JUST six months after independence, in a pictorial write-up on Pakistan, America’s Life magazine noted that the newly born nation of 70 million desperately needed India’s capital and industrial know-how to “supplement its faith in Allah and the leadership of an ailing Jinnah”.
It has taken us six decades to pay heed to that advice. The belligerent past, however, keeps haunting us as the population of the country grows faster than in most countries. At the same time, scarce capital and skills flee the country to more profitable avenues abroad, including to Pakistan’s former less-developed half.
At independence Pakistan’s eastern wing had more people than the four western provinces put together. The population of Bangladesh now is 161 million against Pakistan’s over 180 million. The myth of Bengalis’ population growing rapidly thus stands exploded.
The threat to Pakistan’s survival, Life noted in its issue of January 1948, arose from religious warfare and political instability. That threat led to discontent and the ultimate separation of East Pakistan; the memory still haunts us, though less menacingly, in relation to what is left of the country, particularly Balochistan.
Given that the grievances in the case of East Pakistan and Balochistan are similar in essence, national thinking and state policy need to be recast to forestall yet another catastrophe. That Balochistan is contiguous and sparsely populated should not be cause for complacency. The question today is no longer of military conquest but of convincing the people that their security and prosperity lies in a unified Pakistan and not in a series of fiefdoms.
Religious violence and political instability accompanied the birth of Pakistan once the Muslim League, left with no other choice but to take it or leave it, agreed to the partition of Punjab, Bengal and Assam.
The partition of the three provinces weakened the secular forces and fostered schisms in a predominantly Muslim population. Under a divided and dithering political leadership, the civil servants and later the generals became the arbiters in a situation of recurring instability and violence.
In the 1953 riots, the army had to be invited to intervene when the civil administration could not control the violence. In the course of time the politicians became divided and civil servants were weakened by ill-conceived reforms and politicisation, and the control of state policy effectively passed into the hands of the armed forces.
The elections, lacking credibility, did not materially change that reality nor will the ones now coming up because the factors that gave rise to religious violence and political instability persist while evolving events suggest that they may even be aggravated. There should be no delusions about it.
Pakistan shares its unrest and uncertainty with Afghanistan and to a lesser extent with the Central Asian Republics and Iran, with whom it has little in common except religion, which is more divisive and a source of greater violence in Pakistan than in its north-western neighbours.
It will not be possible to effect any change in the political and economic direction of Pakistan so long as the country remains embroiled in the conflicts of its neighbours. The answer lies in a fundamental policy shift by promoting cultural and trade links with India. Both would come naturally and easily.
Pakistan’s cultural and linguistic links with India are rooted in history and the trade routes are diverse and economical. Communal frenzy caused by partition is over and the wounds have healed. The Muslims of India as a community remain backward but, perhaps, suffer much less discrimination and violence than the minority communities do in Pakistan.
Economically, India is growing faster than Pakistan and, unlike Pakistan, has never been ruled by generals. A ready measure of the strength of the Indian economy, besides its faster growth, is the value of its rupee. Two Pakistani rupees now buy one Indian rupee. Not long ago both were at par.
Apart from the benefit of trade, firmly rooted democracy and a secular tradition, the dream of an armed confrontation to wrest Kashmir stands buried for ever.
To quote from The Economist, “India is poised to become one of the four largest powers in the world by the end of the decade”. It has been the world’s largest importer of weapons for five years. The option of jihad no longer exists. Free communication and trade is the answer.
That is what the people want and army chief Gen Kayani has only endorsed it by a declaration that internal terrorism is a greater danger to Pakistan than India. The terrorism must abate with the eastern borders opened. If public opinion is hard to gauge, the call of the general is clear.
The writer is a former civil servant.