JANUARY 2017

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The Task Ahead

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By Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed *

No state can tolerate a challenge to its monopoly of power from within; in other words, a state within a state is a contradiction in terms of state sovereignty

Hopefully… Pakistan would, despite the reign of terror let loose by the Taliban on the very idea of democracy, and especially on some parties, have completed the election process, and a result should be in, or very soon. Whosoever wins a majority or most seats and on that basis forms a coalition government would have to have some concrete and practical measures to address a number of egregious problems, which if not tackled quickly and effectively can render Pakistan a failed state.

The most dangerous threat confronting Pakistan is terrorism, which in turn branches into minority, sectarian, sub-sectarian and ethnic types of attacks on innocent people. I can also add aggression against women, which is currently eclipsed by the other four forms of violence but is always present on the agenda of extremists. Nothing is more cowardly and mean than to intimidate and assault people who are weak. Just as the bully at the street corner is a coward, so are the extremists.

During my recent seven weeks in India I gave seminars and talks on my Punjab partition book and Indo-Pak relations. There was not even remote interest in reuniting with Pakistan. No doubt some idealists still talk in such terms, believing that the people of this region are the same despite the incidents of religion, while some others take the cynical view that getting rid of a large segment of the Muslim population helped India consolidate as a secular democracy. No denying there are also those who nurture hostility and ill will towards Pakistan. However, the majority of the Indian people now take it for granted that these are two separate states and that is how it should be.

The threat to Pakistan is, therefore, essentially internal and it is real. No state can tolerate a challenge to its monopoly of power from within; in other words, a state within a state is a contradiction in terms of state sovereignty, which is essentially about controlling territories within the state. The tribal areas are a perennial challenge to Pakistani sovereignty but for such a menace to pop up in the capital of Pakistan is veritable rebellion against it. I hope General Pervez Musharraf will be given a fair chance to defend himself for taking the decision to order army action against the Laal Masjid insurgency. My own research shows that the government did try all peaceful means to defuse the conflict but failed to dissuade the leaders of the insurgency from seeking confrontation with the state (Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences 1947-2011, Oxford University Press Karachi, 2013, pages 339-341).

Another question that needs immediate attention is state finances. Leading writers such as Dr Ikramul Haq and Huzaima Bukhari, Shahid Javed Burki, Shahid Hamid and Rashid Amjad, Shahid Kardar, Akbar Zaidi and many others have been writing on the need for an effective taxation policy. I often hear that while the Pakistani rich are obscenely rich the state is poor. The landlords are the worst offenders but the politicians and industrialists also figure prominently among those who evade tax.

Top priority must also be given to rampant corruption that prevails in Pakistan. Whether Pakistan was created to establish an Islamic order where justice and fair play would prevail or not, the fact remains that the Pakistani ruling class has pillaged national resources and abused public office with such insatiable appetite that many old-timers recall British rule with nostalgia. If the reports circulating in the media are to be believed the previous Pakistan People’s Party government broke all records when it comes to the politics of plunder but the roots go back far back in time. Those guilty should most certainly be put on trial. However, selective justice is no justice. Due process of law should be adhered to without exception or exemptions. Ill-begotten wealth must be confiscated.

I must give full credit to Imran Khan for having put this issue high up on his election campaign. It remains to be seen if he would be in the new government and deliver on it or if not he would sit on the opposition benches and provide legitimate and responsible alternative leadership. With the summer now at its burning hot beginning, people would expect the energy problem and load shedding to be given immediate attention. It makes life miserable for millions and cripples industry.

Last but not least, beyond these immediate challenges we have to deal with illiteracy and population growth. Any government claiming to be a welfare state must ensure that all Pakistani children get a chance to go to school. Once, Khan made the shocking suggestion in a BBC interview that the children of the poor should learn a trade. Somebody pointed out that his own children went to the best schools that money could provide. I hope he and other politicians give top priority to making all Pakistanis literate. Till class six or eight, education should be free and compulsory for all children. I need not labour the point that no government effort to tackle this problem can succeed if the population growth continues unabated. The way to deal with this is to enable women to earn an income and thus assert their right not to keep producing babies.

On the whole, a strong and effective state is needed that facilitates productivity but ensures that the wealth thus produced is shared fairly by all those involved in its production and the weak and needy are not abandoned to beg or steal. This is how Southeast Asia created prosperity and we too can.

* The writer is a PhD (Stockholm University); Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2013; The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The article was published in Daily Times on May 12 before the election results were announced.

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