Lamenting over the state of Pakistan’s socio-economic conditions is so common in our everyday lives that if it were an Olympic sport we would be topping the gold medal charts with ease. Every day and everywhere, you would find people complaining about inflation, injustice, a dysfunctional state, criticizing its politicians and establishment for being the cause of this nation’s downward trajectory since independence. Indeed the mushrooming of electronic media since 2002 and the immense growth of social media since 2010 has brought a great deal of information and awareness to the public, providing them an avenue through which they can criticize the ineptness of the system that governs 227 million people. It is also ironic that all of this growth was achieved during the tenure of a dictator in whose regime telecommunications and private media channels flourished, eventually playing a major role in his own downfall. Both these platforms mean that much of the population is now aware and knowledgeable about the socio-economic woes that afflict us but are unaware of one of the biggest reasons for our troubles – our ideological bankruptcy. This is because despite the extensive criticism of personalities such as politicians, civil servants and judiciary that has happened on these platforms, any public discussion about the lack of ideology in our society has been non-existent since it has never been considered important enough in our culture. Understanding our ideological bankruptcy requires first understanding what our society is like and why it being as such is one of the causes of our constant woes.
Firstly the sub-continent at large and Pakistan specifically in the modern context has a public which is largely focused on personalities and how they can address their issues rather than on building systems that can do so. It is easily forgotten that human beings are finite creatures whose lifespan are only 7 to 8 decades in most cases and can work for 3 to 4 decades at most. Even the healthiest, smartest and most brilliant of rulers, judges, commanders or politicians will eventually not be at his/her post one day whereas the lifespan of nations is much longer, spanning centuries if not more. Hence the problems of nations cannot be resolved through excellent administrators alone. It requires the existence of strong and effective systems, rules, regulations and policies that can continue to serve nations even if good leaders are not around and which are consistently applied in the long term, regardless of the personalities coming and going. Every few decades, people declare someone as the messiah in our society and start blindly worshiping him/her as they do some good initially but a lot of bad subsequently until they are eventually removed from office and then the next messiah comes to be worshiped by a nation that is desperate for something good to happen in their lives. First we started worshiping Ayub Khan for building dams and factories until he broke the country in half destroying all the progress. Next we worshiped Bhutto even though he too played a part in 1971 tragedy and destroyed economy of remaining Pakistan. Currently we are worshiping Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif or Bilawal Zardari, depending upon our political sect. This blind following of personalities destroys our socio-economic and political fabric by preventing effective systems from developing. Rather it establishes one man shows with rulers who cannot be held accountable and whose policies last only as long as they do. No surprise that in the 1960’s we were capitalists because the messiah said so, in 1970’s we became socialists and nationalized everything because the new messiah said so and in 1980’s we became “Mujahideen” because the Messiah said so!
Secondly our nation is divided not only on sectarian or racial grounds but also into strong interest groups of politicians, businessmen, civil bureaucracy, military etc. Each of these groups is vying for bigger share of the pie for its members with no regard for the interest of others or country at large. Devoid of any ideological capital about how the country’s economic and political system should be run for the benefit of all, these groups are focused only on short term economic and political gain for themselves. Each group changes policies and establishes new rules for itself interest depending upon how influential it is. They seek excessive benefits, perks and privileges such as subsides, tax breaks, in-service and post-service freebies regardless of the damage it does to country as a whole.
Devoid of critical thinking and without a strong ideology to rally around, each citizen becomes worshiper of a certain personality and joins a particular interest group to protect his personal interests. This prevents society from developing the systems and practices it needs to progress. As an example, the judiciary in Scandinavian countries like Denmark or Sweden decides cases in 90 days on average. It because such strong legal practices and systems exist there that the judge himself becomes irrelevant to some extent since he/she cannot transgress from those practices or go outside the system even if he feels inclined to. While In Pakistan, the lack of such systems means that a case can take anywhere from a year to ten depending upon the competency of the judge involved and the connections and wealth of the person on trial among other things since there are no effective practices that can guarantee speedy justice. Knock off effect of this ineffective judicial system is eventually felt in all other walks of life.
Only by making critical thinking a key part of our social upbringing from an early age, by establishing a strong ideological foundation every citizen of our country can strongly relate to and by having clarity about how our society should function in a way that benefits all not few of its members can we hope to one day make Pakistan akin to the countries where most Pakistanis dream of and are struggling to settle in.