Former Punjab finance minister Shahid Kardar asks in yesterday’s The News, whether or not liberals are losing the battle in Pakistan. Watching the news each day, one can easily come to the conclusion that the liberalism of Quaid-i-Azam has been abandoned by our people. But I think that while this is certainly a danger threatening us, we have not lost yet, and we still have the opportunity to turn things around and get back on track for a free, open, and prosperous Pakistan for all. But we must be willing to make some difficult decisions and some sacrifices of our own.
Kardar makes an excellent point, which is that as long as the elites – those who have the privilege to attend top universities and acquire top paying jobs – continue to act in their own self-interest only, they are creating an environment of resentment and hopelessness among the nations majority. If people of modest or low economic backgrounds do not see the possibility for themselves or their children to have better opportunities in life, they will begin to despair and become more easily manipulated by jihadi recruiters who promise them power and a better life.
The growth of madressahs can be largely explained by these outcomes. These madressahs provide food, clothing and shelter and cater to the spiritual needs of those enrolled. Moreover, politically ambitious graduates from public sector universities but from humbler social backgrounds would be welcomed by the right-wing parties whose members and leadership come from similar socio-economic classes and aspire for roles that would not be open to them in the mainstream political parties. Thus, until and unless there is an alternative that is caring and provides justice and rule of law and ensures merit so that ordinary people become stakeholders in the system we will never be able to achieve the kind of social harmony required for nation building.
Moreover, the thousands graduating from these institutions neither have the educational or technical skills demanded by commercial enterprises. They are largely unemployable and hence obvious candidates for recruitment by terrorist organizations. It is these Taliban that reflect the “demographic dividend” of our young population. So, one can understand why the suicide bomber has no compunction destroying a system in which he has no stake.
The author does not see all hope lost, though. He concludes his article with a brief suggestion for how to turn things around.
Democracy must provide better governance and must deliver decent basic services by giving the poorer segments of the population first right over the state’s resources, so that they can become the first line of defence against the forces keen to derail the participatory form of government.
I would add one other item. Elites both at home and living abroad must work to secure that modest and low income segments of the population have access to good schools and good jobs so that they will have a stake in the future success of our nation. If we do not consider everyone open to their potential as equals, then we are only breeding resentment among the masses.
The lifeblood of Pakistan is its people. To strengthen that lifeblood we should be increasing the opportunity for education and prosperity of every citizen. Once all citizens see that the success of a democratic Pakistan is in their best interest, the offerings of jihadis and militants will be bitter and unwanted.