By Adnan Syed
Pakistan is passing through a vicious negative feedback loop that is beginning to gather momentum. The vicious circle is a result of country’s inability to provide for the basic individual rights of its citizens. Combine that with a burgeoning population, and the rampant nationalist tensions within the society that have been suppressed in the name of religious identity, Pakistan is staring at a nightmarish scenario in the coming decade. Pakistan needs to realize that the existential threat is coming from the failure of its society and not due to the external influences that consume majority of the resources of our nation. Unless we start spending on providing for the four basic rights to our citizens, the chaos will just feed on itself in the years to come.
This two part writeup should be treated as a loud musing. I have stayed largely away from the religious vs. secularism debate as the immediate concern is to establish the rule of law and the secularism debate takes us away from the immediate objectives; provide for the protection of life, property and honour of each and every of the individuals. Needless to say that the demographic outlook for Pakistan, widening fault lines across the sub-nationalities and the vagueness about the role of religion in the affairs of the state is presenting a dire outlook for the state of Pakistan.
The Vicious Circle
Among many of the tragedies faced by Pakistan, grim news came out of Karachi that MQM MPA Raza Haidar was gunned down in a mosque on Monday. Mr. Haidar and his body guard received several bullets from two men. Initial reports suggest that a sectarian organization may have targeted him as part of minority cleansing that has been going on selectively in Pakistan for the past two decades.
Usually, the sequence of events in an ideal world runs something like this: Police applies full investigation based on modern forensics and sharp investigative techniques. Almost 90% of the time, suspects are identified. Cases are filed in the courts within a period of a few months. Suspects are assigned public defenders if they cannot afford it. The state picks up the best public prosecutors to present its case in front of an independent judiciary. The judicial process takes up to 2 to 3 years at most and the suspects are either found guilty or declared innocent. In case of a guilty verdict, the convicts are sentenced to the appropriate punishment. The well oiled judicial system not only makes sure that justice is meted to the guilty ones, it keeps sending out the constant deterrence message to the would-be criminals: no matter how small or big is the crime, there is a well funded and working system that is out to make sure that no one tramples on the four basic rights of the other civilians.
This process repeats itself every time, with no regard to the status of the aggrieved or the culpable individual. The message is reinforced every time the society works to enforce the justice. Do a crime and you will do your time. Deterrence is real and will be enforced.
Now that was the ideal world: In the real world on the streets of Karachi or Lahore, personal killings may go unsolved for years. Suspects even when identified are likely to be tortured and forced to confess to a crime they may or may not have committed. Underfunded police system and the public prosecutors will find themselves backlogged in an equally ineffective judicial system where the cases may linger for a decade or more.
With no deterrence of any sorts, the vicious circle begins to feed itself. A society that fails to protect its citizens finds itself under attack from within. As the law fails to give the basic facilities to its society members, segments of population start exploiting the other segments due to the uneven application of the law. The rot starts spreading through the layers of the society as the abuse spreads across the layers of the society. From tax evasion to targeted killings, the aggressors take heart in the fact that chances of them getting caught and punished are relatively low. Another proximity effect kicks in this atmosphere; if my neighbour can do it and get away with it, why can’t I. The negative feedback loop is now rampaging through in the society, feeding upon itself as the society settles in a permanent state of chaos and anarchy.
Notice while good consciousness resides inside many of the individuals, it has never been enough to stabilize a society. Majority of Pakistanis are decent individuals who deeply care about their families and their neighbours. Yet at 1% of the population paying taxes, it is clear that the same decent-towards-their-families individuals are the adept tax evaders as well. Look around yourself and find the reasonable and pious individuals having to accept or give bribes on a daily basis, and consider it completely normal. Honour killings, destruction of public property is done by ordinary people who are usually the mild well mannered people in their daily lives. The human psychology is rather segmented and arbitrary; unless it is compelled by the law to follow the dictum, it will find ways to twist the laws for its own self interest.
Is Pakistan a Special Case of a Third World Country?
In its big cities, towns and villages, Pakistan is like just another third world country. It is a country governed on an ad-hoc basis, where institutions have been slow to develop, rule of law is patchy at best, and populations’ penchant for quick fixes get exploited by the military as it steps into the mix every one and a half decade; only to leave things even worse. Like clockwork, army rule is welcomed with garlands and distribution of sweets on the streets. Honeymoon generally lasts two to three years as the black-and-white world view of the military leaders quickly finds itself wanting in a complicated gray-ish-world. Disenchantment sets in when “quick-fixes” lead to further long term problems. Democracy is welcomed again, and later despised due to its largely ineffectual leaders who are hell bent upon furthering their own rules. But memories are short, and Pakistan repeats its sorry loop yet again and again every few years.
At 63, Pakistan is still a very young nation. Yet an added complication in Pakistan’s mix is the confessional nature of the state. This vague aspect is exploited by the right wing parties and their sympathizers to impose the Islamic ideology on the country that for most intent and purposes came into being based on a Muslim nationalism cause. The confusion is fully exploited by various political and military leaders to further their rules by a mere few years. However the cost is exorbitant for the country. This confessional state approach leads to suppression of ethnic and regional identities. In turn, society is further destabilized as various groups get into conflict with each other trying to protect their nationalist rights that are trampled under the name of Islam and a largely federated Pakistan.
The result of the confessional nature of the state (and its resultant fixation with India) is that Pakistan has never been able to properly look inward and assess the importance of a stable society governed by the laws. While Pakistan’s geopolitical proximity has never been its friend, Pakistan has constantly spent more on its defence forces (almost useless for the rule of law within a society) than on its combined law enforcement, healthcare and educational infrastructure. This fixation is rather a sad indictment of the country’s misjudged priorities: Almost all of its major debacles (1971 separation, religious violence) were a result of disenchantment of a major segment of the society. This disenchantment resulted from the deprivation of the basic rights that the state of Pakistan failed to provide.
And yet, the intelligentsia remains paranoid of the external forces while the society crumbles from within.
Rather worryingly it doesn’t get any better going forward. Another ticking time bomb that awaits Pakistan is its exploding population. The present population at 160 million is set to grow almost three fold to 450 million within the next 40 years. This staggering rate of growth will bring with it further frictions. If Pakistan is unable to stabilize the present fissures developing within its population, it will soon be wrestling with three times the problems. An economy unable to provide for the disillusioned youth will set itself up for further religious and political extremism. The mistrust and hatred within the current generation will transfer and compound into the next generations. From the generation that is now being referred to as Zia’s children, we have a glimpse of havoc a hate filled ideology can instil inside a new generation. The new generation just remembers the misgivings; all else is forgotten in the passing of the generational baton.
It is all a big mess. Pakistan did not get there overnight. It will not exit it any day soon as well. But it is not the outcomes that Pakistan needs to focus on. It is the building blocks of a stable society that need attention, now.
(Continued – Tomorrow: We Need Democracy and We Still Need a Top Down Approach)