Bangladesh’s performance a ‘development surprise’

It is time that our governing classes realise that things can’t continue as they are. We need a process of wide-ranging reforms

Tasneem Siddiqui

Pakistan is a country which is always in crisis — some of the crises are endemic, others temporary. Starting with the crisis of legitimacy and identity — whether Pakistan is a Muslim country or an Islamic state — to questions of provincial autonomy, civil-military imbalance and perpetual allegations of rigged elections, we are always in a state of uncertainty and confusion.

A corollary of this predicament is that even after 72 years, we have not been able to find our bd insurancedirection. Some perceptive analysts have now started calling Pakistan a rudderless state. What is surprising is that having all the potential for providing better living conditions to its people, Pakistan is lagging behind in almost all respects, whether it is economy, human development or governance. No doubt we have had periods of high growth, but they have not proved sustainable.

In the SAARC region, leaving aside India and Sri Lanka where political systems have taken deep roots and high growth rates have been sustained over a 30 years period, Bangladesh and Nepal too have found their moorings. They are now moving fast in a set direction. International observers have described Bangladesh’s performance a ‘development surprise’.

It appears that there is something basically wrong with us. In what way are we different from other developing countries? To analyse the real causes of our instability, lack of direction and lack of steady socio-economic development, it is necessary that we dig deep and study the ground situation at the time of partition to find out who were the dominant forces at that time, what were their strengths and weaknesses, what was their vision for the future of the country and what was their performance.

Everyone knows that between 1940 and ’47 Mr Jinnah was trying to negotiate maximum provincial autonomy, and a weak centre with only three subjects: defence, foreign affairs and communications. But when Pakistan came into being, the opposite happened. The centre, led by the governor general, became the pivot of all powers and provinces were relegated to almost nothingness.

Soon after independence the question of identity also arose. How could we be different from India if Pakistan was also a secular country, which Mr Jinnah said it was. It is interesting to note that liberal intelligentsia in Pakistan thought that Mr Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech (which narrowly escaped censorship) was enough to make Pakistan a secular, pluralistic and progressive state. They forgot that to win the 1946 elections, he was forced to play the ‘Islamic Card’ and time to repay its cost was fast approaching.

Now we come to the third question i.e. the role of the dominant forces. When Pakistan came into existence, we inherited 37 percent of India’s armed forces as against 17 percent of the revenue income. The huge size of the army was because of the just-concluded World War II for which a large member of soldiers were recruited from western Punjab. Its officers cadre, which played no role in the freedom movement, inherited a great esprit-de-corps which made it the most powerful actor on the national scene.

The case of the Indian Civil Service was similar. The politicians were neither trained, nor experienced, nor well organised. As a matter of fact, Muslim League was not a party in the strict sense of the term. It was a movement and started to fizzle out as soon as its main objective was achieved. Additionally, regional parties were faction-ridden and divided along ethnic lines.

There is no denying the fact that most of the newly-independent countries faced teething problems in the initial years: coups, counter-coups, assassination of political leaders, civil wars, dictatorships and autocratic democracies etc. But then they started a process of stabilisation and set their direction right for socio- economic development.

In Pakistan, we started well in spite of huge problems of mass migration, Kashmir and lack of money to run the newly-established state. But soon it became evident that the country had been hijacked by the civil-military bureaucracy. Of course, they were good enough to maintain law and order and collect revenue but they were not alive to the aspirations of the people of an independent and sovereign country. As a result, the process of national integration and political development was stifled and instead of a becoming a welfare state Pakistan became a security state.

It does not require much research to see who was taking major decisions after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan. Starting with the dismissal of Kh Nazimuddin and dissolution of the constituent assembly, and going on to establish One Unit to counter the majority of (then) East Pakistan, making Pakistan a member of SEATO and CENTO and an ally of the US in the Cold War, the major decisions were taken by the powerful civil-military bureaucracy in the mid-fifties.

Finally, from 1958 onwards, there was direct military rule which intermittently continued for over 32 years. In the remaining 40 years we did see the façade of successive elected governments, but the real power remained in the hands of the army.

Where do we stand today? Currently our attention is focused on the economic fiasco and making Pakistan a corruption-free state, but we fail to realise that corruption is not our basic problem. Our crisis is much deeper. What we are facing now is ‘institutional exhaustion’ or ‘functioning anarchy’. Writ of the state and rule of law are a thing of the past. Now it is the rule of the mafias and those who have muscle power.

More dangerous than weakening of institutions is our intellectual bankruptcy. There are no independent analysts and public intellectuals to explain the reasons for our all-round failure. Since it is the rule of the stereotype and mediocrity reigns supreme, we remain confused and muddle-headed and keep on moving in a circle.

It is time that our governing classes (both who believe in status quo and those who stand for tabdeeli) realise that things can’t continue as they are. Our crisis is structural in nature. Shortcuts won’t do. What we need is a process of wide-ranging reforms. Instead of going to foreign countries to find how they have solved their problems, they should start looking inward and rise above their narrow personal and institutional interests.

Well-entrenched vested interests will not give up their power voluntarily. But if this happens, enough resources and enormous talent exist in the country and can take us forward.

(The writer is a social scientist (