Mohsin Hamid’s column in Dawn today is thought provoking. With people talking about who is giving more aid, who is giving less, and what it’s going to take to keep the country from falling backwards after years of war and now this devastating flood, there is one question that everyone keeps missing: Who is responsible for Pakistan’s future?
Mohsin is correct about a lot of things. First, jihadis are not the way of the future.
I don’t believe the often-repeated claim that the floods mark some great opportunity for terrorist groups. Terrorist groups in Pakistan cannot win in the long run unless they have the tacit support of the state, because these groups have no agenda capable of convincing even a large minority of the people of this country that what they seek is beneficial.
He’s also right that, despite the ignorant rants of some members of the British press, Pakistan is not in danger of a coup.
Nor do I believe the floods sow the seeds of a bloody revolution. There are strong signs of discontent in Pakistan, but revolutions require more than discontent: they require an alternate vision people are willing to rally around. Yet Pakistanis seem unenamoured of political models other than our usual constitutional democracy and military dictatorship. Radical notions —theocracy, for example, or Maoist populism — have little popular support.
Okay, so if we’re not going to be saved by some benevolent dictator (LOL) or jihadis (double LOL), what’s the solution? The answer is, we have to save ourselves.
First, we have stop promoting all these bloody conspiracy theories that blame everything and everyone under the sun except for our own mistakes and stubbornness. There is no Hindu-Zionist Conspiracy. The invisible hand of CIA-MI6-Black Water is not using some secret weather control machine to cause floods. Suicide bombings are not “false flag” attacks. We need to pull our collective head out of the sand, take a deep breath, and get to work.
In fact, the first step is to quit looking for someone to blame, and start doing something positive.
Yes, our civilian bureaucracy is struggling to cope, as any country’s would. But Pakistan also has large and well-organised armed forces. Working together, and alongside non-governmental volunteers, a great deal is already being done, and much, much more can and must be.
We should recognise as self-harming the distinction that leads many to say the army is responding well to this disaster and the government poorly. The army and the government are branches of the same thing: the Pakistani state. The army is funded by our taxes, which are raised by our government. And governments pay for armies in part because they are helpful in times like these.
So if the army is at the forefront of the state’s flood-relief efforts and doing good work, this fact should not be cause for divisive accusations. Instead, we should build on it. Let’s have a joint civilian-military natural disaster command. Let’s have NGO-army liaison offices to use the army’s logistics and planning capacities to help concerned citizens deliver aid as efficiently as possible. Let’s have jointly maintained, publicly accessible websites and call centres so people can see what’s happening and what’s needed. We are one country. Let’s act like it.
The next step is going to be to change our mindset from one that expects someone else to take care of us.
We can begin by abandoning our mindset of foreign dependency. Yes, aid from abroad is welcome at this terrible time — no single country has the resources to deal with a catastrophe on this scale. But our desire for aid should be temporary. We need to start taking care of ourselves. We need to move beyond aid. Long-term aid cripples us. Pakistan needs to help itself. To do this, we need to look at what we already have. We have enormous know-how that can be brought to bear, especially in our giant cities. We have people who understand warehousing, trucking, road-building, vaccination, tent-manufacture. We have people who operate electronic media, customer service centres, hospitals, mobile phone networks. We have massive private homebuilders and school systems and philanthropic networks. Individual Pakistanis have skills and the burning desire to help. What we need is organisation.
American Ambassador Anne Patterson said the other day that she wants to encourage American businesses to find opportunities for investment in Pakistan.
This is hugely important – attracting not just American (though being the world’s largest economy makes it very important in and of itself) but foreign investment from all the world’s financial superpowers: China, UK, EU, Russia…and, yes, even India. Not because we can’t build our own companies (we can), but because this is the year 2010 and we don’t live in an economy with borders as strictly drawn as they were in the 18th and 19th centuries.
We need to provide a stable and inviting place where companies that want to expand and grow will invest. There are about 180 million intelligent, hard working people in this country. We need to show the world – and ourselves – that Pakistan is the next great international hub of the world economy.
And part of the way that we will make that point is by paying our fair share. For all the belly-aching about corruption, you know what I never hear? Anyone volunteering to pay for anything.
We pay only a tenth of our collective income to our state, far less than most countries. India and Sri Lanka pay half again as much as we do. We need to pay more. We need a comprehensive flood tax programme. We need to cease our foolish bickering about whether taxes should be paid to the provinces or to the centre, by merchants or by landlords, on luxury goods or on shareholdings. The answer to these either-or questions is both. Let’s tax both locally and nationally, both trading and agriculture, both consumption and wealth.
Yes, it’s going to take some time to shed the residual cultural corruption that plagues our society. But refusing to pay your fair share of taxes is not solving anything. For that, we are using the bogey man of corruption is just an excuse. The more we pay in taxes, the more we’re going to watch closely how that money is spent. The more transparency will reveal anyone with their hand in the till. Those miscreants will be caught, and over time we will root out the greedy and grow our investment in ourselves.
There’s nobody that can save Pakistan but us. It’s not going to be comfortable and easy. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be painful at times. It’s going to take sacrifice from every person. There will be days when we want to quit. Some will move overseas, never to return. Some will resort to crime, others to despair. But those of us who pick up this country and carry it into the future will gain the pride of our nation and the respect of the world. And that’s a reward worth fighting for.