Saturday December 02, 2023

Tracing Jinnah’s Pakistan: A bending back to 75 years

August 14, 2022

August 14, 2022, brings the diamond jubilee celebrations for the Pakistani nation. As Jinnah’s Pakistan turns seventy-five, it may be worthwhile to unearth its journey. History tells us that the partition of the Indian subcontinent was a result of how Congress presented itself to Mr Jinnah. In other words, his close observation of Congress made him deduce that once British rulers left and Congress took over, Indian Muslims would never enjoy equal rights in the united Hindustan. Therefore, it was his rational decision to opt for an independent homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. On this auspicious occasion, it would be pertinent to raise a few questions for introspection, for example, what to celebrate, why to celebrate, and what needs to be done.

First, let’s consider the current status of Pakistan’s population. According to the UN, Pakistan’s current population estimates at 235 million, with roughly three per cent more males than females and a net increase of one person every 34 seconds. In 1951, the then West Pakistan comprised 33.82 million people. According to the UN Population Fund report 2017, Pakistan is considered to be the fifth largest young country in the world. Indeed, having around 63 per cent of youth in the total population is a great blessing for a country. Unfortunately, the UNDP report 2020 indicates that 12 per cent of the youth in Pakistan are illiterate, and only 6 per cent have more than 12 years of education. These numbers pose daunting challenges and burdens to the country’s overall social, economic, and political sectors. This population explosion is a result of several policy issues. However, the same population can be converted into a great asset with careful planning and policy measures. Undoubtedly, our most significant wealth rests in our youth, but how can we harness its potential? This question must be considered by all stakeholders; however, education for all can be the first step in this regard.

Secondly, with its outstanding military and nuclear power, territorially, Pakistan is a secure country. For the right reasons, Pakistan spends a big chunk of taxpayers’ money on national defence. In the years 1947-48, 65.16 per cent of government spending was on the military, whereas in 2022-23, it stands at 17.5 per cent. Today, Pakistan is a responsible nuclear power, carrying state-of-the-art strategic weapons, making the nation feel safe and proud. Over time, the Pakistan army has emerged as an exceptional institution nationally and internationally, as evident from its pivotal role in the global war on terror and peace operations and its contribution to the UN peace missions. However, the army’s role in national politics has been a point of contention in the country’s history, where repeated military coups have haunted democracy. Undoubtedly, the army can best serve its purpose if it restricts itself to the limits drawn by the constitution. At present, army leadership stays committed to its constitutional role, which must be appreciated.

The security concerns of Pakistan have been mainly reflected in its external relations. Pakistan’s threat perception at societal and state levels led the country to be part of external security alliances and military balancing vis-ˆ-vis the neighbouring country India. The country followed the grand strategy of internationalism, regionalism, and bilateralism, along with a peculiar alliance with the Muslim ummah. While strengthening these alliances and military build-ups, Pakistan compromised on its other essential segments of national security, like human security. Nevertheless, the recent policy shifts in foreign policy from geo-political to geo-economics by the decision-making circles seem progressive. In the long run, the country needs to consider a good mix of traditional and non-traditional security measures in its external relations that may ensure its overall security needs.

Thirdly, on the economic front, Pakistanis, on average, earn USD 480 per month, which was less than USD 100 in 1947. The country has done a marvellous job in agriculture, manufacturing, and exporting goods. It has an impressive network of communication, especially highways and motorways, connecting people and businesses alike. However, it still needs to learn the balance between resources and expenditures. Due to this very handicap, Pakistan’s economy is on the verge of collapse.

Furthermore, the distribution of economic resources has been a point of serious concern among the federating units. Likewise, the situation of economic equality is unsatisfactory. According to governmental sources, 22 per cent population lives below the poverty line. The gap between the rich and poor classes is on the surge. Pakistan ranks last among the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries in women’s participation in economic activities. Women are either denied equal economic opportunities or significantly less paid in the agriculture sector and manufacturing industries. All these factors implicate an increase in the national crime ratio, corruption, social and economic instability, and other negative trends, demanding the immediate attention of government and civil society alike.

