Mudassir Saeed Laghari |
Recently, former military dictator Pervaiz Musharraf made headlines. In an interview with BBC on Aug 2, he lauded the rules of former military dictators, saying,” Dictators set the country right…….(and) military rule always brought progress to Pakistan”. Of course, he lied. But there is another trumped-up story far terrible, told also by a former and the country’s first military dictator – Ayub Khan.
Implying in a way as if he was an experienced statesman, Ayub Khan once discredited the institution of democracy in Pakistan. Before his impaired judgment, democracy was a luxury that Pakistan could hardly afford. Of course, he lied too. Democracy has never been a luxury for Pakistan: given the country’s socio-political and economic dynamics and its geopolitical sitting in a zone largely spotted with diverging and confrontational wires of global power politics, democracy has always been an imperative and an indispensable need of the people of Pakistan.
The major issue for Pakistan is not about the kinds of threats it faces or whether the majority of its people are poor and impoverished but whether its people have the required institutional guarantees
Pakistan is largely a multilingual, multi-ethnic and multicultural country. The interplay of all these forces makes it culturally rich and diverse. With the exception of some religious minorities, the majority of the population is linked to their religion — Islam. Apart from their common religion, the links that are associated with common history and language are very weak and very often even missing among Pakistanis.
The culture of Pakistani ethnic groups have been greatly influenced by many of its neighbors, such as being part of the Indian subcontinent, many aspects of its culture, from foods to dresses and from artifacts to handicrafts and cuisines, present a stark resemblance to that of the other side of the Indo-Pakistan border.
On the same parameters, the culture of Pashtuns also is immensely linked historically and emotionally to their ethnic counterparts in Afghanistan. Similarly, the Shiites, which forms a large part of Pakistan’s society and the Baloch – one of the most prominent ethnic communities – have many cultural linkages and bases of identification with the people of Iran.
Why did Pakistan fail to boost efficiency so critical to its survival? Why there is an alarming level of disconnect between its military and economic might? What were the factors that made Pakistan deviate?
Language is the major basis of ethnicity in Pakistan. The languages claimed as mother tongue include Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Seraiki, Kashmiri, Brahui, Hindko and Pothwari. Each of the country’s principal languages has a strong regional focus. The linguistic divide is so strong that even the provinces are named after the major ethnic group.
From here emerges a great challenge for Pakistan: preserving this cultural diversity and turning it into a factor for national unity. However, so far, all the cultural differences and variations generated systemic fault lines and, on time and occasions, have been instrumental in impeding the process of formation of a single distinct cultural entity. Resultantly, unity remains delusional.
Here it seems needless to mention that the loyalty of our successive military dictators to their own pockets and power and their insensitiveness to ethnic fault lines played leading role in fragmentation of society and creating cultural particularism.
Outwardly, Pakistan is a giant state. Counting it in its geopolitical and strategic terms, Pakistan can be regarded as one of the pivotal states of the world. Pakistan holds an impressive geography. So impressive that even its significance in the region and beyond is counted mostly not because of what it has achieved or acquired but because where it is located. Its area stretches from the Arabian sea in the south to Greater Himalayas in the northeast where its borders meet the Middle Kingdom – China. To its west lies Afghanistan – known as the graveyard of empires – and Iran and in the east, it borders India.
Its borders with other neighbors are protected, seemingly, by natural barriers but historically the presence of mountainous passes have always served as great highways for military invasions and commercial inroads
In the center, to the eastward and south, of the country lies great plain areas of Punjab which extends into Sindh. This distinct geographical feature serves as a great pull factor for peoples, goods, and money. The plain is irrigated by a massive system of canal water originating from Indus Basin that is consisted of mighty Indus river and its several tributaries.
The plain breaks in the south in Sindh at the Thar desert. The south reach of the country is made up of an extended coastline on the Arabian Sea, one of the world’s busiest bodies of water. The coastline along with its deep hot water ports marks another area of geographic distinction that pushes together the trade, economic and industrial activities – resultantly Karachi becoming the most populous metropolis of Pakistan.
Given Pakistan’s violent history of partition from India, and its location along with great arteries of regional conquest and commerce, the heart of Pakistan’s problem has always been the same: insecurity. Along with sprawling deserts of Cholistan and Thar and a rugged topography marked with high mountains on some places, the country also shares a large plain area with India.
The plain breaks in the south in Sindh at the Thar desert. The south reach of the country is made up of an extended coastline on the Arabian Sea, one of the world’s busiest bodies of water
It’s major centers of population, communication and irrigation are present within the close range of Indian army’s watch. Its borders with other neighbors are protected, seemingly, by natural barriers but historically the presence of mountainous passes have always served as great highways for military invasions and commercial inroads. Moreover, there is another important factor that adds insecurity to the country: its shape, which is truncated. Pakistan thus lacks strategic depth.
Being part of South Asia, sharing a reasonably long border with China and located at the junction of Central Asia and the Middle East expose Pakistan to several vulnerabilities, thus leaving it with no other choice but to remain extremely active. In simple and plain terms, it means that the only choice Pakistan has got is to remain intensely watchful and hyper-efficient. In little elaborate terms, it also means that Pakistan has to compete (economically) with everyone at every time.
However, historically it neither remained completely watchful nor efficient. Moreover, as Pakistan continues to grow old in years, what endures with time is an unceasing perpetuation of a severe disconnect between its economic and military developments.
The languages claimed as mother tongue include Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Seraiki, Kashmiri, Brahui, Hindko and Pothwari. Each of the country’s principal languages has a strong regional focus
Hence, the questions: Why did Pakistan fail to boost efficiency so critical to its survival? Why there is an alarming level of disconnect between its military and economic might? What were the factors that made Pakistan deviate? And so on.
For trade, communication, and technological developments, Pakistan is a perfect place – and from these activities thus the generation and accumulation of wealth. However, the reverse is apparent in Pakistan.
But it isn’t as much of a surprise. Mix features that serve as bedrocks for development and prosperity with its history of violent political disruptions and Pakistan become what it is today: barely surviving and that too with a marked degree of violence and intolerance.
As it has been said earlier, democracy has never been a luxury for Pakistan. It has always been the country’s political, economic and strategic imperative.
The interplay of all these forces makes it culturally rich and diverse. With the exception of some religious minorities, the majority of the population is linked to their religion – Islam
Pakistan needs a class of vigorous, free commoners and only democracy can ensure it. Democracy extends political liberty towards civilians that in turn leads to expansion of personal freedoms. Herein emerge the necessity and the importance of the institutional apparatus of democracy. Without this formal and mature machinery of democratic statecraft, personal freedoms to individuals can never be guaranteed.
The major issue for Pakistan is not about the kinds of threats it faces or whether the majority of its people are poor and impoverished but whether its people have the required institutional guarantees toward freedom and dignity. If yes, the society of Pakistan will become the most prolific and useful.
Mudassir Saeed Laghari is a freelance columnist. He has contributed several pieces to various magazines, especially to Lahore-based Jahangir’s World Times. He also teaches international affairs and contemporary politics. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.