Almost seven decades after its inception, Pakistan is still scrambling to deliver on the promises it made to its citizens. While there is much to cheer, there is also a lot that causes consternation. What independence means to a common citizen need to be analysed with a people-centred lens.
Lofty political concepts such as independence and democracy lose meaning if they can’t provide health and security to people. Personal safety, rule of law, justice, protection of human rights and access to affordable basic services are some of the key determinants of independence and democracy for people.
Amid the cacophony of celebrations, we often ignore that more than half the population is still waiting for freedom from poverty. All celebrations, including Eid and Independence Day bring worry and wrinkles to their foreheads. In a fit of jubilation we tend to forget that 25 million children of this country are unable to attend school and 44 per cent of the population is unable to read and write.
Pakistan is among the countries with an ignobly high rate of maternal mortality. According to the Pakistan Democratic and Health Survey 2012-2013, 270 out of every 100,000 mothers die while giving birth; and 44 per cent children suffer from stunted growth despite the fact that the country frequently boasts bumper crops. Our penchant for arms and arsenal compels us to ignore the fact that Pakistan’s infant mortality rate of 69 per 1,000 live births is much higher than the 32 in Nepal, 30 in Bhutan and 3 in Bangladesh. Congo and Cameroon also have lower infant mortality rate of 35.6 and 60.8 respectively.
In brief, Pakistan ranks 113th on the social development index trailing behind under developed countries such as Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Rwanda and Congo. The current government has failed to revive local government system and this is a denial of democracy to the people. Powers devolved from the federal government through the 18th Amendment have been clenched by provincial governments. Without foundation tier of governance the democratic system is limping sluggishly.
A country of 20 million does not have a sustainable local government system. A systematic denial to local governance system for decades has reinforced the oppressive classes to perpetuate their hegemony over power and keep people in servitude.
The elitist democracy lacks wide-scale public ownership and affection. Unless the present form of electocracy is supplanted by a people-centred dispensation, it will remain susceptible to interference. Political parties have to demonstrate sanity and responsibility if they want to display a commitment to democracy.
Inability to deliver basic social services to people is not merely an administrative failure. Its political undercurrents merit a deeper investigation. The lack of basic services is the culmination of a domino effect triggered by the collapse of political order. Fatal blunders committed one after the other have shaped today’s Pakistan which is member of the inglorious club of fragile states, flanked by South Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Congo, Afghanistan, Sudan, Central African Republic, Haiti and Yemen.
This ignominious distinction is not an outcome of a single grisly incident but a corollary of a string of suicidal policies adopted by successive regimes, particularly the ones ruled by the sanctimonious brigade. Frequent assaults on elected governments have stifled the political growth of civilian institutions. Acquiring comprehensive political and military power virtually exempted the unelected power-holders from accountability.
A security-pegged foreign policy professed religiosity as a key pillar of the national interest agenda. Infusing faith with polity was an explosive choice Pakistan opted for during its formative years. The prescription was fully exploited by those in power during subsequent years. Stemmed from these inept policies, our mania for war and an endless appetite for evangelicalism have made us self-proclaimed guardians of a religion that belongs to several billions strewn in dozens of other countries, and by no means is our sole proprietorship.
The country has now become synonymous to a sanctuary of violent extremism that has tarnished our national image. While serving the agenda of international forces, we overlooked the fact that as a sovereign state our decisions should suit our own best interests. An inexplicable national interest, designed and described by the supreme powers of this country, directed the national agenda and billions citizens were denied the right to raise an objection. Those who dared were declared traitors and foreign agents.
Our rulers chose for us to become a buffer state and eventually made us fodder for cold war canons in this region. A flourishing industry of jihad thus set the contours of our war economy that peaked in the 1980s. General Zia seized this opportunity to drastically alter the complexion of the state and society. What Pakistani society is reaping today is a bumper harvest of the seeds sown by him.
Coddled for decades, jihadi elements became an integral part of our unwritten yet overriding foreign policy. Belatedly the civil-military leadership has ostensibly renounced the devastating policy of supporting obscurantist elements, yet the lines of division are still blurry.
A carefully choreographed National Action Plan remains in the background, it is only brought out after devastation hits. After every fatal incident, perfunctory frantic meetings are convened, stereotype statements are regurgitated and the nation is advised to stay united against terrorists. As the trauma of loss subsides, life returns to normalcy and the spindle continues to rotate on its axis.
Religious and sectarian bigotry refuses to capitulate before well-equipped and sturdy surveillance paraphernalia that could detect a needle in a haystack. Any inquest on this enigma is haughtily spurned and dismissed as a treachery. Some so- called reconcilable extremists still enjoy tacit support of a segment of the establishment that allows them to proliferate and operate within the defined ambit.
Elevating faith from a personal choice to the centre-point of the state business has ignited a conflagration surrounding us today from all directions. Saudi Arabia being the land of the most adored holy sites awarded the highest civil award to the Indian prime minister and maintains relations with Israel but Pakistan has reached a haunting isolation. It is about time to rebuild its foreign policy on a foundation of regional peace and economic cooperation.
A people-centred state rebuilt on the pillars of democracy and peaceful co-existence would usher in a better future for Pakistan. The country ought to swerve from a faith-driven foreign policy to a constructive engagement with the international community and repudiate all forms of extremism and terrorism through conspicuous actions. In fact extremism has brought catastrophic consequences for Pakistan and therefore deserves unequivocal denunciation through solid actions.
Artificial glue of faith could not stitch together the distinct cultural identities of nationalities that created this country. In a federation, historic identities, languages and cultures of nationalities ought to be recognised and respected. Culture could form a formidable bond among the people of the country.
More importantly, a federation requires principles of justice for its own justification. Any further delays at ensuring fair representation of the federating units on every decision-making forum and pivotal institutions would have unalterable repercussions.
Smaller provinces have been clamouring for their long-denied share in the federation. Composition of civil-military top brass is untenably skewed where Sindh and Balochistan have little representation. Constitutional obligation of the provincial quota was meant to create harmony among the federating units by providing them a judicious share in the affairs of the federation. In a brazen infringement of the Constitution this stipulation has been violated. In a federation of disgruntled nationalities, democracy and a policy of fair share is the key to achieve national unity.