Will Pakistanis put their national interest first?

If there is any country in the world that is a poster child for dictatorship, it is Pakistan. Over the last two and half decades at least, Pakistan seems to have been more stable and more prosperous under its military dictators than its “democratically” elected leaders.

Over the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of articles and posts discussing why India is not Pakistan. There is the civilisational argument—that Indians are more prone to democracy than Pakistan because of the Hindu ethos—not in the religious sense of the word, but by virtue of many streams flowing into the larger ocean. While this is true, a small niggling voice at the back of the head says that until 1947 it was their civilisational ethos too. Then, there is the caste argument. Pakistan is the way it is because it doesn’t have enough merchant castes and has too much peasant castes. While it is hard to disagree with this too, the fact remains that large numbers of Baloch, Sindhis, Pashtuns and Punjabis were traders, merchants and money lenders. Religion was how they prayed to God; profit was the motive behind their business.

Image: Fantaz Farhan

While the factors mentioned above are definitely relevant, there are three other factors – far more modern – that sowed the seeds of a stable India and an unstable Pakistan. The first was very simple: Jinnah died a year after Pakistan was formed, Nehru lived for the next 17 years to see that his vision  succeeded, and provided a modicum of stability in the system.  Maybe India would have faced the same problems if Sardar Patel had been the first Prime Minister of India—not because Sardar Patel lacked the vision, but because he died in 1950, twelve months after the formation of the Republic. The other two reasons are slightly more complex—the rights of the land owner, and the imposition of a national language.

You cannot divorce Pakistan from the man who drove its creation. It seems unfathomable why Jinnah, a wine drinking, pork eating atheist and a man who believed in the European mode of secularism, would want a country based on religion. And when he got it, declared he wanted a secular state. It is also quite inexplicable that Jinnah, an urbane constitutionalist who otherwise believed in the rule of law—and found Gandhi’s mode of non co-operation contrary to this—would find it convenient to unleash hordes when he did not get his way on things.

One common reason given, rather uncharitably, was that he wanted to be head of state and would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. The reason was almost certainly far more complex: Jinnah wanted Pakistan out of ideology, but that ideology was not Islam.

If you re-read the history of that era you will see that there were two major ideologies prevalent. The first was Socialism—the rights of the tiller, the labourer, the worker and the dispossessed; and the second was Capitalism— the rights of the industrialist, the land owner, and the rich. By the 1930s, it was very clear that India was going down the social democratic route—socialist in terms of centralised planning, agrarian reforms, the whittling down of the zamindari system to give more rights to the tiller; and Democratic in the sense of universal franchise. In this both Patel and Nehru were united as were others in the Congress. The Nehruvian model, as it is now called, may have unleashed socialism on India, but its views on equality, social justice and land allocation probably saved India from Pakistan’s woes. However, there is no point being complacent about this fact. Those areas in India that are still feudal, where the rights of the indigenous people, the tillers, the marginalised communities are trampled are the same areas that Maoist militancy has taken root.

Jinnah, on the other hand was a capitalist. He had a certain disdain for the masses, and found his calling as the candidate of the zamindars. The Muslim League was the party of the zamindars, the Talukdars and the Rais. Had Jinnah been honest about the fact that he wanted a non-socialist state, he would not have gotten popular support. Islam was a decoy for continuing with the land-owning status quo. And today, it is this status quo that has come back to bite the state. Any nation that is feudal will go through this churn: It will be replaced by either communism or religion—both promise equality and both follow similar methods of ‘converting’ the disenchanted with promises of a better tomorrow.

The fact remains that the part of Pakistan that India speaks to is the feudal part. These by no stretch of imagination, can be called liberals. They speak English, they appeal to our sense of nostalgia, but they are responsible for a lot of what is wrong with Pakistan. It is a patriarchal feudal state where a few families own the bulk of the land; the rest are dispossessed. Militant Islam is a reaction to this inequity in society.

The other reason which is equally important was the imposition of Urdu as the national language. When a language gets declared as the national language it means that all official business is transacted in that language. The people who speak and write that language as their primary language have an edge over those who don’t. In Pakistan’s case that meant that the Mohajir—the immigrant from India—whose native language was Urdu had an edge over those who spoke Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pushtu, and Bengali. The national language policy, in fact, had the effect of breaking up Pakistan. It didn’t break up because of religion, but because the Bengali speaking majority of East Pakistan felt disadvantaged when it came to accessing jobs and Urdu speaking West Pakistan didn’t want to share the pie.

India, on the other hand, went for the compromise. The concept of mother tongue was recognised, Rajya Bhasha was considered the language in which various states carry out their business, protests against a common language were taken into account and the question of having a single common language was left open. If at all of India wants to move to impose a national language, Indonesia might prove the better role model. They chose the language spoken by the fewest number of people and made it the national language. The economic disadvantage of having a national language was, therefore, spread amongst the population.

So, is Pakistan as a nation doomed? It is still not too late, but for that its ruling elite will have to put national interest first. Land reforms will have to happen, education has to be imposed, women have to be given rights, and the rule of law has to be paramount. Too many splintered interests in Pakistan—the land owners, the Army, the secret service, the political class—are looking at their own narrow self interest. In all this, their nation is crumbling.

Historically,  the phase after feudalism is industrialisation. Maybe it is time for money to be channelled into Pakistan—not to fight the Taliban or put down their people, but to industrialise, create jobs, create value and create stability.

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