Pakistan’s 70th anniversary celebrations tomorrow will not only be a powerful reminder of all that has gone wrong in the country’s history, but it will also be a timely opportunity to appreciate the country’s continuing resilience that remains nothing short of being truly inspirational.
In the past week, the increasingly dysfunctional state of politics has been highlighted with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif forced out in a Supreme Court verdict. Sharif’s departure came more than a year after three of his four children were named for their massive wealth, discovered in the world famous ‘Panama leaks’ scandal.
Armed with large-scale offshore wealth, including properties along London’s up-market Park lane, Sharif and his family have also found their capacity overstretched against popular expectations of coming clean. The case has not only highlighted the enormous wealth belonging to Pakistan’s first family, but has also unmasked the failure under successive Pakistani governments to force influential individuals to play by the book. It is therefore hardly surprising that Pakistan’s ruling elite has historically considered it their right to abuse resources of the state.
In this background, it is hardly surprising that Pakistan remains one of the world’s worst performers on the matter of forcing its affluent citizens to pay income tax. And what could be a bigger manifestation of that reality than the terrible fact of Pakistan’s income tax payers being numerically less than one per cent of the country’s population.
Ahead of tomorrow’s 70th anniversary celebrations of Pakistan’s birth, Sharif has endured a road journey from Islamabad to his home town — the central city of Lahore. Given that this was the first time that Sharif returned home since his dismissal, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) went out of its way to display much fanfare.
During this journey, Sharif’s repeated message has squarely been driven by lamenting the repeated downfall of elected prime ministers in the nation’s history. Key PML-N leaders have wasted no opportunity to claim Sharif’s innocence in the wake of the court’s verdict that forced him out as prime minister.
But as Sharif has used his public appearances to call upon the masses to seek greater authority for elected leaders, notably prime ministers, little attention has been paid to Pakistan’s resilience that has taken it through repeated periods of turbulence in the past 70 years. Today, the very fact that Pakistan has emerged as the Islamic world’s only country armed with nuclear weapons, while faced with a host of tough challenges, is indeed a living tribute to the country’s ability to survive. Going forward, Pakistan of course needs to overcome the many challenges faced by the country. These range from most of its borders being insecure to the challenge posed by hard-line militant groups to Pakistan’s mainstream way of life.
Other dysfunctional areas include a political system that largely facilitates those with obscene amounts of wealth — as a result of which, members representing the middle class often get marginalised. And last but not the least, Sharif’s four-year rule before he was dismissed must raise compelling questions over the dangerously growing gap between the country’s affluent and the middle class.
Sharif missed no opportunity to pursue mega projects, which practically put Pakistan’s future at stake. And in his flashy quest, he has only left Pakistan more indebted than it was four years ago: A sorry state of affairs for which future generations will have to pay. For the public at large, shortage of electricity inherited by Sharif deserved far more attention than fancy new projects.
But during this time, Pakistan’s commendable resilience came into play impressively. The country is saddled with at least one-third or more of its citizens who live below the poverty line. And the conditions of rural dwellers have only aggravated further as Pakistan has been hit with the worst crisis in recent times in its agricultural sector. Though the turmoil was triggered by a steep fall in global commodity prices, Sharif’s government simply failed to protect its citizens from the fallout.
Yet, even at this moment of adversity, the people of Pakistan have managed to survive the crisis in the hope of a better future. Though this ordeal was relatively recent happening, it came as a very powerful reminder of the challenges faced by Pakistan at its birth in 1947. Written off by many almost immediately after it was born, Pakistan has lived to defy the odds.
As Pakistan faces a host of challenges on its 70th birth anniversary, the country’s resilience must work to guarantee a safe and secure future. And as for Sharif’s claim that his recent ouster marked a setback for democracy, nothing could be further from the truth. The parliament and other elements of the civilian ruling structure remain well intact.
And the five judges of the supreme court who sentenced Sharif after six senior officials investigated the former prime minister and his family on matters of corruption, a special mention is a must. Even surrounded by challenges, Pakistan’s best hope for the future has been amply demonstrated in applying the rule of law without fear or favour against one of the country’s most powerful political families.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.