Entering the 21st century but how

Columnist MB NAQVI makes a philosophical study of the future in the new millennium

It hurts but it is true. We are entering the 21st century like a junky with hat in hand. We need a loan of so many billion dollars in order to avoid a breakdown. The country has been teetering on the brink of default which the experts say may lead to collapse of the economy and the state disintegrating. This prognostication can, nevertheless, become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it can also be treated as, and indeed converted into a challenge to be met by joint endeavour of the people of this country. The people after all have no option but to be patriotic and respond positively to the leadership, if there is indeed a leadership.

Doubtless talking about possibilities of pessimism can become forecast that it has come to almost in the momentum of everyone saying and believing that. But the prerequisites for the nation meeting the challenge that history as best would require qualities in the national leadership that is not there. A military dictatorship is an unfortunate occurrence. Instead of inspiring any hope it underlines the failure of nation's effort to stay united, orderly and law abiding under known ground rules (constitution). Its a violent break with the past whether or not any blood flows. Democracy or self-rule ends and military undertakes to it. And that national leadership was called upon to do and it obviously failed in the task. A military-led interlude can certainly do good here, there and somewhere else; it can only be marginally or cosmetic. The basic issues of the polity that have led to repeated failures cannot be addressed, although the present regime has set itself to do just that. Good luck to them if they can achieve that. Even so we have to watch and stay in a positive frame of mind as we do enter the 21st century.

Optimism needs to be cultivated -- not in the fashion of senior military officers giving a peptalk to their jawans. It should be enough with realism. One should mention and take the measure of how bad the situation is and then see if there is a way out. Once the way out has been identified, there should be an urge to take that road with as much resoluteness and fortitude as one can muster. Ignoring dismal and negative facts is scepticism. It can lead to disaster. The first requirement is to fix the national goal. This is where the trouble begins. People began talking of ideology ad nauseam. The loudest were the Islamic ideology people who prescribed a unique Islamic state such as has never existed except the four rightful caliphs' rule in early Islam. That proved to be a siren song. The times are different, the requirements are different. Even those four rules, judged by the cold eye of history, were pragmatic responsible to the challenges of the time. It is a task that every society has to achieve in every succeeding generation. Changing conditions demand changing responses. And insofar as the ideal is concerned, for general guidance of the Muslims there is the Quran and Sunnah. But that is for general guidance in life not a political prescription for a particular kind of government. Indeed there has never been any specific kind of government in all the five stated models. The state of Madina and before Caliphs' rule; they evolved and they changed in the manner of their election and selection and how they acted -- except that being pious Muslims all the things they did was in accordance with the ethical standard set by Islam. Which is what to be taken from Islam. Guidance or eternal guidance. Listed here there was cacophony. Important facts were ignored.

One fact that was ignored was that Pakistan is a populous country. It did not have only the Muslims in it; there are various religious minorities. They are Pakistanis and had to remain Pakistan. Even among the Muslims, although a vast majority, there were important differences. One abiding teaching of Islam is Muslims equality and non-discrimination among them. There is no priesthood in Islam. Therefore there is no one among the Muslims who can tell another Muslim as to what is good for him and what he required to do. All Muslims are equal in the eyes of Allah. Therefore there can be no theocratic government. What government there will be that can call itself Islamic will have to be willy nilly one that has been created by all the Pakistanis. It will be truly Islamic because much of the people are Muslims and they cannot be expected to do anything that is against Islam's ethical standard. If so it can be a simple democracy without losing its Islamic character. There is no other way to run and govern Pakistan. No kind of dictatorship be he of the most pious of Muslims can be acceptable to another Muslim as a religious duty. No Muslim is better Muslim than another or has been blessed over him by God, Islam or anything sacred. This was forgotten and some insisted that they know what Islam demands and that demands an Islamic government. That was implied in it was their determination to cease power by invoking the name of Islam and called it an Islamic state because various orthodoxies of Islam have separate and parallel vision of Islamic statehood each of which requires to be headed by an Amir belonging to that particular orthodoxy. There is no common model of Islamic state either. The enthusiasm of Islamic state should somehow be forced to read the Muneer Enquiry Commission Report.

