By Javed Jabbar
Published in DAWN on August 15, 2021
INDEPENDENCE and Inter-Dependence are co-existential and complementary. The one does not denude the other. The two are also inter-twined. Yet Independence fosters notions of optimal self-will. These notions are real, but self-will has limited scope for practical expression. In contrast, by its very construct, Inter-Dependence stokes no misleading hopes: it is exactly what it states — indispensable, interlocking relationships. Even more so during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
For all nation-states, Independence has specific yet actually limited meanings, like, for instance, the freedom for a country to choose its own flag, adopt a national anthem, formulate an ideology — by whatever name and in whatever form — as well as to decide on some purely internal legal and constitutional issues. These include whether the state structure should be one-party / one-authority, like China and Saudi Arabia, or multi-party, like Pakistan and India. It can also decide whether there should be a nominated unicameral body, or elected legislatures and a bicameral system, what would be the distribution of powers among Parliament, Head of State and Head of Government, and the respective functional domains of institutions, including civil, judicial, executive, military, federal, provincial and local.
EXTERNAL INFLUENCES: There are also rare, but notable exceptions. Foreign nations can play a decisive role in the internal implementation of Independence in the aftermath of cataclysmic events. After the Second World War, the two major defeated nations, Germany and Japan, became reconstituted states with a new concept of Independence. Their respective constitutions were framed under the direct supervision of the United States and Allies with their troops — and nuclear weapons — also close by. Similarly, the Soviet Union’s communist single-party doctrine directly shaped the internal structures of all the East European states (up to 1991), such as East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, etc.
Globally recognised norms, such as those defined in the 1948 UN Declaration on Human Rights, can also influence purely internal charters and constitutions of independent states, like chapters on Fundamental Rights and Principles of Policy. In Pakistan’s case, these two chapters are also inspired by the divine scriptures. Further, we have unquestioningly adopted the British Westminster electorally non-representative system of ‘first-past-the-post’ winners in polls and a parliamentary system that aggravates partisan schisms and hinders undisrupted development through consensus.
Instead of focussing disproportionately on the bad, there is a need to use Independence Day as illumination for the good and the beautiful.
LOSS AND JOY: For Pakistanis, memories associated with August 14 are an ironic mix of terrible loss and profound joy. There was the gore and the bloodshed of about one million casualties caused by the panic of a disastrously-rushed partition of Punjab arbitrarily enforced by the British. Most of those priceless lives, though still unknown to the public by name, deserve our solemn salutation.
And before we shift focus to the parallel process of Inter-Dependence, the date of our Independence deserves exclusive attention for its unmatched features. In fact, Independence Day represents pristine glory. Of liberation from British colonial rule. Of averting non-Muslim discriminatory majoritarian rule over large numbers of Muslims in South Asia. Of remembrance of Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s incredible dexterity and determination in simultaneously overcoming three adversaries to gift us this miracle called Pakistan: the British, the Congress and several fellow Muslim groupings which strongly opposed the creation of Pakistan. Independence certainly deserves fulsome celebration.
In times when news media and social media focus disproportionately on the bad and the ugly — and there are some in our country who relish producing huge quantities of both — there is a need to use Independence Day as illumination for the good and the beautiful. The latter two features were also part of the journey from 1947 to 2021. Beyond the flag-waving and the holiday mood, there are solid grounds and hard facts to vitalise and inspire us.
OVERCOMING FORMIDABLE ODDS: Starting virtually from scratch in most sectors, we achieved remarkable progress even in the first 24 years up to 1971. The 1950s and the first half of the 1960s saw the establishment and expansion of basic infrastructure in both West and East Pakistan. This covered air, road, rail, river and marine transportation, textiles, jute and multi-scale manufacturing, banking, financial services, telecommunications, electrification, mining, boosting of agricultural output and discovering gas and coal reserves.
Wheat production doubled from 3.3m tons in 1947 to 7.3m tons in 1970. Similar or even higher increases were registered with rice and cotton. Fertilizer production went from zero in 1947 to 23m tons in 1970. And so did steel production, starting with the same zero to reach 180m tons in two-and-a-half decades. There was a nine-fold increase in cement production from 292,000 tons in 1947 to 2.65m tons in 1970.
