Pakistan at crossroad – by Shiraz Paracha



In the past three decades, I have met many retired military officers–both junior and senior level officers. They all believed democracy is not a good system for Pakistan.

Democracy has not delivered due to the policies of the Pakistani state. But only the failure of democracy is not the reason of our problems. Many non-democratic states in this world are highly developed. I have lived and worked in countries which are opposed to Western form of democracy but the lack of Western democracy has not deterred development in those states. From Singapore to China and from Central Asian states to Russia, we can see scientific approach, high level of education, very developed infrastructure and strong economies.

We, on the other hand, have failed to develop a system that can be presented as a model. If democracy is not suitable for Pakistan, authoritarian military rulers also couldn’t transform Pakistan into economically, socially and culturally developed country.

In Pakistan, the problem is bigger and more serious. The Pakistani military, for example, has been acting as nanny or big brother for the state and its 200 million people. The military has decided that Pakistan is a security state that is under perpetual threat physically and ideologically.

Animosity towards India underpinned by Hindu, Muslim divide or the ‘Two Nation Theory” has been a cornerstone of Pakistan’s state sponsored national narrative and policy. The military says it is the defender of Pakistan’s geographical and ideological boundaries. This perspective or position is founded on the “Two Nation Theory”. Precisely because of this the Pakistan Army is portrayed as the army of Islam and Pakistan is seen as the fortress of Islam.

General Zia-ul-Haq changed the motto of the Pakistan Army to: “Imman, Taqwa and Jihad-fi-Sabilillah”. It meant that besides being a professional army, the Pakistan Army is also a missionary force with a mission to defend Pakistan and Islam. From this stand point, all ‘enemies of Islam’ are our enemies. Therefore defending and fighting for Islam is our supreme responsibility and priority, not Western concepts such as corrupt democracy.

The Pakistani state has been focusing on enforcing morality. It has been on an evangelical mission of “correcting” public’s faith. Instead of creating awareness, dictatorships encouraged confusing historical narratives and played sectarian card for divide and rule purposes.

The State has used Islam as political tool for social and political coherence and control. However, in Pakistan various shades of Islam exist side by side. General Zia patronized a particular sect and that policy backfired.

Also Pakistan is a federation and it will be stronger if federating units are strong and satisfied. It did not happen in Pakistan. The 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution is the only and the right step for the strengthening of the federation.

Among all the 15 former Pakistani army chiefs, General (R) Raheel Sharif was the most India centric. He was vocal and blunt in his opposition to India. The reason of his strong anti-India stand could be his family background and experiences. His brother and close relatives were decorated military officers who had lost their lives fighting against India. General Sharif’s anti-India position could be linked to genuine personal, emotional factors but the current Indian government and its policies have contributed more in the recent tensions between India and Pakistan.

Such hard-line positions and policies on the both sides are not in conformity with the changed international and regional situation.

With the change of Command in the Pakistan Army a meaningful and fundamental change in policy and strategy should follow because Pakistan is at crossroads. We have to look at India and Afghanistan not as perpetual enemies or threats to our existence. Good and friendly relations with the both countries will bring new opportunities for Pakistan. Trade and economy will determine our place in the world, not ideological position based on confused and distorted understanding of history.

Secondly, since Zia-ul-Haq’s time the Pakistani society is like a pressure cooker. The State has to stop interfering in its citizens’ personal and private lives. Maintaining law & order, providing security and fair law enforcement are few of the key responsibilities of the state. Moral policing is not its job. Similarly, all discriminatory laws imposed and enforced by dictators should be discarded by the federal and provincial governments through the Parliament.

All false, hateful and divisive materials in our textbooks should be replaced. Instead of hero worship and blind trust we have to develop learning and observing processes that are based on critical thinking. Political and social discourses that promote tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity should be foundations of our education system. State sponsored elements must not harass the public. The Pakistani society needs openness. Respecting freedom and privacy are signs of civility.

If we could introduce the above changes in our society, we will earn trust and respect. Pakistan has the potential to become one of the most popular tourist destination as we have fascinating landscape, very rich and diverse cultural heritage and extremely warm and friendly people. Only tourism industry can uplift the Pakistani economy and improve our image in the world.



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