Pakistan: On the edge of collapse

June 1, 2010

Pakistan: On the Edge of Collapse?

I was born in India before the establishment of Pakistan, and then grew up in Karachi in the newly created country- a failure of the imagination, as Rushdie once described it. My father who was essentially a secularist, and perhaps even an atheist, saw no future in a country where religious fanaticism was never far from the surface, and there was no sign of political or economic stablity. Accordingly, he sent me to a boarding school in England when I was barely ten years old. I never went back (except as a breathless transit passenger on the way to ferrying French tourists to China, Thailand, and Singapore).

I think my father's pessimism was well justified considering the events of the last fifty years, and the actual situation, which is catastrophic. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, with a population of nearly 177 million, and the national literacy rate which is somewhere between 49% and 56%; the literacy test is set very low indeed, and the real rate of literacy is much lower. Meanwhile sectarian violence continues unabated as the minority Shiites are attacked regularly: there were three attacks in three days in December, 2009 leaving more than forty dead.; two attacks in April 2010 left forty eight dead. Add the Taliban and al-Qaeda to the mix, and you have a very dangerous and unstable country that also posseses nuclear arms.

Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed has been looking at the economic situation as revealed by the Lahore-based Institute of Public Policy (IPP) in their report published today, June 1, 2010, which makes for grim reading. "Of prime concern is the near total breakdown in the delivery of basic public services like power, gas and water." Furthermore, as Ishtiaq Ahmed relates, "inflation has combined with rising levels of unemployment to produce stagflation. As a result, households are experiencing declining real incomes. One does not have to be an economist to deduce from such reasoning that the incidence and level of poverty is increasing in Pakistan. Now if we remember that jihadi terrorism strikes terror in the hearts of not only the real and imagined enemies of Islam and Pakistan but also all those who may want to invest their money in Pakistan to generate jobs and wealth, the connection between violence, terrorism and negative economic growth becomes quite clear."

One of the biggest problems is that the landowning class is not at present paying tax on the income it derives from the land. Why not? Because its political influence remains considerable. The military budget which has recently increased by 31% is also far too burdensome and is in need of review.

As I said in 1995, the greatest number of victims of Islamist violence are Muslims.