Even with some disparities between East Pakistan and West Pakistan — and considerably exaggerated grievances of the East covertly fanned by India to project disharmony — our overall progress in the first two decades was phenomenal. It was envied by India and sought to be emulated by others, such as South Korea and Malaysia.
Then came the catastrophic errors of 1971. Yet, despite the thunderbolt and the trauma on the loss of East Pakistan on December 16, 1971, and the new economic paradigms of 1972-77, the long reign of Ziaul Haq, and the political instability of the 1990s, the nation demonstrated the capacity to seize new opportunities and maintain steady or erratic growth over the next half-a-century.
Per capita income has climbed from Rs405 in the year of Independence to over Rs246,414 in 2021. Where there was only one doctor for about 24,000 people at the birth of Independence, we now have one for about every thousand persons. Though still too high, the infant mortality rate is more than halved from 141 per 100,000 to less than 65 today. Life expectancy has increased from just below 50 to over 66 years now. A rapidly growing, multi-level middle class of probably about 25 million households out of about 40 million — upper, middle and lower — has also reduced the poverty level to around, or below 20pc of the total population.
PROMINENT GLOBAL ROLE: In foreign policy, despite our initial Western alignments through security pacts like CENTO and SEATO, Pakistan simultaneously asserted a strong independent streak. We concluded border demarcation with communist China in October 1962, and also opened the first air-bridge for, and multi-track relations with, an otherwise isolated giant. And we did it to the extent that both China and the US turned to Pakistan to make their first-ever top-level, top-secret contact when Henry Kissinger, representing president Nixon, secretly flew to Beijing from Rawalpindi in July 1971 to meet chairman Mao Tse Tung and prime minister Zhou Enlai. That journey arranged by General Yahya Khan, the Pakistani president, initiated a tectonic shift in global geopolitics.
In defiance of Western pressures, we have consistently campaigned for Palestine, stoutly opposed apartheid in South Africa till its abolition and robustly supported the right to self-determination for all people, including the oppressed people of Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s diplomatic sophistication and policy positions have always received appreciation (sometimes grudgingly by certain countries!) at the United Nations.
Though the failure to substantially reduce the rate of population growth has become an albatross which stalls our speed and erodes gains, despite the abysmal ranking in the Human Development Index and in gender and income equity, despite misgovernance and corruption in many sectors, today, in 2021, Pakistan is a country of strategic significance.
For three of its immediately adjacent regions — South, Central and West Asia — and for the world’s largest populated country — China — and, as only one of only nine nuclear powers in 193 UN member-states, Pakistan is of crucial importance to the whole world. Without forgetting our many warts, there is much to be humbly festive about.
INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL DEPENDENCE: Like Independence, Inter-Dependence has both internal and external manifestations. The initial implication of Independence bringing sovereign autonomy and self-reliance were instantly diffused. Due to the unprecedented, grossly unfair conditions of birth, the world’s most awkwardly constructed nation-state had to begin its existence and struggle for survival in the face of formidable odds. These were deliberately worsened by India’s callous refusal to honour the prior agreement to remit Pakistan’s due share of pre-1947 resources.
Special envoy Mir Laiq Ali reached Washington DC in October 1947. He requested $2 billion in US aid (today’s equivalent: $20 billion?!). Though politely rebuffed with a negative response, our desperate, naïve request embodied the limitations of Independence. No country — a recipient of aid, or a donor of aid — is totally independent of others. Nor is any state able to survive without relating to one or more, or many other states.
The global framework introduced after 1945 was shaped, for the most part, by the victors of the Second World War comprising the Western allies and the USSR. They ensured their veto power inside and outside the UN as well, without using the same term. Yet this framework was extensively inter-dependent. Even the five veto powers could impose their will up to only a certain extent. For they too were, and still are, dependent on non-veto powers for a variety of reasons.
The US has one of its largest military bases in Qatar in a total of about 800 such centres of one kind or another around the world. But America’s enmity with Iran could not prevent Qatar from following its own distinct, friendly relations with its major neighbour across the Gulf, also defying Arab neighbours.
