this outrage by a leader of the coalition cobbled together and patronized by them. India, on the other hand, fiercely protects its sovereignty and allows no interference by the US in its internal affairs. When some US official visits India they meet only their counterparts in rank, while in Pakistan they are received by President downwards and every official literally falls on his knees to pay his respects. Can a nation without a clear vision, self-esteem and self-belief have a future?

Our country is extremely viable and has great potential only if our establishment realizes that our future lies in strengthening our institutions and not by destroying them by manipulation to concentrate all powers in one man. Sadly, our establishment has learnt nothing from its past mistakes and is condemned to repeat them again and again. Hence, the opposition has a vital role to play. It should cast aside its differences and fight for the independence of the three vital state institutions; judiciary, election commission, and the NAB to pave the way for democracy, political stability, and economic progress in the country.

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