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Determining development


May 6, 2018

In today’s globalised world when capital can freely move across national boundaries, any country can attract as much investment as it needs. The only thing required of the host country is a culture that nurtures work ethics in an educated and efficient workforce and a society where rule of law is respected. The capital will come by itself.

More than money, it is culture that determines the success or failure of the development of society. No amount of money can deliver development in a society poisoned by the toxic culture of cronyism and corruption. But even though pumping hundreds of billions through budgetary allocations into this toxic culture has not delivered desired results, we never use instruments of governance to eradicate this toxic culture from society.

Before capital can work its wonders, a culture of development must prepare a receptive soil. The cultural and educational reforms of Charlemagne had helped pull Europe from its ‘Dark Ages’. Later on, the libraries of Andalusia and Muslim scholars of Spain had laid the ground for European Renaissance. Interestingly, Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism also studied at Andalusia and it was the protestant culture of hard work, discipline and frugality that made the difference between the levels of development of Protestant England, Germany and the Netherland and Catholic Italy, Spain and Portugal. Again, it was the culture of education, efficiency and hard work of the peoples of North East Asia inculcated through their ‘developmental states’ that laid the groundwork for Asia’s economic renaissance. Capital came much later from the West, along with technology, for the mutual benefit of the parties.

These cultural changes did not happen in the usual course of things. It took wars, revolutions or radical reforms to undo the toxic effects of medieval culture and colonial structures imposed over their societies, before Asia’s economic miracle could take off.

In other words, the first was the struggle to seek independence from European colonialism which had overtaken the weak, inefficient and corrupt culture of governance of several Asian countries during the 18th and 19th centuries. The second was the struggle against native colonialism by people of the same faith, colour and language who still wanted to deny dignity and development to their own.

In some countries – like China – it took the Second World War and revolution to bring about the end of both foreign and native colonialism. In Japan, which was spared foreign colonialism, indigenous rebellions forced reforms through the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and ‘best practices’ adopted from abroad put the country on the path of development. In Singapore and South Korea, a strong leadership unleashed a series of radical reforms to rid their societies of the centuries-old baggage of discriminations.

Sadly, while we succeeded in our first struggle to gain independence from foreign colonialism, we did not try to rid our society from the toxic culture of medievalism. That is the principal reason why our people remain mired in poverty, illiteracy and unemployment even after spending trillions in the name of development in seven decades after independence from foreign colonialism.

Any doubts that a medieval culture still controls our systems of governance would be dispelled by a look at the eyewitness account of 17th century Subcontinent by French physician Francois Bernier. He spent 12 years here and was physician to Mughal princes and princesses. He was also associated with Dara Shikoh and, after his death, with Aurangzeb and so he saw the beginnings of the decline of the Mughal Empire. He went back to France in 1670 and wrote his memoirs of India.

His eyewitness account is a mirror in which we can see the ugliness of our society and systems of governance which do not seem to have changed in 350 years. Without further ado, here are some of the eyewitness accounts of both society and governance of the mid-17th century before the East India Company turned from traders into rulers.

Bernier says that “there are either rich lords or the poor masses in India but there is no middle class in between them. The rich live in palatial houses with scores of factotums and servants and their horses and other animals are treated better than the poor people who do not have means for three meals a day. There is a culture of sycophancy in India and the king, his ministers have courtiers whose main purpose seems to be to praise their masters every day. Whenever the king says something in the darbar, his courtiers chant karamat, karamat (revelation, revelation) in praise of whatever the king is saying.

“Ministers and couturiers make it a point to show their faces to the king every day. Those failing to do so or failing in their praise of the king are immediately relieved of their positions and privileges. Ministers and powerful omrah (lords of the area) move with large entourage of factotums... dispersing people wherever they go. These people are very extravagant and waste money ....

“Bribery is rampant and people are made to pay government functionaries.... The education system is most deplorable since people are taught only languages and do not learn any knowledge and skills to help them in everyday life. They are good craftsmen but die pauper(s) because there is no system for expanding their production.”

In short, people did not matter and the king and his courtiers merrily continued with ‘government of the few, by the few, for the few’.

Pause for a moment here and compare these eyewitness accounts of 17th century Subcontinent with 21st century Pakistan. Sycophancy, patronage politics rather than rule based governance, corruption and education without knowledge continue to define our society and governance. And yet, this 17th century system is being protected and every attempt at overhauling it has been thwarted either under the banner of religion or the label of democracy.

This culture is the principal cause of continued under-development of Pakistan. Neither did the riches and glamour of the Mughal court lift people from poverty in 17th century Subcontinent nor will the trillions spent in the name of development lift people out of their generational miseries here. This was the second part of our struggle which we did not engage in. We merely replaced white Christian rulers from Europe with local brown Muslims and continued with the same 17th century culture of exploitation.

The history of the development of Europe and East Asia has shown that three things have brought the fundamental cultural changes needed for the development of societies – wars, revolutions and reforms. Our resistance to reforms and preference for a 17th-century system does not hold much hope for the people.

The writer designed the Board of Investment and the First Women’s Bank.

Email: [email protected]

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