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May 27, 2008

Now a lesson from China


May 27, 2008

Two years ago to this month, I told President Musharraf on the plane returning from Shanghai to Islamabad that his ideas on strategic cooperation – during a summit meeting with Russia's Putin and China's Hu Jintao – were great, but that a Russian member of Putin's delegation offered this retort: "In two years, Putin and Hu will be around. You can't say the same about Musharraf. That's the problem with Pakistan."

Two years later, the irony is not lost on me. I visit China again and the events in Pakistan prove that Russian scepticism was real. Writing this column from Wenzhou, a small town in southeast China probably the size of Sialkot or Quetta, you can't ignore how the world around us has made leaps forward while we have wasted precious time in political experimentations. We wanted to become a western democracy in a country where half the people are illiterate. The result is that Pakistan today is as stable as some of the tribal kingdoms of central Africa and the people are busy in opposing the government instead of getting busy in creating wealth and enjoying life.

Pakistan faces a national decline and it is time we changed the system instead of perpetuating a failure. The Pakistanis have kept the flag high in the most difficult times but there is no escaping the truth: Our 61-year old political system has failed. Our British-style democracy is breeding instability and is unsuited to our circumstances. It has produced stagnant leadership generally not creative or responsive to the nation's development. That we still managed to become a nuclear and a military power with a good economic potential is a Pakistani feat that needs to be toasted but can't be substituted for sound planning.

In 1964, we made history when PIA became the first airliner from a non-communist country to land in China. Today, a Pakistani citizen will most probably have to fly through Dubai to reach China. Other Middle Eastern and Asian airlines make more business in

Beijing than the one airline that led the way to all. The most ironic part is that we opened the doors to China for our American friends. Today, there is more business between China and US than between Beijing and Islamabad. We are too focused on politics when the world is doing business and enjoying the good life.

There are two ways that lead to democracy: The British way and the Chinese way. The first one took centuries of cultural accumulation to reach perfection. The second took only decades, focused on the creation of an educated people and their economic rise. The result is that the Chinese people will probably have a better democracy in a couple of decades than anything we have in Pakistan.

Unless we can make the Pakistanis go through a European cultural transformation in a few years instead of centuries, the Chinese model is the most apt one that Pakistan needs to emulate.

The Chinese have created a population that uses all forms of communication and is culturally interactive with the rest of the world – essential for democratic evolution. In the small city of Yiwu in the southeast, there is an Internet company that has created a Chinese web blog for discussions and debates with 38 million subscribers across China. The man running this show is just 28 years old. You would think that under a Communist party you would have tight controls and a bureaucracy that stifles creativity. At another place in the city, there is a wholesale market frequented by almost 1,000 Pakistani businessmen every month, in addition to merchants from the Middle East and elsewhere. The market is so huge that it would take you a year to check the entire place if you spent three minutes at each stall. The businessmen here might be good. But it's the government, at the levels of city, province and Beijing that made all the difference.

Sometimes, sound planning according to your circumstances is more important than democracy to make a nation rise. Some of the best multimillion-dollar Chinese companies, normally owned by a single person, made their wealth thanks to the 'China' name brand that the government has fostered by changing the 'look' of the country. Most Chinese companies made their millions only after the opening-up policy of Beijing in the past 20 years. The government pays the equivalent of Rs10 million as a grant to any company that manages to create a new Chinese product brand name. The competition between the city governments across the country is amazing. Everyone wants their city to have the cleanest streets and the most creative ways of marketing their products. The farmers in the countryside have created cooperative societies that implement novel ways of marketing produce and maximizing profit. In Zheijiang, for example, the countryside is littered with small but elegant houses built by farmers.

My host, Huang Kunming, member of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China in Zheijiang, puts it this way: 'Leadership has to be responsive to people's needs.' That's more important than adhering to a book of law that uses a foreign language understood by an elite minority in a country. The European experience in democratic government has enriched humanity. But there are other models too. We need to develop one suited to us. A Pakistani model.

The writer works for Geo TV. Email: aq

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