Pakistan: From Hope and Promise to Disillusionment?

The country's potential remains untapped

Seventy-six years ago, Pakistan emerged on the world stage as a beacon of hope and promise, a homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent seeking self-determination and freedom from colonial rule. Yet, today, Pakistan’s journey over the decades is marred by disappointment, discontent, and disillusionment. It is a story tainted by corrupt politicians, conniving and cowardly officials, and copious foreign interference.

In 1947, Pakistan gained independence from British colonial rule, but within a year of the passing of its founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, it fell into the hands of local colonialists, marking the beginning of a tumultuous political landscape and continuous economic crises. The fracture of the nation in 1971, with East Pakistan seceding to become Bangladesh, shattered the very foundation of the two-nation theory upon which Pakistan was built, highlighting deep-seated issues of identity and governance.

The time has come for Pakistan to reclaim its narrative, to chart a course towards a brighter and more prosperous future. The journey will be arduous, filled with obstacles and setbacks, but the destination is worth striving for. It is for the people of Pakistan to decide what will be their story in the coming decades or will they leave this to the same old set of elites and power brokers

The era of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto brought nationalization of industries and the initiation of Pakistan’s nuclear program, yet it also ushered in a period of political turmoil and military intervention as Bhutto failed to improve governance and develop institutions. Bhutto’s ousting and subsequent execution by General Zia ul Haq in 1977 plunged Pakistan into a dark era of martial law and authoritarian rule for the next ten years. Zia’s regime, characterized by suppression of dissent and Islamization policies, left a lasting impact on Pakistan’s social fabric and political landscape which continues to this date.

Since Zia’s tenure, Pakistan’s trajectory has been marked by a series of crises, both internal and external, largely of its own making. Political instability, economic turmoil, and security threats have plagued the nation, undermining its potential for progress and prosperity. The last few decades have witnessed a precarious balancing act of power dynamics between military establishment and supposedly elected representatives, with the entire system of governance and institutions seemingly held hostage to the whims of a select few. So far, it has been a story of elite capture where a country and a population of some 250 million people is unable to achieve its true potential.

Despite boasting the fifth largest population in the world and possessing nuclear capabilities, Pakistan remains mired in poverty and underdevelopment. Elite capture of resources and power has perpetuated a system where the majority of the population is marginalized and disenfranchised, trapped in a cycle of poverty and inequality. The pervasive influence of the military in politics, coupled with politicians exploiting the army’s clout to gain and maintain power, has only exacerbated Pakistan’s governance woes.

The central issue plaguing Pakistan’s progress is the absence or erosion of the rule of law. Rule of law is the cornerstone of any democratic society, ensuring that all individuals and institutions are subject to fair and impartial legal frameworks. Without it, corruption flourishes, institutions weaken, and justice remains elusive. In Pakistan, the rule of law has been repeatedly undermined by military interventions, political interference and institutional decay, perpetuating a culture of impunity and injustice.

If anything, last two years since the ouster of Imran Khan’s government, and what happened afterwards, is a testimony to the fact how rotten to the core this system of status quo is. Nevertheless, amidst this gloom and despair, there still remains a glimmer of hope for Pakistan’s future. The path to redemption lies in upholding its constitution, strengthening the rule of law, and nurturing democracy. Islamic principles of adl (justice) and insaaf (equity) offer valuable guidance in this endeavor, emphasizing fairness, equality, and accountability in all aspects of governance. The only way Pakistan can move forward is for its military establishment to understand and recognize that continued interference in politics will not only further weaken or destroy all the institutions in the country but also weaken the military’s own primary role as the protector of the country’s borders. The way people came out to vote during the recent elections in February 2024 restored some hope but then again not respecting people’s mandate will only lead to disillusionment, discontent and despair. And who knows how this may turn out in the coming few weeks and months.

Adherence to the rule of law where no one institution or person is above the law, is not only essential for Pakistan’s survival as a federation but also critical for its long-term sustainable economic growth. By promoting transparency, accountability, and inclusivity, Pakistan can unlock its true potential, harnessing the talents and energies of its diverse population and its resources, to build a more prosperous and equitable society. If Pakistan fails to address its fundamental and systemic challenges and embrace the principles of justice, fairness and rule of law, it risks descending further into chaos and instability. Balkanization and denuclearization loom as real threats, posing grave consequences for regional peace and security unless Pakistan reverses the trajectory it is on.

The time has come for Pakistan to reclaim its narrative, to chart a course towards a brighter and more prosperous future. The journey will be arduous, filled with obstacles and setbacks, but the destination is worth striving for. It is for the people of Pakistan to decide what will be their story in the coming decades or will they leave this to the same old set of elites and power brokers.

Azhar Dogar
Azhar Dogar
The author is a senior international banker, with degrees in economics and political science from University of Pennsylvania and Brown University

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