From trade to travel, from arms sales to cyber-security, from bilateral relations to multi-lateral networks, from international aviation and maritime rules to mechanisms for conducting currency and financial flows … inter-dependence is the dominant principle even while some large powers play a pivotal role. After these powers ruthlessly despoiled colonial territories for over three or four centuries, or decimated native populations in the Americas, they now enforce sanctions on alleged or real violations of human rights by developing countries or by China. The discriminatory application of FATF on Pakistan is crudely obvious.
Perhaps the worst aspect of Pakistan’s Inter-Dependence is our plunge into external debt. By 2019, our total external debt as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) was as high as 37pc. If our official GNP were thrice the size of what it is today — about $330 billion (unofficial estimates place the actual size of our unofficial-cum-official economy at $1 trillion), we could possibly afford such a high percentage. Comparatively, Bangladesh is at 18pc and India at 19.7pc. and it is only cold comfort to know that a large fellow Muslim country like Indonesia also shares the 37% level, while Turkey is disturbingly far ahead at 58.9%.
INTER-DEPENDENCE DAY: While sustaining our undiluted fervour for August 14, we should mark one other day in the calendar as ‘Inter-Dependence Day’. There are options to choose from. Perhaps the anniversary of the date on which Pakistan made its first exports of a commodity or a product. Or the date on which we received our first imports. Or our first dose of infectious foreign aid. Or the date on which we signed our first multi-lateral agreement. Why not September 30, 1947, when we became a member of the United Nations?
Such a separate observance will help increase our respect for, and knowledge about the individuality and importance of other nations, other cultures and religions, other political and economic philosophies. To an extent, we already practise basic respect for others despite stark differences between Pakistan’s own precepts and practices and the ways of other states. We maintain diplomatic relations with dozens of overseas states in all continents, we conduct trade — even with an almost perennially hostile India — and we connect with others through travel, tourism, telecommunication, media.
The fact that Inter-Dependence has an inherent internal character was reflected in the prolonged search spread over nine years to reach a consensus about our first constitution. This was more so because we were a country whose two wings with approximately equal populations were distant from each other by about 1,000 miles of hostile territory. However, even after nine years we could only achieve a reluctant consensus on the basis of the parity principle rather than the majority principle; that, even though the majority of the population was in East Pakistan, the two wings would have equal representation under the 1956 constitution.
Also unfair and unwise was another undue expression of an Inter-Dependence that betrayed an unjustified apprehension on the part of the civil, political leadership regarding the military’s role. In 1954, prime minister Mohammad Ali Bogra invited General Ayub Khan, the serving commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army, to also serve as minister of defence in the central cabinet. The seeds were sown for the growth of the military presence in the political domain.
This culminated just for years later with the imposition of martial law in October 1958 and in the abrogation of the 1956 constitution. Just as foreign aid on the external front gave us delusions, Inter-Dependence on the internal front gave the military the mistaken notion that it is also capable of steering the nation through the fog and storms of politics.
In partial redress of past mis-steps, internal Inter-Dependence maintains a robust pace through inter-provincial migration, daily mobility and trade, through also ethnic inter-marriages and the pleasure of discovering respective regional folk cultures, arts and cuisines.
INDIVIDUALS AND NATIONS: Inter-Dependence is an extrapolation of how every single individual is also either inter-dependent or dependent on relations with: parents, spouse, siblings, children, relations, friends, work-colleagues, fellow citizens.
But unlike a young adult who, at the age of 18 or 21, decides to leave parental oversight and control to embark on a new phase of professional life shaped by her/his own decisions to thereby become ‘Independent’ of elders, a nation-state cannot — or normally does not — ‘walk away’ from external influences.
In one form or another, be it an individual person or a nation-state, Independence always remains an ideal worth pursuing, but not a reality that is fully attainable in all respects. And there is nothing wrong with accepting the indispensability of others.
Self-reliance is possible only in limited ways. All humanity and all nation-states live on a single planet whose resources have to be shared — air, water, oceans, climate and others. Complete self-sufficiency is impossible. Each of us — a person or a country — needs another in more than one way. Even one of the world’s most isolated nation-states, North Korea, is heavily dependent on China.
Total self-immersion would be narcissistic and sterile, leading to self-extinction. So, let us honour fraternity and fellowship, especially on August 14. Three cheers, and more, for both Independence and Inter-Dependence!