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December 16, 2011

Sadly, we must learn some lessons from Bangladesh


December 16, 2011

KARACHI: December 16 will always be remembered as the most tragic day in the history of Pakistan. Ironically it is the day of celebration of Independence in Bangladesh. The published portions of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report contains enough evidence to justify prosecution of dozens of civil and military bureaucrats but that did not happen.
We did not learn any lesson from the catastrophe of Dhaka or to mend our policies or priorities in any sector. I have no desire to indulge in the conventional exercise of highlighting the reasons of the debacle of Dhaka. Instead, I prefer, to highlight the reasons of the prosperity and peace in Bangladesh.
Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh immediately carried out fundamental reforms in their constitution and system of governance. Like vast majority of the Muslim countries, the prefix of ‘Islamic’ was omitted from the name of Bangladesh. This was the case of Pakistan as well for some years after its creation. Neither Quaid-e-Azam nor the Independence Act of 1947, called ‘Pakistan as an Islamic Republic’, instead it was called ‘Dominion of Pakistan’ or simply ‘Republic of Pakistan’. There was logic in this decision, as religions are meant for the people and not for the states.
Bangladesh very wisely decided to specify four cardinal principles of the state namely ‘secularism’, socialism, nationalism and democracy. Initially, there was a clause in their constitution that ‘Islam will be state religion’. Subsequently, even this clause was deleted.
The superior Courts of Bangladesh have imposed a complete ban on issuance of any Fatwa by any religious organisation or scholar in the name of Islam, on any issue. The said decisions have created religious harmony and saved all sects of Muslims from being branded as ‘Kaafir’. Resultantly, incidents of killings in the name of Islam or its sects or religious militant extremism and intolerance very rarely occur in Bangladesh.
The People of Bangladesh

are as much a Muslim as we are, if not better. The biggest congregation of Muslims, after Haj, takes place every year in Bangladesh, without promoting or preaching hatred, prejudices, intolerance or violence against any other sect Muslims or against any non Muslim. There is a significant number of shias in Bangladesh. They observe Moharram peacefully, without the need to have security cover from law enforcement agencies.
Religious harmony and absence of terrorism are the key factors to the phenomenal economic development in Bangladesh. Peace is a precondition for any country to prosper. Unfortunately, we have destroyed the same. The intensity of floods that Pakistan has suffered in 2010 and 2011, people of Bangladesh suffer the same if not more, virtually every year along with cyclones, but unlike us, they apply very efficient flood control management to minimise the losses and sufferings, and the impact of floods evaporates within couple of months.
Despite these natural disasters, most economic indicators of Bangladesh, appear to be much better than Pakistan. Unlike us, Bangladesh allocates in its annual budget highest percentage of about 12 percent for education and technology. On the other hand, their allocation for defence is merely 7.3 percent. GDP growth has been six to seven percent. Until recently, the Bangladeshi Taka was better by 20 percent in comparison to the Pak rupee. Bangladesh does not grow cotton, but it is one of the largest exporters of cotton garments and made ups. In contrast, Pakistan is one of the biggest growers of cotton, but rarely, we have surpassed the export targets of Bangladesh in the recent past.
Though Bangladesh had more population at the time of its creation in comparison to Pakistan, it has managed to control it to around 145 million as against about 180 million in Pakistan. Foreign investment is rushing to Dhaka.
Unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh does not have any major territorial dispute or tension on its borders. Recently, when Indian prime minister visited Dhaka, Bangladesh resolved its territorial disputes amicably by signing an agreement with India. They still have serious differences with India on the water issues, but resolution is pursued by them through peaceful negotiations.
Bangladesh does not have any threats to its existence. Most painfully, our nuclear Pakistan with a much better equipped army is consistently threatened by the religious extremists militants within Pakistan and from both Western and Eastern borders.
If Bangladesh being one of the largest Muslim countries can have a secular constitution and system, I see no reason why we cannot. It is absolutely false and baseless to allege that secularism is against Islam or promotes ‘Laadeniat’. The undeniable truth is that in a secular society people are more free and safe to follow the religion or sect of their choice, as was guaranteed by our Quaid-e-Azam.
The biggest menace being suffered by Pakistan, particularly after General Zia and Gen Pervez Musharraf regimes, is religious extremism and militancy. It is all due to exploitation of religion for nefarious selfish political vested interests.
Neither the life nor property and places of worship of even Muslims or that of non-Muslims are safe in our country. In all four wars with India put together, our armed forces, law enforcement agencies or ordinary citizens have not suffered as many casualties as we are continuing to suffer in Pakistan at the hands of the religious terrorist may they be called ‘Taliban’ or by whatever name.
It is high time that Pakistan learns some lessons from Bangladesh. We must radically correct course, political strategy and priorities to eliminate terrorism and bigotry from our soil, establish relations on peaceful coexistence basis with our all neighbours and learn lessons from the constitutional, political, religious and cultural reforms, priorities and strategies adopted by Bangladesh.
(The writer is a former senator, attorney general and federal minister for law, justice, parliamentary affairs & human rights. Email: [email protected])

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