Success and failure

Published March 31, 2011

THE country which was considered to be a basket case in 1971, is today offering a mirror to others on how developing countries can become a development state and is being referred to as the 'development surprise' of the 21st century.

At the same time, it has also ensured that democracy is developing as a strong and permanent alternative to military rule, under which it has had many years of painful repression.

That this overwhelmingly Muslim country is also constitutionally and increasingly in practice politically secular is also a lesson for other Muslim majoritarian countries to emulate. The Supreme Court struck down a 31-year-old constitutional amendment and restored the country to its founding status as a secular republic, banning the writings of some radical Islamic ideologues.

The country which in the mid-1960s was heralded as a role model for other developing countries, where the international press had praised its military-led development model no end, stating that it might just reach the levels of development achieved only by the United States, has just appeared as the world's 10th most failed, or failing, state. On the course towards reaching this rather ignominious distinction, this country has also been called “the most dangerous place in the world”, and a “rogue state with a nuclear arsenal”.

In the world of development achievements and democratic and secular credentials, it is Bangladesh today which offers a rather sad comment on Pakistan's numerous failed promises. Bangladesh is one of the six countries in Asia and Africa which has been feted for its progress towards achieving its Millennium Development Goals, a set of targets that seek to eradicate extreme poverty and boost health, education and the status of women worldwide by 2015.

It has also halved its birth rate over the last few decades, happily giving up its title of the sixth most populous country to Pakistan. And despite the fanfare of having a larger number of women parliamentarians, it is Bangladesh which has far greater gender parity than does Pakistan, and women's rights are better ensured in the former than in the latter.

Moreover, Bangladesh's economy has grown at nearly six per cent a year over the past three years, despite the global downturn and high fuel and food prices which Pakistani finance officials cite as reasons for Pakistan's failure. Furthermore, Bangladesh's exports of garments worth $12.3bn last year, make it the fourth in the world behind China, the European Union and Turkey, leaving behind cotton-producing and exporting Pakistan.

Bangladesh gave the model of microfinance to the rest of the world and the man behind this received the Nobel Prize based on work undertaken at home for alleviating poverty. The fact that he was celebrated as a national hero differs sharply from the public and official treatment meted out to Pakistan's Nobel laureate who was forced to do all his work abroad, in exile-like conditions, and never acknowledged as a son of Pakistan's soil. Even in terms of diverse identities and religious tolerance, Pakistan can learn from the traditions of its former province. Economist

In a list of 167 countries listed by the magazine in its 'Index of Democracy', Bangladesh moved up the table from being 91st in 2008 to 83rd in 2010, while Pakistan also moved up, but from 108th to 104th. And despite being a democracy in 2010 and one of the two democracies on this list, Pakistan is 10th in the 'Failed States Index', and is part of a group that includes Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe and, of course, Afghanistan. One can dispute such a caricature for being politically motivated, however, this does require far greater and honest reflection.

Bangladesh as East Pakistan was probably a greater disaster created by the British than the one left behind and still unresolved in Kashmir. This was a union which the West Pakistani elite eventually forced and exploited. It should not have been, and it took 25 years for the Bangladeshi people to free themselves from the worst forms of West Pakistani repression — cultural, linguistic, economic, political and, of course, military.

Clearly, Bangladesh is not the only country which offers possible lessons for Pakistan, and the former is not devoid of a whole host of afflictions typical of developing countries. The argument being emphasised here is one of relative progress and possibilities. Clearly, at the moment Bangladesh seems to offer more of either than does Pakistan. And rather than fantasise about becoming another Turkey or Malaysia, as Pakistan's elite is so fond of doing, perhaps it would be instructive to look closer home, and at small initial steps rather than grand, unachievable schemes.

In many ironic ways, it is Bangladesh which has become Jinnah's Pakistan — democratic, developmental, liberal, secular — while Pakistan has become his worst nightmare — intolerant, authoritarian, illiberal and fundamentalist.

The West Pakistani elite which lived off the resources of East Pakistan for 25 years and was happy to see the basket case East Pakistan become Bangladesh, needs to seriously come to terms with its continuing hubris and past. The least that the civilian and military Pakistani elite can do is to seek forgiveness for the crimes committed four decades ago, and to begin to learn how basket cases and failed states can become successful democratic, developmental and secular states.

The writer is a political economist.

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