Monday, 25 August 2008

Pakistan - the only solution is secularism

By the late 1940s, in the aftermath of the Second World War, two countries were established in Asia based strictly on religious principles. Both resulted in a major movement of refugees in and out of them, fought several wars with their larger neighbours, are major non-Nato allies to the US qualifying them for substantial military and economic aid and both eventually became members of the exclusive club of nuclear nations.

However, of the two countries only Israel ranks among the most developed nations of the world, whereas the other is recognised by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace think-tank as a failed state. Welcome to Pakistan.

Upon Pakistan's creation, millions of Muslims and Hindus were displaced, refugee camps sprang up across the sub-continent, families were separated, some never to reunite, and generational ties to ancestral homes were severed in the name of religion.

Ironically, Muslims who chose to stay within secular India have flourished, some attaining offices as high as the presidency and affluence that rivals the worlds richest. Within Islamic Pakistan, however, money from the wealthy nations of the Arabian Gulf assisted in the systemic indoctrination of fundamentalist religious beliefs into the minds of the vulnerable and illiterate village folk.

Unfortunately, the dream of the country's founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, of creating a secular state that safeguards Muslim rights never materialised. He had called in a landmark speech to the parliament in 1947 for a state in which residents "may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the fundamental principle that we are all citizens of one State." He added: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan."

Jinnah was a Cambridge educated lawyer who married a Parsi, wore three-piece Western-style suits and enjoyed whiskey a pole apart from the present situation of the country he founded that is plagued by extremism and an increasing terrorist threat. Sadly, Jinnah died one year after the establishment of Pakistan and the country has not known stability since.

In an infamous incident in 1999 that illustrates the incessant power struggles, the then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, who won the elections on a wave of orthodox Islamic promises, ordered a plane that was carrying the secular head of the Pakistani army, General Pervez Musharraf, to land in a small airport so he could be arrested for opposing him. However, the general who was suspicious of the change in course of his flight, entered the cockpit and forced the pilot to land in Karachi with less than seven minutes of jet fuel left.

Gen Musharraf assumed control of the country at the beginning of a turbulent period that included the September 11 attacks and the global war on terror. Ironically, the non-elected army general introduced fundamental reforms such as privatising education, expanding women's rights, extensive media and economic liberalisation, as well as the appointment of Rana Bhagwandas as chief justice, the first to come from Pakistan's Hindu minority: issues that the democratically elected leaders failed or chose not to broach.

Absent from the list of charges produced to threaten Gen Musharraf with impeachment was one that related to personal financial enrichment, the scourge of the nation. On the other hand, according to a rich list of Pakistani businessmen, those new champions of democracy, Asif Zardari and Mr Sharif, are between them worth more than $3.3 billion, unlike their common enemy, Gen Musharraf, who left office for his former house in Lahore.

Not surprisingly, the new leaders, since their success in ousting him, have been bickering over the reinstatement of the chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, allegedly because of his tough stance in investigating corruption. Additionally Mr Zardari, nicknamed Mr 10 Per Cent, who served several years in jail on charges of corruption, may become the country's next president.

Pakistan today ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world, in contrast to the UAE, Israel and Malaysia, which ranked amongst the OECD developed nations. The 20th century has demonstrated that states that fail in governance, progress and democracy tend to be biased to one creed, are racist, or overtly religious as in Iran, South Africa and Saudi Arabia respectively.

On the other hand, states that embrace and maintain a freedom of religious practice, such as the UAE, Israel and Malaysia, ultimately progress into the ranks of the more developed nations.

It's about time that Pakistan lived up to the aspirations of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, its founding father, and matured into a progressive secular nation to shake-off the legacy of extremism and corruption that has plagued it since his death. After all, the state of Pakistan was his idea.

This article first appeared in The National on Sunday August 24th 2008


Anonymous said...

Jinnah's Dream will only be realized, when they stop getting these Mr. 10%'s. This time Mr. Bhutto is being watched by the world very closely, I feel he may just prove that he is worthy of the Position. He has already got more than his stomach can take how much more will he take and what will he do with it.

He should be building civil societies, enhancing pluralism, cut out CORRUPTION He should know how.)

I am not a Pakistani, but I want to remain optimistic for this nation. They needed someone like Attaturk to have led them forward.

Musharaff was one of the best they had so far.

Abhijit said...

A very well balanced article written on the present crisis in Pakistan. As a nation, it has been failed by the politicians who swear by Mr Jinnah's name.

I am from India, and I would love to see an economically strong and vibrant Pakistan and more so, a more integrated South Asia on the lines of EU, where border tensions would just be a thing of past and it would open up opportunitiesand markets for entire South Asia.

Anonymous said...

ive enjoyed yr blogs

Miss Dadia