Pakistan is a home to the world’s second largest Muslim population – after Indonesia – with about 220 million people. Historically, the country emerged out of the breakup of a united India along communal lines due to the demand of a separate homeland for the Muslims of India. Yet a large chunk of a non-Muslim population was going to fall in this piece of land: which was about 20 to 25% (approximately) of the new country’s total population residing in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (the present-day Pakistan), at the time of independence in 1947.
Induction of Theocratic Politics
The founding father of the country Muhammad Ali Jinnah had proposed a clearly liberal political structure for the new country in his maiden speech to the Constituent Assembly. He said, “You are free, you are free to go to your temples, and you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State […] because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” His words overtly endorsed equal rights and freedom for the religious minorities of Pakistan.
Unfortunately, soon after his demise, the same Assembly introduced and adopted theocratic statecraft, which allowed a controversial nexus of religion and the state. This very effort aborted and completely replaced the idea of a democratic state, now infused with an illiberal social and political agenda for the nation-to-be. This political move alienated religious minorities from mainstream socio-economic and political participation and created a sense of seclusion and deception among the followers of other religions who had opted to live in Pakistan.
Time proved that the concerns of the religious minorities and the political critics were right; because the introduced setup gradually paved the way for sharp religious classification in Pakistani society. Eventually, in the years to come the country has landed into new challenges of religious extremism, intolerance against the smaller religious communities, and their political seclusion, which further apprehended to the sectarian minorities within Islam itself. Surprisingly, the country which was envisioned to empower the Muslim minorities of India, once it came into existence and operational mode, repeated the same discriminatory practices to its subjected minorities for which they complained throughout their times in the United India.
Such policies of discrimination and economic injustice are justified neither in the real teachings of Islam nor in the international standards of human rights. Lately, the same failed political approaches further worsened the socio-economic situation of religious minorities and the overall state of human rights in the country. Consequently, the country had to face serious dents on its global image and international credibility. One of the examples is the potential threat of a suspension of bilateral trade and the status of Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) Plus by the European Union (EU) to Pakistan on the basis of a worsening human rights situation, and Pakistan’s presence in the gray list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for many years.
Therefore, a non-effective diplomatic and trade policy has not earned many economic benefits, causing the country to face numerous economic challenges including heavy debts, shrinking international markets for Pakistani products, flight of potential foreign investment and skyrocketing inflation of essential commodities in the country. These problems all stem from an ineffective internal and external policy, a track record of mis-governance and the non-seriousness of ruling elite in complying with human rights obligations. Despite the huge potential for textile and agricultural products, we failed to market them rigorously, with the result that our neighbours India and China having largely displaced us in our traditional markets such as, USA, Canada and the European Union.
Confused Foreign and Economic Policy
From day one, Pakistan has been shrugged into the regional conflicts with its neighbours or beyond. Flip-flopping between the democratic and military rules hindered the country in establishing a firm political basis and to adopt long-standing viable economic policies. Hence, after every few years, the successive governments experimented with various economic models that failed to yield fruits for their people. That is why Pakistan stands lowest in various performance indices among the other regional countries, especially when it comes to its economic, social and human development categories including education, health, women’s participation, and tax reforms.
Similarly, the country is still struggling to establish a successful foreign policy for many decades now. There has been a dire need to create a niche-based foreign and domestic policy to cater to changing global and internal needs. Luckily or unluckily, Pakistan falls in a geo-strategically important region that keeps lurching into some sort of International and regional crises every few years, such as the Afghan war in the 1980s and ‘90s to help support the Western Bloc against the Soviet Union or the War on Terror following the 9/11 attacks. This context already makes it difficult to achieve balance – whether in international relations or between the civil and military leadership.
