Pakistanis will celebrate their country’s 69 years of independence today, remembering the nation’s birth in an environment surrounded by extreme adversity. Nevertheless, the challenging past must be judged not only against the impressive gains that Pakistan has made in many areas, but also in terms of the challenges that remain unaddressed.
In brief, the ultimate conclusion for Pakistan’s outlook must be that in spite of the many gaps surrounding the country, a truly commendable feat has indeed been achieved in the shape of the faith that has kept Pakistanis going steadily through difficult times.
The original migrants, who were mostly Muslims and had travelled across from a united India to the newly-created state of Pakistan in 1947, still cherish the stories of being surrounded by doom and gloom as they became part of one of the biggest migrations of human population in modern history. A situation of despair awaited them in Pakistan; yet, they still persevered.
Make-shift government offices functioned without adequate stationery, to the point where bureaucrats used thorns to substitute for paper clips, while wooden crates became substitutes for chairs and tables. It was, therefore, not surprising that some even gave the nation of Pakistan a life span of just more than a few months. And yet, Pakistan chose to defy the odds and has risen to become the Islamic world’s first country to produce nuclear weapons — a feat that is a reflection of scientific progress by a dedicated and small group of Pakistani scientists.
The passing away of former Pakistan cricketer Hanif Mohammad — one of the world’s best-known cricketing legends — last Thursday, though a sad event, nevertheless came as a reminder of the icons from various walks of life who had helped script the success story for Pakistan. Hanif had migrated to Pakistan from Junagarh in India in 1947. In 1957-58, Hanif scored 337 against the West Indies in a six-day Test at Bridgetown. And in 1958-59, he surpassed Sir Don Bradman’s highest individual score in an innings of a first-class match by scoring 499, before being run out.
Other iconic figures ranged from those who excelled in science and culture to the arts and social sciences, all joining hands to become citizens of the newly-created state of Pakistan. Though the country went through periods of tribulation, its resolve to build itself as a nation never seemed to weaken.
Almost seven decades later, today, Pakistan in parts presents a dismal picture for its ordinary citizens, deprived of basic needs for human beings. For Pakistan’s mainstream population, life continues to throw up daily challenges that have only grown with the passage of time.
And, the best dream of Pakistan’s future continues to evade the country’s mainstream. Yet, the story of Pakistan’s performance cannot be compiled without closely looking at the instances of success scattered all across the country with a population of about 200 million. Such stories have been built upon examples of successful businessmen, professionals in different fields and soldiers who make up the security services, just to name a few.
In recent years, Pakistan has stood up to hardline militants who have challenged the authority of the state. Consequently, with more than 60,000 Pakistanis having been sacrificed in the war against terrorism, the challenge is far from over. And yet, Pakistan continues to live with the determination to protect its key interests at any cost.
Though popular faith in Pakistan seems to continue as a defining feature of the country, that faith needs to be lifted with a set of hitherto absent or only partially present set of economic reforms. On Friday, Pakistan’s Army Chief General Raheel Sharif stepped into the realm of the national discourse on combating terrorism and publicly called for action by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government to address “all inadequacies”, failing which, “remnants of terrorism would continue to simmer and long-term peace and stability would remain a distant dream”.
Going by the record of the Nawaz Sharif government, which is now in its fourth year in office, its hard to imagine that comprehensive action will likely come soon in plugging the holes that continue to plague the country. Tragically, in sharp contrast to the vision of Pakistan’s founding fathers, its present-day rulers have failed to consider the larger interests beyond the narrowly-defined, partisan and political ones. At a time when Pakistan is indeed surrounded by recurring challenges to its existence — as exhibited through last Monday’s terror attacks on lawyers in Quetta, which claimed 74 lives — rebuilding the country must indeed remain the top-most priority.
Areas long neglected can simply be narrowed down to two fundamental issues. First of all, all aspects of security — ranging from policing to investigations, prosecutions and sentencing — must remain central to the government’s priorities. Achieving this objective will remain a half-baked dream unless the country’s ruling political elites also step forward to proactively deal with security issues as the first priority. Judging by the way in which the security discourse has been ignored by Pakistan’s politicians in the federal and provincial legislatures, it is hard to imagine that they are up to the task.
Secondly, Pakistan’s future will be defined by the country’s ability to undertake long-overdue internal reforms. These range from a complete overhaul of revenue collection (just over half a per cent of Pakistanis pay their income tax), to carefully choosing priorities for spending. To Prime Minister Sharif’s discredit, his regime has accorded top priority to large, fancy projects such as highways and luxurious means of public transport, instead of revamping government-sponsored schools and public-sector hospitals.
Let us not forget that no matter what, the common people of Pakistan continue to repose their faith in the future of a country that was created under trying circumstances and it is this faith that continues to bolster Pakistan’s confidence in tackling the many challenges that confront the nation. The potential to meet these challenges is very much there, but exactly who will lead the way remains a troubling and an unanswered question.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.