Thursday May 30, 2024

Pakistan’s fault lines

By Javid Husain
April 11, 2021

Pakistan is a prime example of a country that has been deeply fractured by its widening national fault lines. These fault lines, which crisscross its politics, economy and society as a whole, have become the source of growing instability because Pakistan’s leaders have failed to bridge them through dialogue, negotiations and mutual accommodation.

Instead, the country has been virtually ripped apart socially, politically and economically by the rigidity and short-sightedness of its political leaders, the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots, the perennial civil-military tussle for power and domination, ethnic and linguistic divisions, and ideological differences rooted in the challenges of modernity and the varying religious beliefs and cultural traditions. These fault lines obviously offer attractive opportunities to Pakistan’s enemies, especially India, for the manipulation and destabilization of the country’s internal situation – thus, posing a serious threat to its security.

Pakistan’s tale of woes started with the immaturity and short-sightedness of its political leaders who, in the wake of PM Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination in 1951, allowed themselves to be manipulated by anti-democratic forces comprising senior levels of the civil and military establishment in the country for the sake of short-term political gains. The process started with the appointment of Ghulam Muhammad as governor general in 1951 and culminated with the imposition of martial law in 1958. Since then, the country has witnessed several military takeovers which undermined the democratic process as well as the sanctity of the constitution and rule of law.

Unfortunately, the civil-military tussle for power continues in the country which still awaits the enduring establishment of the principle of supremacy of elected civilian governments and the right balance of power between the elected political leadership and the military. Ideally, the ultimate decision-making power over national affairs must rest with the elected representatives who reflect the will of the people. Needless to say, all state institutions must operate within the limits of their constitutional role.

The growing divide between the rich and the poor constitutes another disturbing fault line, especially against the background of the country’s low per capita income and under-development. The existence of vast inequalities of income and wealth has the potential to destabilize the country and endanger national solidarity and security. Unfortunately, the trend in Pakistan has been towards the widening of these inequalities whose adverse impact on the welfare of the poor has been aggravated by inadequate health and educational opportunities funded by the state.

It is also a sad reality that because of the reliance of the state on indirect taxes to meet its budgetary requirements, the incidence of taxation is far greater on the poor than on the rich. The need of the hour is to reform the taxation system so as to generate additional government revenues through direct taxes on the rich and put an end to tax evasion by the well-to-do classes. Simultaneously, the federal, provincial and local governments need to raise substantially the allocation of resources to education, health and social welfare activities to narrow down inequalities of income and wealth and reduce their adverse impact on the poor.

The challenges of modernity have produced an ideological fault line in the country. Pakistan’s current ideological problems are a microcosm of the crisis of the Islamic civilization in which forces of ignorance, backwardness, extremism and authoritarianism are pitted against the ideals of enlightenment, progress, tolerance and democracy. Islam gave a revolutionary message of human brotherhood, social equality, justice, rule of law, moderation, quest for knowledge, and human advancement. As long as Muslims adhered to these principles in practice, they expanded the frontiers of knowledge and achieved unprecedented progress in all walks of human life.

The decline of the Islamic civilization over the past few centuries was the direct result of the divergence between true Islamic teachings and the actual conduct of the Muslims. The causes of the current crisis of the Islamic civilization can be traced to the general stagnation of intellectual thought marked by the absence of critical enquiry and creativity, lack of development of political institutions to make them accountable to the people, and a decadent culture steeped in superstitions, fatalism and absence of dynamism.

Pakistan’s leaders and intellectuals must come to grips with the challenges of modernity and human progress by encouraging the renaissance of the Islamic civilization. This would require resurrection of the elements of dynamism, creativity and critical enquiry in the Islamic thought in accordance with the principle of Ijtihad. Our inability to do so will consign Pakistan to continued intellectual stagnation, economic backwardness and political authoritarianism.

Pakistan’s politicians carry their own share of responsibilities in overcoming the fault lines in the country. It cannot be denied that their overall performance in the past has been far below par. They have often sacrificed national interests for the sake of personal gains. They have failed to provide the leadership that was needed to put the country on the road to progress and prosperity, enhance social welfare, ensure speedy justice especially to the weak, promote a progressive approach for overcoming the challenges of modernity, and strengthen national unity and solidarity. This needs to change fast for the good of the country.

The goal of national unity and solidarity, besides other points mentioned above, would require enhancement of inter-provincial harmony. The federal government should take the lead for this purpose through in-depth consultations with the provinces on the relevant issues. The decentralization of powers to the provincial and local levels as appropriate and special steps to accelerate economic growth in relatively less developed areas would also serve a useful purpose in removing the feeling of neglect and dissatisfaction in smaller provinces.

Until steps are taken by all the stakeholders to bridge the national fault lines in the political, economic and social fields, the country will continue to suffer from instability – preventing it from achieving the goals of rapid economic progress and national unity and solidarity. Such a situation would also threaten Pakistan’s security by enabling its external enemies to manipulate its fault lines to their advantage.

The writer is a retired ambassador and president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs. Email: