Pakistan: Underdeveloped at 60!

FREEDOM, even when limited and facile, is a
thousand times preferable to bondage, and there
can be no reservation on thanksgiving by the
Pakistani people on their state’s 60th birth
anniversary. The feeling of jubilation could,
however, have been infinitely stronger if it were
possible to dismiss the thought of Pakistan’s
being an under-developed collectivity even at the
age of 60.

Statisticians, especially those who cook up
figures for official reports, will disagree and
protest. They have for long maintained that
Pakistan is a rapidly developing country and
should soon join the developed elite. This claim
is based on the rate of GDP growth, the
burgeoning numbers of cell phones and automobiles
in the country, the mushrooming of high-rise
plazas and the presence of rich and powerful
rulers. Perhaps Islamabad’s role in fighting
terrorists by subduing large parts of the
country’s population will also be cited as
evidence of success in achieving development

Regardless of the value one may put on these
indicators of development, we are concerned here
with three main indicators of under-development.
These are: a lack of maturity in the collective’s
thinking, a high level of poverty in the country,
and the people’s exclusion from decision-making.

The assumption here is that besides computation
of material progress, development must be
measured by a country’s ability to take
decisions, especially on critical issues, that
prove to be wise, timely, and in public interest;
by guarantees of a decent and fulsome standard of
living for all citizens, especially the poorest
and the weakest among them; and by the
opportunities the people have of contributing to
decisions affecting their lives, both
individually and collectively. Pakistan tests
positive on all three of the indicators of

The grievous setbacks and debilitating crises
Pakistan has had to face over the past six
decades make a pretty long list. The more
consequential are: failure to realise for nine
years the most vital need for a constitution for
the new sate and the compulsions of a democratic,
federal and equitable constitution till today;
use of unfair means to escape democratic
obligations and frequent resort to force to
suppress the aspirations of the federating units,
especially of the majority population in East
Bengal; deliberate and hypocritical exploitation
of belief for narrow political interests; neglect
of permanent neighbours for the sake of distant,
temporary and fickle-minded patrons; reliance on
profitless borrowing and disregard for national
human capital; and, finally, an incredibly strong
devotion to a praetorian polity.

Throughout the years of independence the people
have paid heavily for the collective’s lack of
capacity to wisely deal with critical issues, to
address crises before they become irresoluble.
The most frightening aspect of reality today is
our apparently firm resolve to prove that the
mindset governing Pakistan’s actions and
behaviour betrays not only a state of
under-development but also suicidal traits of a
most dangerous variety.

Nearly 40 per cent of the population of Pakistan
lives in abject poverty. What makes the situation
more unbearable is that while efforts to enable
the poor to move out of the abyss of dehumanized
existence have had limited effect, attempts
continue to be made to inflate success in
fighting poverty by debating and controverting
the size of the wretched population. As it is,
the criteria used to determine the number of the
absolute poor seems quite inadequate.

If lack of opportunity to realise oneself and
denial of basic freedoms and fundamental rights
are taken into account as determinants of
poverty, and there is no earthly reason why these
matters should be ignored, an overwhelming
majority of the population is likely to be
classified as poor. That is under-development
writ large and bold.

The least controversial fact about Pakistan is a
progressive reduction over the decades of the
people’s say in the management of the collective.
We began with rule by representatives elected on
a narrow franchise and in a pre-Pakistan context.
They were inherently incapable of respecting the
aspirations of the people, of acting as a
responsible outfit. Adult franchise came in 1951
and with it the tradition of avoiding elections
or fudging them if they had to be held.

Either way the people’s sovereign rights came
under the axe. A decade after the people had
created Pakistan by their democratic choice, they
were told they were incapable of democratic
management of their affairs. For seven years the
country suffered the ignominy of living under a
constitution ’given’ by a single man at his
discretion. What has followed, except for a short
interlude, is autocracy under different masks.

A little deliberation will reveal that the third
factor of under-development mentioned above,
namely, the exclusion of the people from
decision-making, has been the most decisive cause
of Pakistan’s unending travail. In almost all
crises the state’s destiny was in the hands of
small groups whose claims to represent the people
could convince their members only or in the hands
of individuals who could not even make such

The collective mind’s lack of maturity in the
face of crises could possibly have been overcome
if larger bodies of citizens had been taken into
confidence. In that event a search for strategies
to fight poverty might have begun in the 1950’s
and not forty years later. An enquiry into the
people’s exclusion from decision-making is
necessary because Pakistan’s future will not be
any better than its past unless matters begin to
be decided by the will of the people.

The myth relied upon by the advocates and
apologists of autocracy is that the people have
no understanding and tradition of democratic
politics and therefore the maximum concession to
them can be guided/controlled democracy. But the
statement that Pakistan did not have an
indigenous tradition of parliamentary democracy
that was sought to be implanted here is more true
about the traditional ruling elite, both of its
civilian and military wings included, than about
the masses.

