Our loss of prestige - Ghazi Salahuddin - Sunday, February 27, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=33372&Cat=9

Where does Pakistan stand in the Muslim world at a time when a youth-oriented revolution is sweeping across major Arab countries? We know how Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi would answer this question. Fighting for his own survival, he has bracketed Pakistan with Afghanistan as some kind of a worst case scenario. But his nervous rambling should prompt us to seriously assess our position and our influence in the Ummah. And we should do that before we change the name of Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium.

There certainly was a time when we fancied ourselves as a leader of the Muslim world. After all, our nuclear programme was christened as the Islamic Bomb. We were, of course, born as the most populous Muslim country. The Islamic Summit we hosted in Lahore in 1974 was historic in many respects and there has not been another congregation of Muslim leaders to kindle hope for a long-awaited renaissance.

At that summit, the shining star was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his remarkable diplomatic success would surely have heightened his ambition to become the leader of the Muslim world, with its vast material resources. His image, in any case, retained its glow, particularly after his execution in 1979. He was a beloved and popular figure for the masses in the Middle East.

Then, there was Benazir Bhutto, the first Muslim woman to become the elected head of a government. She personified Pakistan as a moderate and progressive Muslim country. One could expect the people in other Muslim countries, mostly governed by autocratic rulers, to look up to Pakistan and feel inspired by its persistent pursuit of a democratic dispensation.

In many other respects, Pakistan played a more prominent role on the world stage than most other Muslim countries. One important source of pride for Pakistanis has been the stature of its armed forces, irrespective of the debacle of 1971. The fact that we are a nuclear nation is something that the world is forever compelled to acknowledge - and be fearful of its implications.

Though the loss of East Pakistan was a terrible disaster, casting a dark shadow on the fundamentals of our struggle for freedom, the ruling establishment in what was West Pakistan did not seem very keen to protect the integrity of the country and respond sympathetically to the grievances of our East Pakistani brethren. East Pakistan was evidently a less developed region of the country and when Bangladesh came into being after a bloody civil war, some commentators callously saw it as a basket case.

Look at Bangladesh now and compare it with Pakistan, with particular reference to social development and national cohesion. Its currency is stronger than that of Pakistan. Some Pakistani industrialists have opened their factories, mainly of garment, in that country. An important feature of its polity is its identity as a secular democracy. It is a model for other developing countries in such areas as empowerment of women. I can go on but the most recent example of Bangladesh’s present stature was the glittering inaugural ceremony of the World Cup, while Pakistan remains banished from international cricket because of its security situation.

The point that I want to stress is simply that our status in the Muslim world has gradually diminished at the same time that we have embraced political Islam and the space for liberal forces has drastically been restricted. The aftermath of the assassination of Salmaan Taseer has particularly underlined the spiritual and intellectual shortcomings of a society that is often sickeningly self-righteous in its attitudes.

We have no evidence that activists in the Arab world who are leading the revolution refer to Pakistan in any positive manner. We are not a model in any area of national endeavour. Instead, they are mostly looking at Turkey and aiming to learn from a democracy that is secular and has also accommodated Islamist expressions in its politics. Turkey is a frequent topic of discussion in Egypt, the most important country in the Middle-East.

So, if we are not the source of any inspiration for the democracy movements that have surged in Arab countries, is there something that we can learn from them? To answer this question, we should understand that this revolution in the heart of the Muslim world is not led by Islamists. There is little trace of radical Islam anywhere. Another distinction of the people’s struggle against dictators is that it is essentially peaceful, except when the rulers resorted to brutal force. We have not witnessed any mob frenzy in the streets, marked by wanton destruction of public property. The protesters have largely been patient and civilised. Remember Sialkot?

In many ways, Cairo’s Tahrir Square could serve as an open-air classroom for us. For eighteen days, the young Egyptians, including women, taught us the value of unified action based on social awareness and thoughtful deliberations on tactics and strategy. Social networking played a major role in this process. One felt as if all of a sudden, the Arabs, long castigated for their low human development, have come of age. They have stepped into the stream of history.

I say this with a great sense of regret and pain that one great resource of the Arabs is their language and how it can be invested in the cultivation of modern thought. You can be sure that thousands and thousands of the young Egyptians have read the fiction of Naguib Mahfouz, the first Muslim who was awarded Nobel Prize for Literature. Arabic is their official language and it does not divide the Arabs on the social plane. They can all sing the same songs and dream the same dreams. In addition, we should assume that the standards of education in at least Egypt are higher than in Pakistan.

That our cultural and intellectual deprivation is the main cause of our present downfall has been my refrain. Our educational indicators, in a statistical sense, are very poor. But the real poverty resides in the quality of our education. Again, our persistent encounter with radical Islam, breeding extremism and intolerance, has greatly contributed to this condition. We tend, often, to rejoice in our ignorance.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Human Development Report 2010 was launched in Islamabad. It showed that Pakistan’s overall Human Development Index (HDI) is now 125 among 169 nations. This is below the average for countries in South Asia and also below the average for medium human development countries.

Let me quote two headlines of newspaper reports of the Report. One: "54 per cent Pakistanis face ‘multi-dimensional deprivation’: UNDP". Another: "51 per cent of Pakistanis deprived of basic education, health". And a sentence from one published report: "The UN has also described Pakistan as a country facing major civil war and one with a bad, if not the worst, human rights violations record".

The writer is a staff member

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail.com

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