The creation of Pakistan is the story of the birth of an idea. An idea that the Muslim minority of the Indian subcontinent should have a separate state, as otherwise, the Hindu majority in a united independent India would dominate them forever. The territories comprising of Pakistan have a rich history and a great civilization. Along with parts of western India, it contains the archeological remains of an urban civilization dating back 4,500 years. Alexander the Great’s empire also included the Indus Valley in 326 BC. His successors founded the Indo-Greek kingdom based in what is today Afghanistan and extending to Peshawar. Following the rise of the Central Asian Kushan Empire in later centuries, the Buddhist culture of Afghanistan and Pakistan, centered on the city of Taxila just west of Islamabad, experienced a cultural renaissance known as the Gandhara Period. Advent of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, the British and many other foreign civilizations helped to develop and maintain a culture of inter-faith harmony and peaceful co-existence and on the eve of the creation of Pakistan in 1947, two Christian members of the Punjab Assembly also voted for Pakistan; this was their trust in fellow Muslims. Pakistan, besides being a bastion of great history and cultural diversity, also has a great geo-political and geo-strategic location on the world map. It is most conspicuously located on the world map bordering great regional powers like China, the defunct USSR, India and now USA in Afghanistan; and the oil-rich Gulf countries where the world traffic of oil passes through nearby sea routes. The geo-strategic location of Pakistan is such that on the one hand, it provides logistic support to the landlocked country of Afghanistan. On the other, southern China along with the Central Asian States have a nearest land route to warm waters for their trade with the Middle East and other continents of the world. The CPEC project has opened new avenues of foreign development in Pakistan and China has emerged as the trusted friend vis-à-vis hegemonic India backed by the USA. Pakistan has also remained a main route for the NATO supply line to Afghanistan. It proves that Pakistan’s importance in the world affairs is expansive and enduring.
During the last more than two decades, Pakistan has gone through many changes and rapid socio-economic developments coupled with technological advancements which have multiplied this process of change in and around Pakistan. The development of ICT technologies like telecommunication, internet and electronic media has given further boost to this process of social-change. Democracy is another strong mean of social change and development for the people of Pakistan. It is the vibrant genre which helps to maintain a coherent balance in their lives through ensuring equitable distribution of resources among all the federating units. However, it must not be hijacked by the rich and the affluent. It should ensure hope for the poor.
From the street fighting years of 1960s and the 1970s, Pakistan was expected to come of age and maturity in 2006 when the two former prime ministers of Pakistan- Nawaz Sharif and the late Benazir Bhutto signed the Charter of Democracy to start a new leaf of political life. The Charter of Democracy could have had been the Magna Carta of Pakistan to pave the way for sustained democracy and principled politics, but that never happened and it soon succumbed to the political chicanery of the political leadership.
Meanwhile, one of the vibrant factors of Pakistani society is the rise of the popular media during the Musharraf era. The media has emerged as a non-state actor with an eye on the working of the governmental organizations and the politicians. It is encouraging that Pakistan has a vibrant media in spite of political pressures and societal bans and it enjoys independence to a large extent today.
Pakistan, is at the crossroads of history; it is a continued victim of terrorism and the centre of attention in the global war against terrorism. The country has faced violent, prolonged domestic conflicts as well as those which have arisen due to the wrong policies of different governments. But most importantly, after having elections in February 2008, Pakistan today finds itself in a challenging transition to democracy after years of dictatorial rules. The present era marks a historic nexus with an opportunity to establish a sustainable democracy. But due to economic debility, Pakistan is often called a fragile state which is threatened by internal and external crises. The corruption and lust of the political forces has been fully exposed in the Panama Papers and the PML-N government is facing a difficult task after the landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the violent conflicts with Afghanistan-backed terrorists and other militant groups have intensified dramatically during the past many years and this has resulted in hundreds of casualties and made many more internally displaced. But in spite of every hurdle, Pakistan is at a turning point in its history and democracy has a chance to take stronger roots if it’s purged of political corruption. Unlike previously unsuccessful transitions to democracy, this transition is characterized by the presence of a liberalized and free mass media which has exposed every corruption and maladministration in society.
All hope is not lost and Pakistan can boast of many more successes; Pakistan is the first country in South Asia that economically liberalized its economy. Pakistan has also proved that it’s a credible nuclear state and now Gwadar is being developed as a multi-billion dollar CPEC project with China. It is also important that the world must realize that a stable Pakistan is in the favour of the South Asian region but the main problem lies in Afghanistan which is acting as the epicenter of Indian-backed terrorism against Pakistan. 9/11 had brought Pakistan into the focus of international politics of intrigues and power-play as it remained an indispensable actor in the US led global war against terrorism.
Consensus in the international community is that a democratic, stable Pakistan is paramount for global peace. But, the million-dollar question is how this is possible? Creating and maintaining a well-functioning democracy requires a political leadership able to play its role in state affairs; find solutions to Pakistan’s economic crises; improve the previous democratic governments’ poor track-record on effective governance and curb violence. Despite its economic and political difficulties, Pakistan has taken some steps over the years to liberalize its trade and investment regimes, either unilaterally or in the context of commitments made with the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, etc. The Pakistan government has made significant macroeconomic reforms: privatizing state-subsidized utilities, reforming the banking sector, instituting a world-class anti-money laundering law, cracking down on piracy of intellectual property and moving quickly to resolve investors’ disputes. Pakistan has a great potential to play a credible role in world affairs. It is a responsible atomic power. Its role in regional politics is positive and should be supported by the West especially on the Kashmir issue as Pakistan is facing acute water shortage due to continued Indian water terrorism in shape of blockage of Pakistan’s due share of water.
Instead of criticizing Pakistan, the foreign governments and the media should understand its problems and limitations in wake of a lack of resources and economic pressures resulting due to the impact of the war against terror.
The balance of power is a pre-requisite for durable peace in the volatile Indian sub-continent and peace can only be achieved through strength, as weakness invites aggression; hence the conventional and non-conventional deterrence that Pakistan has, should be maintained and required resources should be made available for this purpose. With pragmatic policies and a progressive approach to develop a national potential, Pakistan can play a significant role to become an important economic and trade hub and an energy corridor. Pakistan is also a key player in the Gulf region due to its geo-strategic location, having the potential to become a point for multiple corridors of cooperation in energy, trade and transportation. Pakistan’s economy is deeply linked to maritime trade and only a strong Navy can keep the sea lanes of communication open and provide necessary protection.
Pakistan is not a failed state but it has failed to devise a credible system of service delivery and governance which could help in equitable distribution of resources among the federating units and territories and any continuity of democracy and strengthening of democratic institutions would help ensure it. The state of Pakistan should, therefore, ensure maximum resources for the uplift of the poor and the down-trodden so that they could equally enjoy the fruits of future developments.