An Absence of a National Narrative
Pakistan makes an intriguing study of paradoxes and contradictions in each sinew of its politic body and in every sense of the word. At one end is its rich history and struggle of a Muslim Identity morphing through the Mohamadan Education Conference to All India Muslim League that distanced itself from the rebellion of 1857 to the Khilafat Movement. Both are now the salient of our invented history in just the opposite sense. The metamorphosis of a small Aligarh Movement to All India Muslim League was fire-balled through compulsions of the political economy; yet we witness each day the idea becoming an anathema to those who rule the street through radicalism. Pakistan was created on democratic principles of a modern nation state; yet the true journey is obscured through surgical procedures carried out by butchers. It has resulted in a false sense of historic greatness responsible for a mindset of vulnerability and denial that breeds confrontation and unidirectional development of national aspirations. Religion wherever expedient, has been selectively used to sustain this narrative. This is the centre piece of the mindset that prowls the country and society.
The people of Pakistan are repeatedly led to concede that the Security of Pakistan is a paradigm centring India and the cantankerous Hindu Mindset (fitting the religious divide theory) notwithstanding the grief and indignity we cause to the Hindus in Pakistan who have played an outstanding role for the country they chose to live in. Equally important questions of national security like socio-economic development, education and developmental economics are best left vague and unanswered.
In the past sixty years, the distribution of the annual national budgets empirically alludes to this argument. However, more conspicuous than this unequal distribution of incidental national resources is the glaring absence of a strategy towards development of the social capital and national resource. Given that Pakistan’s security perspectives warrant a strong and efficient defence establishment, what stopped the national planners from making and implementing plans to boost the gross domestic and national products to ensure that equally important, other elements of national power did not suffer at a cost? Had they planned so, the entire burden of foreign debt and defence expenditure would have been dwarfed by growth in a country rich in natural resources, entrepreneurship, skilled labour and business adventurists.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s economic paradigm was successively built around a Dependency Paradigm through loans, tied aid and trade, and budgetary shortfalls. External and internal borrowing, lopsided taxation measures and unwillingness to expand the tax net were the short term solution to bridging deficits. The past sixty years of budgetary figures empirically support this argument. This has led to a scenario wherein Pakistan a nuclear state though militarily strong is economically dependent and fragile. As a result we compromise national interests for economic sustenance and repeatedly shoot ourselves in the foot. What use is our gold if the country rots?
This massive disconnect and the glaring absence of a broad based National Narrative provides the conducive environments for a select group and coterie to seize and exercise political clout; something I frequently refer to as “The Mindset of 1935: Pakistan’s Achilles Heels” (Nation 10/1/2010).
At the core of this mindset is the defence establishment that took over and evolved a security state through both direct and indirect military interventions. The security perspectives in this threat assessment ignored other elements of national power and relegated them to a bureaucracy that was trained on the Harvard Model. The defence and intelligence establishments also followed suite on the lines of CIA and Pentagon; an explanation why India and Pakistan took different courses in post 1947. Romantic revolutionaries who formed the vanguard of Pakistan movement were replaced by turn coats and fly by night reformers who were more accommodative of this idea. This coterie drew additional strength from the strong US handshake briefly disturbed by the populism of the 70s. As a result all politicians who have ruled Pakistan are insiders who have been groomed at some stage by this coterie.
As a direct consequence, Pakistan’s overall development has been lopsided and unsustainable. The overarching mindset has curtailed the evolution of all other elements of national power. This imbalance has less to do with the uneven distribution and more with total apathy and disregard to indigenous policies of home led growth-consumption and competitive exports. The policy is also sustained through the absence to undertake fast track national development projects (an anathema to the Economics Affairs Division), exploiting the skilled and white collar work force, exploring national resources and technological interfaces.
Pakistan’s budgetary figures evidence this argument. As a result Pakistan looses far more in economic sovereignty than it gains through an efficient war machine and nuclear deterrence. To the contrary, this economic fickleness and dependence makes nuclear nuisance irrelevant as proved by the Drone and Raymond theories. Pakistan is the only nuclear armed country of the world where outside interventions in all forms and manifestations are a daily chore exercised with impunity, where the state provides security to foreign criminals and where the state is ever-ready to take over missions of outside powers.
Within this mindset, political elites have little space left to them; and they choose to play second fiddle. While some of them have been in cahoots with the establishment, the more revolutionary over a period of time have bleached themselves of their true colours and adapted within the system that rewards allegiance through corruptions. They have also developed an elastic conscience to pick and choose what is right for them. This pathetic state of affairs over the past ten years has morphed into a fine tuned political system in which every political party has a stake in power in some nook and corner. The entire state apparatus including the election commission, electoral laws, constitutional amendments and procedures are adapted to sustain the status quo. With so many stake holders, national consensus appears the logical conclusion. In reality it is not so because these stake holders have diverse and often opposing interests and cancel out each other.
With a system such as this in place, it is futile to be talking of national honour and dignity. This establishment has the full backing of the voters who put them in power. Those who cry foul and criticise, neither turn out to cast their vote nor are willing to come out on the streets. Drones and Raymond Davis will continue to happen and Pakistani establishment continue to play to the familiar tune.
The narrative cannot change if this silent majority is not ready to take to the streets and brave suicide bombings, lathi charges and long stays in the dungeons.
Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist.