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Down a treacherous path

india Updated: Jul 21, 2011 22:58 IST
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Pakistan continues to self-destruct. Its northwest is being pounded by American drones; Sindh is aflame; Punjab, despite years of dominance, appears confused and the army and politicians lie discredited. Since 2003, about 36,000 people have been killed in terrorist violence. This includes around 3,060 who have been killed in the first half of 2011. Virtually uncontrolled, 15 domestic and 32 trans-national terrorist groups operate in Pakistan. The country, formed on the weak logic that religion should be the basis of nations, gasps as a terminal patient.

Contrary to public perception, Pakistan's slide is not new. On the eve of its independence, battling sorrow and guilt over the loss of so many lives during Partition, Muhammad Ali Jinnah delivered a mesmerising speech to his new country. "…you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques, or to any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State… now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in the course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims." Fortunately for him, Jinnah did not live long enough to see the seeds of collapse that rose within a year of independence.

'Pakistan struggles for survival' was the lead headline in the American magazine Life in 1948. An essential part of this story spoke of religious clashes and economic chaos that threatened the new nation. In the same piece, the writer commented on the dearth of leadership in Pakistan. Barring Jinnah himself, Pakistan's national scene has been continually bereft of the leadership a new nation would require. Successive prime ministers - from Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif to current PM Yousuf Raza Gilani - never got a grip over the socio-cultural turmoil or the failing economy. They couldn't shrug off the heavy cloak of the army either.

The blame for religious strife, the stuttering economy and collapse of law and order lies squarely on the shoulders of the political elite, past and present. There is no leader in the Pakistani horizon who can resuscitate the State with outdated administrative systems. Is it not strange that even today, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) of Pakistan are part of the Pakistani State through an instrument that entitles them to their own laws, governance and social system, and in which no one can interfere? Little wonder then that Pakistan allows the Americans to flatten vast tracts of these areas without a by-your-leave.

It is forgotten that Fata serves as a buffer between Afghanistan and Pakistan, safeguarding the latter's borders, that these terrains once hosted the mujahideen against the Soviet invasion but were deserted by the Americans once the job was done. As the Americans pull out from the mess they created in Afghanistan, we need to question whether the Pakistani army has the capability to face a group that fought Nato and American forces, made the Americans spend over $3 trillion over a futile war and now to seek an exit while talking with the same people - the Taliban - against whom they had come to fight?

To state plainly, Pakistan is in a bind. With internal generation of revenues abysmally low and a huge defence expenditure, there is little left for building new infrastructure or maintaining the old one. Social services are collapsing. Natural gas resources have been grossly misused and the Sui natural gas fields in Balochistan are fast depleting. To meet its demand for energy and to stimulate growth, Pakistan will require vast funds to import gas. The army and the politicians stand discredited and local talent is leaving. Only those who can use the system to their advantage remain, or those who have no choice but to stay.

For decades, American and Arab money helped Pakistan. The quantum of this support in the future is debatable. The question is not when matters will improve, but how far they will decline.

Najeeb Jung is vice-chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia

The views expressed by the author are personal