Fourth, the situation in the education and health sectors is quite unsatisfactory. In 2022-23 budget, only 1.7 per cent of GDP is given to education, whereas less than 3.5 per cent to health by the federal government. Cumulative education expenditures by federal and provincial governments in FY2021 remained at 1.77pc of GDP. The total health sector allocation stands at Rs230.30bn - which constitutes over 19 per cent of the total outlay of the budget 2022-23. According to a survey carried out in 2019, 60 per cent of the population is literate, whereas 60 million are illiterate, the second highest in the world. Furthermore, the female literacy rate is much lower at 48 per cent, compared to the male at 70 per cent. Today, Pakistan has 172.2 thousand functioning primary schools, 46.8 thousand middle, 20.9 thousand higher secondary, 1657 degree colleges, and 186 universities. These numbers are impressive compared with the past, as in 1947, there was only one university in the country. In 1951, the literacy rate in Pakistan was only 13.2 per cent, which means we have made significant progress. As per the 2017 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, there are 1201 hospitals in Pakistan, and the population per doctor is 997. Pakistan is ranked 122nd out of 190 countries in the WHO performance report. The overall health system in Pakistan needs a serious change and massive improvement.

Fifth, moving on to human development, UN Human Development Index (HDI) ranking 2020 puts Pakistan in the 154th position. Likewise, in Gender Inequality Index, Pakistan falls at 135 out of 165 countries. It is essential to note that HDI is measured by indicators such as health, education, the standard of living, the nation’s carbon emission, and material footprint. Another crucial aspect is Pakistan’s progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to Pakistan SDGs Status Report 2021 by the Federal SDGs Support Unit, "overall, the country’s progress on SDGs is modest. The remaining challenges include: ensuring quality education, skill development, and job creation. Pakistan’s performance has been good in reducing poverty, disaster losses, and access to health and internet." Furthermore, the same report states that Pakistan’s overall progress on the SDGs index score increased from 53.11 in 2015 to 63.49 in 2020, i.e., 19.5 per cent up from the baseline of 2015. The country made significant progress in short-run goals, 33.6 per cent from the baseline. These include Goal-2: Zero Hunger, Goal-3: Good Health & Wellbeing, Goal-4: Quality Education, and Goal-16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. The performance of two short-run goals, i.e., Goal-7: Affordable and Clean Energy and Goal-8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, remained unsatisfactory.

Lastly, the country’s performance remains modest in the sphere of democracy, human rights, and good governance. In 2022, Pakistan’s press freedom rank dropped to 157 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index. The problems related to the governance, rule of law, accountability of public officials, civil liberties, and other social, economic, and political rights loom large. Hence, there is a dire need to promote greater acceptance of religious, gender, political, and social diversity and enhance social cohesion as per the vision of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. According to USAID, the Pakistani government needs to take concrete measures for democratic consolidation, citizen-centred governance, and respect for human rights. These interventions will strengthen interaction among diverse groups to promote good governance and social, ethnic, and religious tolerance in Pakistan. The most desirable change is due in areas like accountability and transparency, good governance and due role of civil society, the uninterrupted continuation of free and fair elections, women’s social and economic empowerment, peacebuilding, social tolerance and human rights, and free media among many others.

Pakistan, with all its shortcomings and pitfalls in the past, remains resilient and thriving in several areas of life. Be it science, art, literature, entertainment, entrepreneurship, philanthropy, or sports, Pakistanis have won medals and trophies. Pakistan takes pride in electing the first female prime minister of the Muslim world and the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever. The country has produced great scientists like Dr Abdus Salam, fighters like M M Alam, and unbeatable squash champions like Jahangir Khan. The world’s youngest Microsoft-certified professionals Ayan Qureshi and Mehroz Yawar also come from Pakistan. Each and every Pakistani around the world is Pakistan, the majority of them are doing their best to make their homeland proud, and some have done miracles in their areas and made the nation proud. These Pakistanis are Pakistan’s diamonds, and this diamond jubilee should be dedicated to all such diamonds!

-The writer teaches International Relations in Islamabad. He can be reached at: