The Quaid in Punjab with students
The Quaid in Punjab with students

WHILE we celebrate independence this year, we are facing a life-threatening economic crisis. When Pakistan came into being 75 years ago, the critics of partition had said that Pakistan was economically unviable. The members of the Cabinet Mission 1946 had tried to impress this on Mirza Abol Hasan Ispahani. When Pakistan came into being regardless, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck testified that the India government was doing all in its power to prevent Pakistan from emerging as a viable state.

The financial assets of Pakistan were withheld, until Mahatma Gandhi forced the government of India to pay an instalment at least of Pakistan’s share. We rode out the crisis by the dint of selfless devotion, duty, a sense of ownership, without any infrastructure. Today we are back full circle and selfless devotion and a sense of ownership are woefully lacking.

Enriching the elite

In fact we are facing a French Revolution type of situation. The French Revolution was caused by taxing the poor and enriching the elite. In 1774 Anne-Robert Jacques Turgot was made Controller-General of Finances. His attempts to tax the rich resulted only in his earning the hatred of the Queen. In 1777 Jacque Necker was given the position. He raised the rate of interest rather than widen the tax net. Necker was popular with the powerful and called back thrice but he remained ineffective. His prescription was to obtain loans to repay loans; the ultimate result was that Queen Marie Antoinette lost her head.

It is not necessary to stress the similarity with our own predicament; but there is one, very vital difference. No one debates how France came into existence, how it became a separate country. France was the cultural capital of Europe. Even after the Germans had overrun France during the Second World War, General Charles de Gaulle ignited resistance by reminding his countrymen that this was a world war and this is how France reversed its defeat.

If we learn lessons from history, particularly from the period right after independence, a way out can be found from the prevailing crises.

This is not the case with Pakistan. All those who have their wealth stashed abroad need to be reminded of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s cheque to the government of Pakistan. Since it was based on Indian securities, Jawaharlal Nehru would not allow it to be cashed.

It is not, as Dr Kaiser Bengali said at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on July 15, 2023 that the finance minister of Pakistan has only one task to perform: to obtain loans and to service loans. In an earlier presentation according to Pakistan Horizon (January 2020, page 28), he pointed out the duplication of services, unbridled import of luxury goods like pet food, and huge untaxed sectors and even relocation from Pakistan of vital industries.

Failure of nationalisation

The plutocrats who jumped in to save Pakistan from collapse need to be addressed in more respectful and thankful terms, but over the years, the face of capital has changed. They blame Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for all the nationalisation he undertook (but never blame Mujibur Rahman for his nationalisation which has ended jute manufacture from Bangladesh). I had the occasion to discuss the impact with the late Dr Mubashir Hasan; learning that I was a teacher by profession, he apologised, saying that the nationalisation of educational institutes was not on the mandate of the PPP, but because of the Nur Khan Report, teachers’ bodies had their demands fulfilled.

I told him I was the party of the second part, a loyal lieutenant of Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, PCTA President. I could assert on the basis on the experiences of my colleagues in other colleges that the step was a humane act. I also told him that I had abused the security of service I had obtained by (1) Bunking classes; (2) Making public colleges mere showrooms for their tuition centres and (3) Making allies of student bodies to make discipline optional. I had no doubt that the same condition prevailed in the nationalised industries and nationalised banks and insurance companies. The moral responsibility of the failure of nationalisation rests on the workers.

However, on this anniversary of our independence I would like to recall the definition of Pakistan as given to an APA correspondent by our founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah: After defining it in geographical terms naming Assam, NWFP, Balochistan, Sindh, Bengal and Punjab (the last two to be undivided) he defined Pakistan politically saying it would be a democracy. “Mr. Jinnah said, he personally hopes its major industry and public utility services would be socialized’” (Dawn, November 9, 1945).

Privatisation the cure?

Therefore kindly reflect that privatization is not a panacea, as our experience with K-Electric has shown. Please explain to the people of Pakistan how is it that the price of iron and steel is sky high and the Pakistan Steel Mills are closed. Explain to them how, when it is very difficult to obtain a train reservation, the Pakistan Railways are running at a loss. We have a treasure for religious tourists, mountaineers, and archaeologists, but we have discouraging infrastructure.

There has been much criticism of the armed forces in this regard. If the military or the Fauji Foundation is taking part in the economy of a capital-shy country, then it only needs to be channelized to feasible and long-term sectors like infrastructure.

We have been here before

A ‘qarz utaro’ (debt retirement) fund was launched in the past; where are its proceeds? This is not a warning nor a threat, this is plain common sense. Whichever party is voted in must adopt the Turgot approach. We have been trying the Necker approach for over a decade, and the result has been disastrous. Please don’t put me down as an alarmist. What as a historian — or one who has adopted the teaching and writing of history as a profession — I need to emphasise is that we have been here before. In 1947 when the odds for our surviving as a nation were heavily weighed against us, we came out of it.

Those in the service of Pakistan from secretary-general to the lowliest peon, as I submitted above, served selflessly. Instead of demanding an increase in emoluments they sacrificed their personal belongings to give a shelterless, unhoused government of Pakistan a push start. But there were two long-term skids set by Jawaharlal Nehru we could not cope with, at least not adequately. Number one was the denial of its independence to Bengal in 1947.

Jawaharlal Nehru turned down the United and Independent Bengal scheme by invoking the Two-Nation Theory: “There was no chance of Hindus there agreeing to put themselves under permanent Muslim domination (Transfer of Power, Vol X). Why Nehru blocked the independence is also given in the Transfer of Power, Vol II. Muhammad Ali Jinnah had agreed to an independent Bengal as testified to among others by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (Unfinished Memoirs, Oxford, 2012, p.78).

This long-term danger to the survival of Pakistan could not be coped with. It went exactly as Nehru had planned. The second is with regard to Kashmir. Nehru wrote to Sri Prakasa, the first Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan; “Kashmir will be a drain on India’s resources, but they would be a greater drain on the resources of Pakistan” (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Second Series, Vol 4, 346-347).

Also, Pakistan must not make the mistake of insisting that India return to the August 5, 2019 position on held Kashmir. If India agrees, it shall have made a major concession in diplomatic terms, without solving the problem of Kashmir. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres has said that the Simla Agreement was no impediment to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute: “The final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

On this Independence Day, let us express our gratitude to the leader, his lieutenants and his generation, for taking this decision. They believed in Pakistan and paid with their lives and blood for its establishment. That generation would not understand the degeneration we have brought about.

This is perhaps the most dismal anniversary of independence that Pakistan is observing, but only a man as old as myself can tell you with confidence this too shall pass. We know what and where the malaise is affecting the state of Pakistan. The only thing is that we need to be armed with political will. Elections are to be held. Our people can say that they shall vote only for the party that has the courage and commitment to take us out of the debt trap.

The writer is at present Editor, Quarterly Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society. He has a teaching experience exceeding 50 years. Some of his books are A Concise History of Pakistan (Oxford 2009), M.A. Jinnah The Outside View (Lahore Peace Publications, 2022) & Liaquat Ali Khan His Life and Work, (Oxford 2003).

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