Guns, re­li­gion and para­noia are the break­ing of Pak­istan

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD - THE ECON­O­MIST

It has been for so long a coun­try of such un­met po­ten­tial that the scale of Pak­istan’s dere­lic­tion to­wards its peo­ple is eas­ily for­got­ten. Yet on every mea­sure of progress, Pak­ista­nis fare atro­ciously.

More than 20 mil­lion chil­dren are de­prived of school. Less than 30 per cent of women are em­ployed. Ex­ports have grown at a fifth of the rate in Bangladesh and In­dia dur­ing the past 20 years. And now the am­bi­tions of the new gov­ern­ment un­der Im­ran Khan, who at least ac­knowl­edges his coun­try’s prob­lems, are thwarted by a bal­ance-of-pay­ments cri­sis.

If Khan gets an In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund bailout, it will be Pak­istan’s 22nd. The per­sis­tence of poverty and mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion, and the in­sta­bil­ity they foster, is a dis­as­ter for the world’s sixth most pop­u­lous coun­try. Thanks to its nu­clear weapons and plen­ti­ful re­li­gious zealots, it poses a dan­ger for the world too.

Many, in­clud­ing Khan, blame ve­nal politi­cians for Pak­istan’s prob­lems. Oth­ers ar­gue that Pak­istan sits in a uniquely hos­tile part of the world, be­tween wartorn Afghanistan and im­pla­ca­ble In­dia. Both these woes are used to jus­tify the power of the armed forces. Yet the army’s pre­em­i­nence is pre­cisely what lies at the heart of Pak­istan’s trou­bles. The army lords it over civil­ian politi­cians. Last year it helped cast out the pre­vi­ous prime min­is­ter, Nawaz Sharif, and en­gi­neer Khan’s rise.

Since the found­ing of Pak­istan in 1947, the army has not just de­fended state ide­ol­ogy but de­fined it, in two de­struc­tive ways. The coun­try ex­ists to safe­guard Is­lam, not a tol­er­ant, pros­per­ous cit­i­zenry. And the army, be­liev­ing the coun­try to be sur­rounded by en­e­mies, pro­motes a doc­trine of per­se­cu­tion and para­noia.

The ef­fects are dire. Reli­gios­ity has bred an ex­trem­ism that at times has looked like tear­ing Pak­istan apart. The state backed those who took up arms in the name of Is­lam. Although they ini­tially waged war on Pak­istan’s per­ceived en­e­mies, be­fore long they be­gan to wreak havoc at home. About 60,000 Pak­ista­nis have died at the hands of mil­i­tants, most of whom come un­der the Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan. The army at last moved against them fol­low­ing a school mas­sacre in 2014. Yet even to­day it shel­ters vi­o­lent groups it finds use­ful.

Meld­ing re­li­gion and state has other costs, in­clud­ing the harsh sup­pres­sion of lo­cal iden­ti­ties — hence long-run­ning in­sur­gen­cies in Baloch and Pash­tun ar­eas. Re­li­gious mi­nori­ties such as the Ah­madis are cru­elly per­se­cuted. As for the para­noia, the army is no more the state’s glo­ri­ous guardian than In­dia is the im­pla­ca­ble foe. Of the four wars be­tween the two coun­tries, all of which Pak­istan lost, In­dia launched only one, in 1971 — to put an end to the geno­cide Pak­istan was un­leash­ing in what be­came Bangladesh. Even if pol­i­tick­ing be­fore a com­ing elec­tion ob­scures it, de­vel­op­ment in­ter­ests In­dia more than pick­ing fights.

The para­noid doc­trine helps the armed forces com­man­deer re­sources. More money goes to them than on de­vel­op­ment. Worse, it has bred a habit of geopo­lit­i­cal black­mail: help us fi­nan­cially or we might add to your per­ils in a very dan­ger­ous part of the world. This is at the root of Pak­istan’s ad­dic­tion to aid, de­spite its prickly na­tion­al­ism. The lat­est it­er­a­tion of this is China’s $US60 bil­lion ($83bn) in­vest­ment in roads, rail­ways, power plants and ports, known as the China-Pak­istan Eco­nomic Cor­ri­dor. The fan­tasy that, with­out other trans­for­ma­tions, pros­per­ity can be brought in from out­side is un­der­scored by CPEC’s trans­port links. With­out an open­ing to In­dia, they will never ful­fil their po­ten­tial. But the army blocks any rap­proche­ment.

Khan’s gov­ern­ment can do much to im­prove things. It should in­crease its tax take by clamp­ing down on eva­sion, give in­de­pen­dence to the mon­e­tary au­thor­ity and unify the of­fi­cial and black-mar­ket ex­change rates. Above all, it should seek to boost com­pet­i­tive­ness and in­te­grate Pak­istan’s econ­omy with the world’s. All that can raise growth.

Yet the chal­lenge is so much greater. By mid-cen­tury, Pak­istan’s pop­u­la­tion will have in­creased by half. Only siz­zling rates of eco­nomic growth can guar­an­tee Pak­ista­nis a de­cent life, and that de­mands pro­found change in how the econ­omy works, peo­ple are taught and wel­fare is con­ceived. Fail­ing so many, in con­trast, re­ally will be felt be­yond the coun­try’s bor­ders.

Trans­for­ma­tion de­pends on Pak­istan do­ing away with the state’s twin props of re­li­gion and para­noia — and with them the army’s power.

Khan is not ob­vi­ously the cat­a­lyst for rad­i­cal change. But he must recog­nise the prob­lem. He has made a start by stand­ing up to dem­a­gogues bay­ing for the death of Asia Bibi, a Chris­tian labourer falsely ac­cused of blas­phemy.

How­ever, whole­sale re­form is be­yond the reach of any one in­di­vid­ual. Many would far rather a more sec­u­lar Pak­istan. They should speak out. Yes, for some there are risks, not least to their lives or lib­erty. But for most — es­pe­cially if they act to­gether — the elites have noth­ing to lose but their hypocrisy.

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