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Friday, April 12, 2024

Unravelling the enigma of Pakistan

Pakistan has been dismembered a year ago. One-half, East Pakistan, has become an independent country called Bangladesh. The first quarter witnessed a virtual musical chair contest among self-serving bureaucrats and unpopular, incapable political leaders for a decade before the first military coup.

Pakistan is turning 75 this August. The apparently unnoticeable, small South Asian country has somehow ended up at the global center stage every now and then, often for the wrong reasons, from the Soviet-Afghan war to the Taliban to the nukes.

Pakistan’s perception in the world has been shaped by the actions of the state (and non-state actors, at times), and those actions were dictated by the internal societal dynamic and external circumstances, and it will continue to do so. To guess which pigeon comes out of Pakistan’s hat next, we’d have to see how has Pakistan and the Pakistani society evolved in all these years, and where is it headed. Let’s have a look.

Read more: Non-Traditional Security Threats and Institutions’ Role in Pakistan

Pakistan at birth

The newly-born state is gasping for survival. Jinnah, the founding father, stands tall with the resolve of “making Pakistan one of the greatest nations of the world” in the face of problems of humungous magnitude; the influx of millions of migrants, nominal resources, minimal infrastructure and dearth of the trained government machinery. Still, the state structure is set up, and a huge humanitarian crisis is averted by the sheer will of Jinnah’s leadership, but the most unfortunate event in Pakistan’s history happens right after a year of independence; Jinnah passes away. With his demise, Pakistan loses the only true leader it has, never to find one again.

The people of Pakistan have hope in their eyes. They have dreams of a better future. They are joyed at independence from the British colonial rule and are relieved on securing a country in the name of their religion, Islam, where they can practice their faith without any fears of persecution by the Hindu majority government, which they believe, would have happened in United India. Seven decades later, Jinnah and these people will be proven right by state-sponsored atrocities against the Muslim minority in the “world’s largest democracy”, the “secular” India.

Pakistan at 25

Pakistan has been dismembered a year ago. One-half, East Pakistan, has become an independent country called Bangladesh. The first quarter witnessed a virtual musical chair contest among self-serving bureaucrats and unpopular, incapable political leaders for a decade before the first military coup, which ended up in yet another military rule.

Read more: US donates $1M to Pakistan for disaster management

The people are disappointed with what they’ve gotten so far. Their lives aren’t much better, half of their countrymen are now strangers, and they are sick of the military rule. They have given in to a populist, socialist slogan “roti, kapra aur makaan” (food, clothing and shelter), which would never materialize and will end up in a dynastic political party a couple of decades later. Despite all this, there is no semblance of extremism in society. Jinnah’s vision of “not a theocracy, nor a theocratic state” is very much alive.

Pakistan at 50

It’s 1997. A few years have passed since the fall of the Soviet Union. The world, mostly the West, hails Pakistan as a hero, who trained the “freedom fighters” back in the day, the Taliban, funded by Saudi and equipped by the US, who went on to take down the Soviets in Afghanistan. The most unfortunate of all the actors involved in the Soviet-Afghan war is going to be Pakistan; a loser in the avenues of diplomacy, economy and society. Already fallen in the anti-Soviet camp and soon to be perceived as a sponsor of “terrorism” by the US and the West, Pakistan is going to spend another quarter or more battling the fall out of the war.

Pakistan has witnessed yet another military coup in this quarter, the worst of all, as its social impact is going to last for decades to come. To create and induct the Taliban, Islamic extremism was imported and propagated, which radicalized a peaceful and moderate society to the core, something Pakistan would have to pay a hefty price for. The dictatorial rule was followed by a decade-long democratic façade, where two corrupt, dynastic political parties, undemocratic within themselves, took turns, twice each, to ruin whatever was left of the state institutions.

The people of Pakistan have seen the economy going to shambles in this quarter. Ever-increasing poverty and inflation have made people worse off. On top of that, an inherently peaceful society has been radicalized, and this religious extremism is worsening day by day, as the seeds sowed in the General Zia regime are growing now. Sectarianism is on the rise. The influx of millions of Afghan refugees has only made things worse. Drugs, Kalashnikov culture and street crimes; all are linked to the rogue elements among the Afghan migrants. Impending economic and societal collapse is so evident that people are going to celebrate the next military coup, a couple of years later.

Pakistan at 75

Pakistan has been in the limelight – it was definitely bad light – throughout this quarter. Pakistan became a nuclear-armed state in 1998, its bomb was termed the “Islamic bomb”. Simultaneously Taliban were conducting terror attacks in the world, and Pakistan was alleged to have links with them. A military coup followed, and sanctions were imposed on Pakistan for all these reasons. And then 9/11 happened. All hell broke loose. Pakistan was again at the center stage of global politics, again an ally of the US, but an enemy of the militants this time, who turned their guns (and suicide bombers) towards Pakistan.

Read more: Pakistan receives letter of Intent from IMF

The seeds of extremism planted in Zia regime were now fully grown trees, who facilitated the militants inside Pakistan, and together they wreaked havoc on Pakistan and the Pakistani society. Pakistan’s perception in the world deteriorated even further. Fears loomed that the “jihadis” might take over, and Pakistan may go rogue. Pakistan went hard on the “jihadis”, cleaned up the entire tribal areas of any militant hideouts in full-scale military operations, executed IBOs (Intelligence based operations) in urban areas, and tried to deradicalize the society.

The social and economic turmoil was unprecedented. It took years for some peace to be restored, and Pakistan’s tarnished image to be somewhat salvaged. Pakistan again came at the forefront in the backdrop of US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and was again caught in the whirlpool of global power politics during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At the governance front, this quarter saw the deradicalization of the extremist mindset and recovery of the economy and state institutions, surprisingly under military rule. Poverty levels got reduced and standards of living were improved, but the pseudo-democracy ruined the gains of the military era, and left Pakistan on the verge of an economic default, before a political outsider, a populist leader was sworn in.

The Pakistani society fared the best in this quarter. The radicalization of the last quarter was reversed. Education, especially higher education, saw significant improvement. From one state-owned television network, Pakistan got hundreds of TV channels, thanks to the freedom of media in the dictator’s rule, resulting in hundreds of TV channels, which subsequently raised political awareness. IT, social media and improved microeconomics rendered the civil society more assertive in the political discourse. This gradual, organic mindset shift has almost rooted out dynastic politics and the military’s (overt and covert) involvement in politics.

Pakistan at 100

What will Pakistan at 100 look like? It can not be projected with complete accuracy for any nation, but analyzing the Pakistani society at present, we know that Pakistan is at crossroads. The people are desperate for a change in the political status quo, and feeling the pulse of the public, it can be said that people will not accept anything less than a change in the system of governance. The traditional power centers and way of governance has become unacceptable for the public now.

Read more: Sectarianism in Pakistan

One last push in the right direction will eradicate all the internal forces holding Pakistan back, and Pakistan will begin treading the path to becoming “one of the greatest nations of the world” as envisioned by Jinnah. Conversely, which is less probable, if the nation does not stand the test of time now, Pakistan at 100 won’t be much better, but it can be far worse, for sure.


The writer is an aviator by profession and has a keen interest in public policy and governance. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.