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News & Analysis

Pakistan’s Unending Dilemma

Zafar Bangash

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

Pakistan faces deep political and economic uncertainty that has inflicted immense suffering on ordinary people. While never stable throughout its 76-year history, the illegal overthrow of Imran Khan’s government on April 09, 2022 further exacerbated the political and economic crises in Pakistan.

The February 8 elections (dubbed selection by many) have only deepened the crisis. Through massive rigging, the people’s mandate was stolen in the most brazen manner. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for the long-oppressed people.

What are the root causes of Pakistan’s never-ending crises? To answer this question, one must go back to the struggle for Pakistan’s independence. The demand for independence was based on the premise that it would be a state for the Muslims of the subcontinent where the laws of Islam would be implemented. Those who led the Pakistan movement were not sincere in their pronouncements. For them, Islam was merely a slogan to garner support of the Muslim masses.

Betrayal of their pledge to the Muslim masses, and more importantly, their open violation of Allah’s commands was bound to have severe repercussions. By violating their covenant with Allah, most leaders of the Pakistan movement, barring a few exceptions, were clearly acting as munafiqs.

The English word hypocrite does not come close to describing the degrading category that constitutes a munafiq. Pakistan means the “land of the pure”. It would more accurate to call it Munafiqistan.

The other weakness in the Pakistan movement was that it was led by people based mainly in Hindu-majority areas of India. They faced the wrath of the Hindu zealots on a daily basis. The feudal lords of Punjab, Sind and North West Frontier Province (now renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) had played no part in the independence movement. They faced no threat from the Hindus; they were already living in Muslim majority provinces. When they realized that Pakistan would become a reality, these feudal lords immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

The only exception was the people of East Bengal that became East Pakistan after independence and is now Bangladesh. It was these people who played a key role in the struggle for independence.

Once Pakistan emerged on the world map, leaders of the Pakistan movement migrated to the new state of Pakistan but millions of Muslims were left behind in India. The few million who migrated to the new state, suffered horrific attacks by marauding Hindu and Sikh gangs.

The Muslim League leadership that arrived in Pakistan had no constituency in the new state. This is what led to the start of intrigues. The army, feudal lords and bureaucrats (also imported from India) launched their conspiratorial politics that have continued to this day.

Since the army was the most organized force, it quickly emerged on top and has continued to bedevil Pakistani politics ever since, stymying its development and growth while plundering state resources. In must be borne in mind that Muslim officers in the British Indian army had played no role in the independence struggle. Yet they came to demand—nay grabbed—the lion’s share of state resources.

The political and economic mess that Pakistan finds itself in today is the direct result of the conspiratorial politics of the last 76 years. Greedy, power-hungry generals, feudal lords and bureaucrats have played havoc with the lives of ordinary people. Despite its vast natural resources and a huge agricultural base, Pakistan teeters on the brink.

A begging bowl mindset has taken hold of the elite. Handouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international donors are considered a great achievement of whatever set of thieves and clowns are in power.

Pakistan’s external debt today stands at $128 billion. Interest on this debt amounting to $28 billion is due in 2024. Nobody has the faintest clue where such huge sums will come from.

What happened to the $128 billion borrowed over several decades? Most of this wealth has been pilfered by the thieves, whether in uniform or civvies—and stashed in foreign banks. Neither the generals, politicians or judges can explain how they acquired millions of dollars’ worth of properties in such places as Britain, Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.

So, what is the elites’ solution to these mounting problems? At home, they print more rupees thus spurring inflation leading to skyrocketing prices. Their second recourse is to borrow more money from abroad to repay some of the interest on debt. External borrowing merely piles up more debt whose burden is borne by ordinary people. They are already being crushed by high prices. Poverty levels have nearly doubled in Pakistan since Imran Khan’s ouster in April 2022.

Over the last 30 years, two family-based parties—the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and the Bhutto-Zardari combine—took turns in office. In 2018, Imran Khan broke this vicious cycle. He did reasonably well as prime minister despite being new to the game. During his tenure, the economy improved remarkably. People’s trust in his government soared that was reflected in the huge foreign remittances flowing into the country. Above all, he insisted on pursuing an independent foreign policy.

This is what got him into the bad books of the army, but more seriously, the Americans who are the real masters of Pakistan. The US demanded Imran Khan’s ouster and the slavish generals obliged. Pakistan was thrown into turmoil.

The internal dimension of his troubles was that he wanted to go after the crooks and thieves, including the generals. What was considered the norm for decades was being challenged.

Let us look at some specifics. According to the UN Development Progress report (UNDP), the elite in Pakistan pilfer $17.4 billion annually. This grand theft has been provided legal cover. Thus, the generals, judges, feudal lords, bureaucrats etc draw enormous salaries but pay no taxes. Additionally, they are provided free houses, cars, electricity, petrol and servants.

They enjoy these privileges even after retirement. What have they done to deserve these favours? One cannot find another example of such grand larceny anywhere else in the world.

The Pakistani elite also display two contradictory traits simultaneously: superiority and inferiority complex. They show great contempt for ordinary people and their juniors at work, treating them as slaves.

Their inferiority complex emerges when dealing with foreigners, especially the rulers of western countries such as the US, Britain and Europe. Despite 76 years of ‘independence’ (most informed observers dismiss this claim as false), the Pakistani elite have not grown out of their slave mentality. Part of the reason is that they constantly need handouts from abroad. The other, equally important reason is that they have become accustomed to slavery.

Pakistan went under American tutelage immediately after its so-called independence. Instead of making a fresh start, they opted for continued slavery. America has traditionally operated through Pakistan’s military. It is the only organized force in the country; one phone call to the army head and whatever they need can be achieved. Why bother with quarrelsome politicians who have to debate issues in parliament?

Pakistan’s dilemma can be summed up thus: lack of political legitimacy and a rapacious elite whose overriding concern is to their own personal interests. With such a mindset, the prospects of Pakistan making progress are extremely limited.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 54, No. 2

Ramadan 22, 14452024-04-01

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