It is this ruling elite that has consistently
been found wanting in ability to base decisions
on public consensus, partly because of its
incapacity to appreciate the dynamics of a
democratic process and partly out of fear of
losing not only its material possessions and
privileges but also, and more importantly, its
monopoly over power.

A common reason advanced by the country’s
permanent establishment for curtailing and
shutting off the process of reference to the
people is that they lack formal education.
Statements to this effect are quite shamelessly
made by the establishment’s theorists without any
hint of remorse at its own culpability in the

Nobody will deny the part education can play in
helping a society manage its affairs. From
measuring land and collection of taxes to
building of roads and dams and generation of
electricity, to running of hospitals and
parliament’s secretariat you need adequately
educated and trained professionals. But politics,
especially democratic politics, is a matter of
making choices on the basis of people’s needs so
as to ensure the greatest good of the greatest
number. No formal education is required for
making such choices, as we shall presently see.

The franchise for the elections of 1945-46 that
clinched the argument in favour of Pakistan was
extremely limited. All the voters had not had the
benefit of formal education. Many among them -
owners of property, tax-payers, ex-servicemen -
were illiterate. Yet they were considered
sufficiently qualified to join the most momentous
consultative process in the history of British

Much before these elections the Quaid-i-Azam had
been demanding a plebiscite to determine Indian
Muslims’ support for the demand for Pakistan on
the basis of a broader franchise, that is, he
wanted more uneducated people to be brought into
decision-making (because all the ’educated’ were
voters already).

After partition, plebiscite was demanded to
decide Kashmir’s future, although a vast majority
of the people to be consulted was uneducated.
Above all, none among Pakistan’s rulers whose
decisions over six decades have been held to lack
maturity of mind was uneducated. No, Pakistan’s
trials as a consequence of the exclusion of the
masses from decision-making cannot be ascribed to
their low educational achievements..

Instead, the people have been unable to
participate in decision-making, thus condemning
the state to be governed by an immature elite and
condemning themselves to poverty, because the
social structures established before independence
were not conducive to democratic governance. And
all governments have been guilty of failing to
demolish the socio-economic barriers to the
people’s empowerment, though a few of them did
try to tinker with them. The largest groups of
people barred from decision-making councils are:
peasants (including their womenfolk), women
(outside the agriculture sector), and working
people (industrial and trade employees, workers
in the informal sector, and self-employed hordes).

Taken together they constitute an overwhelming
majority of the people. They are not incapable of
contributing positively to decision-making
institutions and processes, but they have been
prevented from doing so by
socio-economic-cultural constraints. Where do
these large chunks of population stand 60 years
after independence?

* Pakistan was an agricultural country to begin
with. The share of agriculture to GDP may have
fallen sharply but a majority of the population
still depends on it. The state has largely been
concerned with raising agricultural output and to
some extent with marketing. The rights of the
tillers were half-heartedly addressed vide three
inadequate and insincerely implemented land
reform packages. Despite the fact that the ILO
Convention on farm workers’ right to form trade
unions was ratified before independence, the
state has not encouraged peasant mobilisation.

The bonded haris in Sindh and at some places in
Punjab and the Frontier may present extreme
instances of exploitation but tillers of the soil
by and large are not free anywhere in the country
in social and political terms. All women in
peasant families are exploited even more than
their men. To a large extent, the nature of
tenant-landowner relationship and the social
resourcelessness of the small proprietor bar the
peasantry from entering the area of

* Pakistan’s women outside the farming sector
have an impressive record of struggle and success
but the beneficiaries of their achievements in
the political (seats in elective bodies) and the
service sectors (jobs in government and private
establishments) constitute a small percentage of
their total number. The feudal, male patriarchs
continue to decide whether a girl can go to
school or an adult woman can choose her spouse.

Their right to inheritance is disputed, to say
nothing of their broader right to economic
independence. Across a large part of the country
they are not allowed freedom of vote and many of
those elected to local councils are not permitted
to perform their functions. It can safely be
asserted that a vast majority of women continue
to be excluded from decision-making.

* The plight of Pakistan’s working people is
particularly pathetic because theoretically they
are supposed to be freer agents than peasants and
women. They are not. Since 1959, when the Ayub
regime began the series of anti-labour policies,
and right upto the Industrial Relations Ordinance
of 2002, labour has been progressively stripped
of the rights it had won after nearly two
centuries of struggle.

The right to unionise and the rights of organised
workers both have been curtailed. Partly under
pressure of economic needs and partly because of
union leaders’ short-sightedness, the working
people have opted out or have been pushed out of
decision-making processes.

What has been discussed here is not Pakistan’s
past, the subject is future. The issue is major
obstacles to genuine development. Pakistan will
remain an underdeveloped nation with an immature
mindset in command so long as its peasants remain
bonded to absentee landlords (or corporate
barons), its women remain in the clutches of male
feudal tormentors, and its working people are
left to rot as galley-slaves of merciless


* From Dawn, August 09, 2007. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | August 10-11, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2433 - Year 9.

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