This ideological confusion continues to compound the political life of Pakistan today. The confusion has been powerfully posted by the life and work of Gen. Muhammad Ziaul Haq, the self-proclaimed Soldier of Islam. Nizam-e-Islam is a call for power by various ambitious maulvis heading various schools or even militias now. Needless to say these are competing claims to be chosen as the dictator who should rule Pakistan. The fact of the matter is that throughout this period national life has gone to dogs. Today it has poised for big multiple sectarian conflicts not just one Shia-Sunni. More are on the way as a result of the clashing ambitions of the various commanders and Maulanas proclaiming their own vision of the Islamic state or Nizam-e-Islam. The simple fact of life is that Pakistan can still survive and make progress if this ideological mumbo jumbo is rejected. And Pakistanis -- at least 96 per cent of whom are Muslims -- creating government by simple well-tried and tested method of elections. This democratic methodology, best suited for Pakistan after experimentation with all kinds of ways and methods, is parliamentary democracy. It is still despite being in Churchill's words: the worst form of government for all the others that can be conceived of. We need not talk of elementary things. One fact however needs to be repeated often enough. God has not appointed anyone to rule over other. Therefore all dictatorships are ungodly and un-Islamic and un-Christian and un-Sikh and whatever. The only government that civilised men and people could have is democratic. One can argue what kind of democracy. At one level it is the presidential or parliamentary. Both are democratic. If anyone chooses presidential type let him take care not to ignore the checks and balances on the powers of the President that democracy would require. Similarly the parliamentary system is as democratic as any could be. But their enthusiasts should know the prerequisites of running a parliamentary democracy. They have to act soberly and in a way that will not allow the system to be subverted by unrulian ambitions. In other words similar checks and balances need to be incorporated in the working of the Parliament. In other ways other questions concerns is the way the citizens are treated. It can be unfeeling, less caring democracy that gives political rights to its citizens or it can be social democracy that protects the individuals from the indignity of poverty and hunger. The state has to be a welfare state after the experience that the world has made. It does not require to be argued. Once these points are kept in view prerequisites for the nation to endeavour and rise to the challenge would be created. The outlook is not bleak. Indeed some guarded optimism can be predicated on that.

The second fact of 52 years is that the economy has been mismanaged. How has it to be done? After all some economic development has taken place. A lot of Pakistanis are incomparably richer than they were in 1947. But, let it be added, many and far too many are poorer than they were in 1947. We have 30 per cent of the people who are below the poverty line as defined by various Pakistani governments. There is no social net below for them. Between the rich and very rich on the one side and people below the poverty line (30 per cent of them) there are a lot of people who are actually quite poor, indeed a majority can only be called poor. Look at the official statistics and you will find that per capita consumption of cloth in Pakistan today is not a centimetre higher than what it was in 1947. The intake per head is not much higher than 1947 and so on. The progress that has actually been made has been swallowed up by the high population growth rate and bad distribution of national income and wrong policies adopted by the governments to be seen in the structure of the national budget. One more factor is the wrong development model. The amount of freedom guaranteed to private enterprise was far too wide and national planning was misconceived and wrong headed. A lot of industries have been added ad hoc. The country has been made dependent on imports that are far more than the industries have enabled the country to export. A plan has been introduced that will keep Pakistan always in deficit in the matter of balance of payments. These factors need to be taken into account. None of them is irreversible or incorrigible. The challenge before the nation is that we should correct the past mistakes.

We need to change the priorities as a result of which only two items of the national budget, debt servicing and defence, eat up more than the tax revenues. We need to change the policies regarding distributing the national income. We need a new set of concepts to govern national security while introducing feasible measures from the concept of social democracy. Similarly planning and development need to be undertaken in a more self-reliant and self-sustaining basis. Outlook can certainly be regarded as optimism. The floundering that the nation has undergone from so many decades has been reflected in the widespread confusion and disillusionment. People are losing hope and are in a pessimistic frame of mind. A nation's health is also judged by the excellence it achieved in arts and learning. Anyone can claim that the nation has covered itself in glory in matters of fine arts, literature and other areas of intellectual and artistic achievement. We have not produced even a notably great poet during these 50 years. In sports Pakistan did well in the beginning and has kept on rising and falling. It shows that the human material and God given talents are there. It is only a question whether the society produces conditions enough that each people bring out their best. That is the test in which we have not succeeded. But in that end we can certainly succeed if we try.

In the great and interesting sphere of the external relations, the nation has also not conducted itself either with dignity or for profit. We conceived ourselves as no more than merely national security state. In order to secure aid we followed a policy virtually servitude to the USA. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from an overview of the 52 years of Pakistan's existence. It is an odd picture that we get from the overview. There is subservience amounting to servitude to the US and external truculence and bad blood with India over Kashmir and indeed other matters. Insofar as relations with India are concerned, they are governed by the chequered history of the British period of Indian history. All the old Hindu-Muslim tussle was carried into the foreign policy of India and Pakistan. Kashmir was a symptom of that. And in any case the dispute is 52 years old, co-terminus with the independent statehood of the two communities. The challenge is to first manage and then compose India-Pakistan differences and finally to produce the simple idea of a nation of 140 million behaving itself with some dignity and independence. Instead of being dependent on foreign aid and loans in order merely to carry on to the tune of 5 to 7 billion dollars a year -- that we cannot repay -- we should better reorient our policies in a way that we become self-reliant and self-confident. The only longer-term future that Pakistan government have through policies of self-reliance and self-confidence. 140 million people require not only independence in thought and action but also dignity.