On its 64th birthday Pakistan has a unique opportunity to change policies that have been little short of disastrous so far. Such change will depend on several factors.
On its 64th birthday Pakistan has a unique opportunity to change policies that have been little short of disastrous so far. Such change will depend on several factors: willingness of the ruling elites to admit that these policies are unsustainable; abandon the extravagant lifestyle that has widened the gap between them and the teeming masses; and, that the US is not a friend of Pakistan. This last would also put an end to over-dependence on Washington and the culture of entitlement that pervades in elite circles.
Another debate in Pakistan also needs to be addressed: the secular elites blaming the religious sector for all the problems.
Let us identify what is wrong in Pakistan. At the political level it is hostage to a greedy class of feudal and industrial lords that have traditionally either wormed or bought their way into power. They pay no taxes; are corrupt and indulge in nepotism. The feudal-industrialists in turn are beholden to the over-bearing military that consumes the bulk of state resources in the name of defending the “national interest” — a euphemism for protecting their own privileges. This has distorted economic policies to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. Socially, Pakistan is deeply fractured along provincial, ethnic and sectarian lines. The country is burning at both ends. In the northwest, the army is attacking its own people to appease the US; the south is gripped by ethnic warfare. Those in-between suffer daily threats of suicide bombings, power blackouts, robberies and other crimes. The state is virtually non-existent; it provides little or no protection to the people. Its only function seems to be to torment them in order to safeguard the undeserved privileges of the elites.
These are all warning signs that point toward the state’s total disintegration. This need not be the case but in order to save Pakistan, it must be brought back to the purpose for which it was created: to be an Islamic state. There was much euphoria when Pakistan came into existence on August 14, 1947. It happened to be the month of Ramadan, just like today. Charged with a spirit of sacrifice, Muslims yearned to live in a free and independent Islamic state. Millions of people were uprooted from their homes in one of the biggest exoduses ever witnessed in history.
Every state exists with a set of core values that it wishes to pursue. Pakistan’s raison d’etre was to be an Islamic state modeled on al-Khilafah al-Rashidah. Pakistan is anything but Islamic. The reason is simple. Those that led the Pakistan movement did not know what an Islamic state ought to look like; they were also not sincere about establishing one. Their sole purpose was to have a state in which they would be masters. The result has been a widening gap between the rulers and the ruled. This divide is so huge that should Pakistan be subjected to external military aggression, the masses would not come to the military’s aid. Without such support, it would be virtually impossible to defend the country. Armies do not fight merely with weapons; their true strength lies in the support they get from the people. It is such support that makes a society impregnable to external threats.
Another debate in Pakistan also needs to be addressed: the secular elites blaming the religious sector for all the problems. Religious elements may have contributed but they cannot be blamed for all the ills. The failure lies squarely with the secularists. It is their policies and decisions that have brought Pakistan to this sorry state. The failure of the religious establishment is that they have allowed themselves to be used by the secularists to advance a selfish agenda. For Pakistan to extract itself from the vortex of destruction, the religious establishment must assert itself by providing sincere leadership to the people. This will not emerge from the political swamp in which the Islamic political parties currently operate. There may be some hope in the Jama‘at-e Islami but it must first make a clean break from the corrupt electoral system. Nothing short of an Islamic revolution would lay the foundations of a truly Islamic state.
There is immense potential in Pakistan. It must be harnessed but time is running out. The people must stop looking for a messiah; they must take the destiny in their own hands if they are serious about saving the country. Time and history wait for no one. There are many predatory powers waiting to pick up the pieces should Pakistan disintegrate. Continuing with current policies will only hasten that day. It must be avoided at all costs.
Are the masses willing to rise to the occasion?
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought