Hope springs eternal?
Elected offices of public trust are generally considered God’s beneficence for personal and family enrichment. Grateful beneficiaries offer nawafil, qurbani and sadaqaat instead of performing their bounden duties with due diligence. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan is the worst governed country in South Asia which is one of the poorest governed regions of the world. It is caught in a fatally corrupt institutional and political trap.
Few may starve in Pakistan. Those who do in faraway places like Thar or Balochistan generally do so quietly and invisibly. Many thousands drown in floods and die in earthquakes without their devastated families creating too much fuss. Having voted for energy promises the people put up without fans in summer or heating in winter. They get agitated when they see their children suffer and die from a plethora of preventable causes. But they do not unduly disturb their uncaring leaders. They keep voting for them.
The only path to national redemption is coordinated nation-wide political agitation over a broad front.
There is the claim of a lower to upper middle-class consumer ‘boom’. Judging by the traffic on the roads, shops and emerging shopping malls full of consumer durables, rising office blocks, gigantic construction projects of dubious economic priority, etc. there is indeed a picture of low level prosperity. But without human resource development it will neither improve nor last. It will be more mirage than reality.
The phenomenal growth of criminal wealth, terrorist-financed charities, madressah ‘graduates’ and the informal economy, estimated by some to be twice the size of the formal economy, testify to the fragile basis of our economic prosperity and viability. National and provincial political leadership when used as a means to amass fabulous personal fortunes is a far greater threat to national security and survival than terrorism. Ironically, dirty politics claims constitutional protection.
As a result, unceasing waves of national crisis and disaster keep breaking upon us. Is 2050 around the corner or a distant prospect? In either case, we shall have a population of over 350 million people. Less than 5pc (around 17 million) will qualify for productive and family-supporting jobs in a globalised and information/technology-driven world.
At Partition Pakistan’s (West Pakistan’s) population was around 30 million. Soon it shall be seven times that number. Later, Pakistan’s ‘required human population’ (RHP) will be around half the original population. The other 330 million won’t count. They will be the ‘surplus human population’ (SHP.) The effects of climate change will accelerate and amplify this national calamity.
The SHP will be sealed off within their purgatory. It will be almost impossible to cross the SHP/RHP divide. The ‘Gazafication’ of Pakistan will develop with our gated and protected elites playing the role of Israel. We are only a few years away from dystopia. By 2030, 95pc of our population will be permanently excluded from any prospect of living secure and satisfying lives.
Today’s admirable islands of excellence, dedication and promise will have been largely swept away by the rising tide of chaos. The state will barely exist. Our nuclear assets and the vanishing writ of the government will guarantee foreign intervention. Our foreign policy will reflect the state of chaos. This scenario is deniable only on the basis of self-deception, indifference and a reluctance to do anything. Much of the Pakistani elite are effectively writing off Pakistan!
The only path to national redemption is coordinated nation-wide political agitation over a broad front. Political ‘electables’ will, of course, resist such a national transformation. The rest of Pakistan is not able to counter the passive and servile political attitudes of the majority province. Last year, there was a ‘false dawn’. It looked like the people — and important institutions — might become sufficiently ‘concerned’ about the national plight to unblock movement towards a new beginning. The moment passed.
The only credible political leader failed to prioritise the people’s interests. He displayed no real interest in radical structural reform or organising a people’s movement. He preferred jiyalas, tycoons and ‘electables’. He emphasised political theatre as a major element of his strategy. He went straight for the political jugular without adequate preparation to ensure success. He lost policy consistency and public support.
He viewed the religious right as allies for change. But positive political change in poor countries can ONLY come from the organised humanitarian left. It NEVER comes from the ideological and legalistic right. He alienated critical elements of civil society. Finally, he let a beaten man beat him — again!
Just being politically ‘charismatic’ is not enough. He needs also to develop empathy, gravitas and knowledge in depth to become a leader who alters political paradigms. Attractive promises cannot substitute for informed and relevant strategies. He will have to revisit his party, his message, his politics and his image.
He needs to understand ‘liberalism’ and ‘secularism’ as essential to an educated and effective apprehension of contemporary Islam. He will need to fundamentally rethink foreign, economic and security policy, and elaborate a new and inclusive national discourse.
This is a difficult, massive, risky and uncertain undertaking. It entails the coordinated work and interactive thinking of tens of thousands. Is he interested? An honest answer may be discouraging. Unwise short cuts seem to entice him. Yet he once made a world-beating team through sheer force of character, example and experienced leadership.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.