The recent fiasco of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan after the hasty withdrawal of the US and allied forces in Afghanistan threatens to send Pakistan into renewed turmoil and regional crisis. On one hand, internationally it strengthens an accusation of support to the Afghan Taliban in toppling a perceived democratic and civilian regime. On the other hand, Pakistan keep shifting the blame on the US backed Afghan government, whose policies increased turmoil and put the Taliban back in power. In the past, a covert foreign policy agenda may have worked well for Pakistan, but seemingly, of late it has not been working – despite our all notions and claims of neutrality and impartiality before the international community, particularly the United Sates.
In its adventurous foreign policy moves, Pakistan not only lost support of international community, the Western countries and the Afghan people, but also lost the confidence of its so-called friends the Taliban. Above all the misadventure of this Afghan policy has led to yet another influx of Afghan refugees, who by hook and crook choose to be in Pakistan out of concern for their safety. Nevertheless, most of them are seeking to emigrate to the US or Europe. Their interim stay has created an additional economic burden on the country, which is often claimed to be on the verge of bankruptcy.
Likewise, a confusing policy and principled stand in the Ukraine-Russia war crisis have further secluded Pakistan from the dominant view in the global community. The preferences of the civilian and military leadership were not in harmony either – which further added fuel and created a clear rift between the PTI-led government and the then military leadership.
Even the present government, which apparently came to power through a constitutional process, but is widely believed to enjoy at least some level of support from the military establishment, seems to be clueless and slow to manage the economic and political crisis. Decades of mismanagement and wrong domestic policies have pushed the country near to default. Not a single friendly country or the international monetary institutions are ready to trust Pakistan’s fiscal and governance transparency. Despite desperate efforts, Pakistan is unable to secure a bail out agreement with IMF to save the sinking economic ship of the country, to date.
Lesson to Learn
The current political and economic disorder in the country did not happen over the year: it has a long history of mismanagement and a record of the abuse of power and human rights violations. Pakistan needs quick and stern surgery to overcome its challenges.
It needs to prioritise economic reforms that promote investment, growth, and job creation. This includes streamlining regulations, improving the business environment, investing in infrastructure, and strengthening the social and financial sectors for ensuring equal opportunities for wealth creation for marginalised citizens. And this must include groups such as religious minorities, transgender people and people with disabilities.
Education is key to success and quality education opens doors to the future. Pakistan needs to invest in education infrastructure and provide opportunities for quality and inclusive education to every citizen indiscriminately.
Secondly, Pakistan needs to improve its domestic image and display its diversity and representation of ethnic and religious groups at all relevant national and international forums. This is not just meant as a display of diversity: marginalised segments of society should be engaged and included in political decision-making through affirmative measures. Issues of forced conversion, religious intolerance and economic exclusion should be addressed through stringent legal and social reforms. Building social cohesion through interfaith dialogue, promoting tolerance and addressing inequalities is critical to promoting stability and progress.
Thirdly, Pakistan needs to strengthen its democratic institutions and processes to promote accountability and transparency, and inclusive decision-making processes. Constitutional freedoms and citizen-centric policies should be legislated to eliminate inequalities among the citizens. Their fundamental rights must be upheld to access justice and equal socioeconomic opportunities.
Fourthly, there is no permanent friend and foe in international relations. Global politics and foreign policy only work by keeping abreast of the evolving nature of international affairs. Hence, sticking to one power bloc does not work effectively in the current global politics. Pakistan should work to improve its ties with key regional and global players including the US and the European Union.
Lastly, Pakistan needs to revisit its regional and international foreign policy and improve its relationship with its neighbors including, India, Iran, and Afghanistan. In this critical situation, only the immediate neighbours can help more effectively than anybody else can. Therefore, instead, of hostilities with neighbours or reducing them to merely strategic depth, Pakistan should review its regional foreign policy and create a balanced stance for firm international cooperation. It should make sure to expand and receive regional support to address issues such as terrorism, climate change, inflation, and economic development.
Here’s a suggestion – Pakistan should make a deal with the IMF/western powers to give up nuclear assets and program for $100 billion. That will be sufficient to take care of all of the country’s economic problems and set it on the right course of social & economic development.