August Special

Seventy-Four Years of State and Nation Building: Challenges and Progress

Pakistan has gradually transformed itself from essentially an agrarian economy to a rising industrial economy. The contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product has declined during the past half century from 60-70 percent to merely 19.2 percent according to the most recent Economic Survey of Pakistan. The industry and services have claimed more than 80 percent of the share. It is no mean progress when we look at the baseline at independence. Except a few rudimentary, low technology industries, there was hardly anything comparable to the regions that constituted India. In the economic preferences of the British Raj, our provinces were meant to stay agricultural and feed the industry and people in the rest of India. Today, Pakistan has tens of thousands of industries and industrial parks in every region of Pakistan, and more are being established under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is going to be what is very truly described as the ‘game-changer’.
At the time of independence, we had one institution of higher learning, the Punjab University, which was established in 1882, though we had general and professional colleges almost in every major city. Today, we have hundreds of public and private universities, every district has a university either established or in the process, and thousands of colleges and schools. By any estimation, Pakistan has one of the best educational infrastructures, but it has not benefitted in the manner other countries have.

Pakistan’s story of progress during the past three quarters of a century is a story of great achievements in every field of national life, and of untapped potential, stubborn crises of state and nation building. We have many successes to our credit and received many setbacks as well. No country in the world has ever escaped the problems we have confronted and found its way paved in history to walk fast. What is distinctive about Pakistan is the resilience of its people, innate sense of national solidarity, and social and cultural continuities that give it a very strong and coherent set of beliefs, ideas and traditions, enabling it to hold together in one of the most challenging geopolitical environments.


Pakistan is no longer a ‘new state’ after enduring many usual, and not so usual crises of nation building over three quarters of a century. Nor are any of the other post-colonial states anywhere in the world that confronted similar problems. Many of these states, including ours, inherited troublesome legacies of disputed territories, ethnic, tribal and regional diversity, and above all structural inequities and inequalities, which the political expediency and extractive colonial rule had created. Every nation found itself gripped with a unique set of problems and challenges at the time of independence. In our case, the challenges we faced in the summer of 1947 around this time of the year were so many and so exceptional. The partition of the British Indian Empire was peacefully negotiated by an agreement among three parties — the British, the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League — until a few months before the transfer of power. All hell broke loose in many parts of the subcontinent as majorities fell upon the minorities, generating a communal frenzy. The victims everywhere were the vulnerable sections of local populations, the women, children, sick and old. The fate and circumstances pushed the healthier and younger to assume the responsibility of the guardians of the community. Hundreds of thousands fell to save lives and honor of their communities at war with rivals. 



Once a mighty British colonial empire began to collapse, as the state structure it had created to rule the vast subcontinent became fractured along communal fault-lines. It lacked political will back home to fulfil its obligation of ensuring peace at a very critical stage of partition when the majority community at the grassroots level was unhappy about partition and emergence of an independent state of Pakistan, comprising the Muslim majority provinces in the North-West and the Muslim Bengal. Fleeing British in haste left a big law and order vacuum in the face of communal violence in every part of the dying empire. Whatever was left of it, the army, the police and the bureaucracy got divided, shifting loyalties to the new states. While India inherited an identity, a coherent state structure in place; a functioning economy, administration and the largest and well equipped armed forces, Pakistan had to collect fragments and put them together to start every aspect of governance. 
First and foremost was a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportion — the influx of refugees from what became India driven by a communal bloodbath. They arrived in millions on foot, bullock carriages, and in trains carrying the dead and dying with fatigue and hunger. One needs to be reminded that transfer of populations was not a part of the partition plan, but it happened, as the communal violence triggered by Hindu fanatics left no chance for vulnerable rural Muslim communities in the Eastern Punjab. The communal harmony couldn’t survive in our part of Punjab either, when the non-Muslim communities became vulnerable to attacks from thugs and bigots. Pakistan attempting to find its feet on the ground, was not prepared administratively or financially to cope with this human tragedy. The resolve, leadership and strong feelings of social solidarity helped it to settle these millions in a few years’ time.
Internal problems of consolidating diverse provinces, writing a new constitution, establishing a national market and economic infrastructure that were linked with India and generating finances enough to run a skeleton government were further compounded by the Indian government. While it accepted on paper the deal for Pakistan, it wanted to cripple the nascent state before it could walk. Some of its actions, like withholding of the cash balance share of Pakistan when it needed the most and refusing to release equipment stock allocated for Pakistan Armed Forces sent a strong message of what kind of neighbor we would be dealing with. Further to strangulate Pakistan’s agricultural economy, it stopped the flow of canal waters from the headworks located on the other side, denied coal for the railways and stopped all trade on the ruse that we had failed to devalue our currency, as it wished. Every piece of evidence in this respect is part of the history of troubled relations and deeply etched in our memories.
Because of Britain’s hurried and Shameful Flight, according to late noted historian Stanley Wolpert, we went through not only a bloodbath at our birth, but also faced an ironic situation of having a state without pre-determined boundaries. In the chaos and disorder of the partition came Sir Cyril Radcliffe, an absolute stranger to the region to draw the boundary between India and Pakistan. In a greater hurry than any official assigned to such an enormous task as drawing a borderline, he left many Muslim majority regions within India, giving Delhi an easy geographical link to the disputed State of Jammu and Kashmir. It is widely acknowledged, and historical evidence is in abundance that in doing so, he was influenced by Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, and also by the first Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru. 
Within about a year of existence, Pakistan faced a war in Kashmir as the Indian government secured accession from Maharaja Hari Singh under duress and began invasions of the territory well before it was done. Alastair Lamb, a noted historian with a focus on this region argues in Kashmir: A Disputed Legacy, 1846-1990 that such an instrument never existed, and if it does, it is a fabricated one. A great injustice was done to the people of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and to Pakistan and this lingering dispute has become a festering wound for both. Space is an issue to list India’s hostile actions, from military intervention in East Pakistan to having funded and supported terrorist groups and currently waging a proxy war through the Western front. However, the experience of first few years of hostility from India taught all the big lessons of surviving in an anarchical world. Consequently, we have played by the playbook of realpolitik principles: self-help, alliances to balance off when necessary, defence capabilities, nuclear deterrence, and deft and flexible foreign policy.
In the face of many odds, domestic as well as regional, including the forty-years war in Afghanistan fought by two contemporary great powers of the world, Pakistan has made remarkable achievements. We have robust and full-spectrum nuclear deterrence to prevent India from misadventures. It is a matter of great pride that we are the first Muslim majority country to have achieved nuclear power status. Counting all aspects of national power, we are today a middle sized power, a pivotal state, and 22nd largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity and 45th in terms of nominal gross domestic product in the world. However, the structural economic issues left unaddressed by successive governments have arrested the potential to grow at a scale when it did in the 1960s with political stability, five-year plans with clear targets and consistent economic policy framework. Populism, instability and misguided socialism of 1970s upended the ‘decade of progress’. Whenever the country, disregarding the character of the regime, has applied the same framework — consistent policy, political stability and privatisation – it has achieved remarkable progress.


