The Subcontinent: Pakistan-A Case of Delayed Political and Economic Development

By Ali, M. M. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 3, 1992 | Go to article overview

The Subcontinent: Pakistan-A Case of Delayed Political and Economic Development


Ali, M. M., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Subcontinent: Pakistan--A Case of Delayed Political and Economic Development

Some countries, like some people, perform at the optimum under conditions of stress and manage to go an extra mile on sheer nervous energy. Pakistan appears to be one such country. From day one, uncertainty has kept it going. Born not entirely of universal good will in 1947, it has moved from one birthday to another in a world that was not only skeptical of its longevity, but in places and on occasions wished and worked for its early demise.

According to some of the political pundits and the economic wizards of the day, the country that was carved out of the Asian subcontinent had no chance of survival. Described by many as a rebel even in the womb, Pakistan has braved the pangs of a very difficult birth, survived social, economic and political adversities in infancy and has overcome the trauma of having one-half of itself amputated in 1971, when East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh.

Early tribulations have left Pakistan's internal conditions confused and its external relations unsteady. It should, therefore, surprise no one to hear constant talk of "imminent change" after each political turn. Clinically, Pakistan may be described as a troubled child that still has to make internal adjustments and do a great deal of growing up in a fast transforming and not always friendly world.

Pakistan is a major player in the politics of South Asia. Bordered by India, Iran, Afghanistan and China, it has a population of 117 million, a predominant majority of whom are Muslims--the raison d'etre for its creation. Its political record is unimpressive and its economic profile is no picture of beauty. The country has been ruled by military dictators for almost half of its 45-year existence. In the name of order, discipline and development, men in uniform have interrupted the democratic process intermittently to rule at will.

Ironically, as circumstances suited, the army has been supported by external powers, including the United States, that otherwise espouse and advocate democracy. As in other such cases, political institutions taking their early faltering steps were half destroyed. Political leaders were systematically pushed aside, parties that had begun to gain roots in the masses were banned, and new ones that supported the military were brought into being. In the most recent such case, the 11 years of Gen. Zia Ul Haq's regime that ended in 1988, bureaucratic corruption reached a new high, the drug and Kalashnikov culture spread, and the dangerous polarization process between the different provinces of Pakistan went unchecked.

Pakistan's four provinces are Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province of the Pathans. Besides the Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchis and Pathans, there are Urdu-speaking people who migrated from different parts of India during or shortly after Pakistan's creation in 1947. Still identified as mohajirs (immigrants), most have settled in the port city of Karachi and other parts of Sindh, where a second generation born in the country is now raising a third generation of Pakistanis.

Unpredictable Turns

Politics takes unpredictable turns, particularly when the process is throttled. The Muslim League was the Islamic party that ran the civilian governments of Pakistan until the late 1960s, when the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, father of Benazir Bhutto, established the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), giving the electorate an alternate choice. The PPP gained its biggest support in Sindh.

Evidence is emerging that it had become an obsession with General Zia to destroy the PPP. To do this he encouraged formation of ethnic groups like the Punjab-Pathan Ittehad (unity) in Karachi, and pitted them against the PPP. The mohajirs were encouraged to form a separate group called the Mohajir Qaumi (national) Movement. Such developments, aided or abetted by the government in power, led to confrontational politics that in recent years have resulted in violent clashes, murders, kidnappings and abductions for ransom. …

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