Pakistanis don’t lack enterprising spirit, they just need an enabling environment through investment-friendly policies and ease of doing business. IT related technology products and services export last year grew by more than 50 percent, amounting to about $2 billion. This is an indicator of how knowledge economy can grow fast and change lives of millions of people and how so many sectors of the national economy can benefit immensely.


Pakistan has gradually transformed itself from essentially an agrarian economy to a rising industrial economy. The contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product has declined during the past half century from 60-70 percent to merely 19.2 percent according to the most recent Economic Survey of Pakistan. The industry and services have claimed more than 80 percent of the share. It is no mean progress when we look at the baseline at independence. Except a few rudimentary, low technology industries, there was hardly anything comparable to the regions that constituted India. In the economic preferences of the British Raj, our provinces were meant to stay agricultural and feed the industry and people in the rest of India. Today, Pakistan has tens of thousands of industries and industrial parks in every region of Pakistan, and more are being established under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is going to be what is very truly described as the ‘game-changer’.
At the time of independence, we had one institution of higher learning, the Punjab University, which was established in 1882, though we had general and professional colleges almost in every major city. Today, we have hundreds of public and private universities, every district has a university either established or in the process, and thousands of colleges and schools. By any estimation, Pakistan has one of the best educational infrastructures, but it has not benefitted in the manner other countries have. Comparatively, our social development indicators — literacy, female education, infant mortality rate, and gender equality — remain below other regional countries. It is primarily due to governance issues, corruption in the education bureaucracy and mismanagement of resources. Actually, Pakistan has a great potential to transition to a knowledge economy with a huge youth-bulge, but the ruling elites have not been able to harness this source by imparting high quality public education and professional skills. Pakistanis don’t lack enterprising spirit, they just need an enabling environment through investment-friendly policies and ease of doing business.  IT related technology products and services export last year grew by more than 50 percent, amounting to about $2 billion. This is an indicator of how knowledge economy can grow fast and change lives of millions of people and how so many sectors of the national economy can benefit immensely.
The formal economy of Pakistan, however, tells half of the story or even less, as the larger party remains informal, meaning undocumented. Neither the taxation system can earn revenues nor is it counted towards the real size of the economy. It is estimated to be 56% of the economy, in figures, it was $180 billion in 2019. However, it runs parallel to formal economy, generating jobs, business activities, capital accumulations and investments in different sectors. Our dual-track economy, which requires to be merged through systematic documentation, has created a rising middle class although the numbers vary greatly. Associated with that is the phenomenal expansion of the cities or urbanisation which is a sign of progress but also poses many challenges of environment, water scarcity and unplanned growth.
Pakistan’s story of progress during the past three quarters of a century is a story of great achievements in every field of national life, and of untapped potential, stubborn crises of state and nation building. We have many successes to our credit and received many setbacks as well. No country in the world has ever escaped the problems we have confronted and found its way paved in history to walk fast. What is distinctive about Pakistan is the resilience of its people, innate sense of national solidarity, and social and cultural continuities that give it a very strong and coherent set of beliefs, ideas and traditions, enabling it to hold together in one of the most challenging geopolitical environments.


The writer is an eminent defense/political analyst who regularly contributes for print and electronic media. Presently he is on the faculty of LUMS.
E-mail: [email protected]
 

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