Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pakistan's colonial set-up

An illusion of Freedom

Politically, Pakistan has been independent since 14 August 1947 but, in a deeper sense, it seems never to have enjoyed true freedom. The country's Establishment and the middle class servicing it, comprising at most less than 5% of the population, receive their education in English, much as they would have done under the British in the pre-1947 era. Consequently, much of the business of the state continues to be transacted in a similar manner to that the British had imposed on their subjects. Thus, the Pakistanis who have managed to arm themselves with an English education comprise the new Raj, lording over the remaining 95% of Pakistan's population educated in Urdu.

This continuation of an essentially colonial system has had a devastating effect on the Pakistani psyche and on the country's economic development. The exaggerated importance given to an alien language and, inevitably, the culture associated with it, has produced a Pakistani elite suffering from a deep-seated sense of inferiority. The people occupying seats of power tend to be shallow individuals: deficient in the knowledge of their own language, history and culture while their knowledge of the alien language and culture they so painstakingly study is little better. They assume a fawning attitude before the Americans and the British but act with extreme haughtiness towards fellow Pakistanis who lack the vulgar trappings of ill gotten wealth and power.

As for the effect of Pakistan's colonial system on its economic development, this is dealt with in the two e-mails below, which I exchanged with a well known columnist in a leading Urdu language newspaper of Pakistan.

First e-mail:

I agree with you that our progress over the last 62 years could have been more rapid. Certainly, it has been our misfortune to be saddled with the kind of leadership that we have had to endure for much of Pakistan’s brief history. I agree also that this has, indeed, been a significant factor in slowing down the growth of the country’s prosperity. However, I do not think that it is the root cause of our economic lethargy.

You have given examples of four countries whose economic growth has outstripped that of Pakistan, namely, China, Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. Of these, only the last two can be said to have benefited from inspirational leadership. China, in particular, was devastated and impoverished by the crazy policies of the tyrant Mao Zedong (if you have the time, do read the fascinating book “Wild Swans” by Jung Chang – a ‘must read’ if you have even a moderate interest in the sociological and political changes which have taken place in China over the last hundred years or so). It was only after Mao’s death that China’s rise as an economic powerhouse began.

Leaving aside the special case of tiny Singapore, which has a well educated, diverse population, I think that the main reason for the rapid growth of the other three countries was that they were able to harness the talent and genius of their populations by the simple means of spreading education in the language that people spoke. Thus, it was immaterial whether an unusually gifted child was born in a rich family or a poor family - that child had the opportunity to excel at studies and win recognition for his/her innate brilliance because the school examinations that the children had to take were conducted in the same language that they spoke. Contrast that with the situation in Pakistan.

We have a culture in Pakistan where, by and large, people refuse to recognize intelligence unless it is expressed through the medium of a language which is alien to the vast majority of Pakistanis. Our national psyche has been conditioned to such an extent that we consider a mediocre person speaking bad English to be more intelligent than a near genius from a poor background whose intelligence manifests itself only in Urdu. Like conceited peacocks we strut around flaunting the second-rate English that we speak and write. It is these mediocre people who then go on to occupy positions of influence and power while the real brainpower of the nation rots unrecognised because intelligence expressed in Urdu is not accepted as intellectual excellence!

In my opinion, it is this mental subjugation to our erstwhile colonial masters – and, indeed, to our current de facto colonial masters, the Americans – which is the greatest obstacle to our economic progress as a nation. Our national inferiority complex leads to criminal waste and destruction of our intellectual capital on a massive scale, affecting perhaps more than 95% of our population. The remaining 5% of the population, which is able to educate its children in the foreign language that dominates our national life, simply cannot produce able people in sufficiently large numbers to meet the needs of the country.

At one time China and South Korea were both categorised with Pakistan as ‘developing nations’ but they have since broken out of that straitjackjet while Pakistan has stood still. The reason is that those countries are able to call upon the whole of their available talent while we unfortunate Pakistanis depend, to a very large extent, on the 5% or so of “English educated” exploiting class. Try explaining the benefits of an “English education” to the Chinese and the Koreans - and the Japanese before them - who managed to develop their languages to a point where the whole population could participate in the development of the country! Both the Koreans and the Chinese were able to make full use of the intellectual resources of their respective countries because their ruling classes were not slavishly tied to an alien language and its byproduct, an alien culture.

In view of the past neglect of our national language it is now a practical need to continue teaching English to our children for the time being but we need to formulate an alternative strategy to develop Urdu and enable it to progressively replace English in an ever widening sphere of our national life. We must also take concrete steps to raise the status of Urdu in Pakistan. Here are some simple suggestions:

· the country’s leadership should adopt a simple rule to always address the nation in Urdu;

 · all official correspondence between members of the public and government departments/ institutions to be conducted in Urdu;

 · proceedings in a court of law, so far as possible, should take place in Urdu .

And so on! Wiser heads than mine can modify/add to these suggestions.

Second e-mail:

In my view, therefore, the spread of education in the national language within previously ill educated populations was the single most important underlying cause for the resurgence of the South East Asian "tigers". I think you hold the view that the primary cause was the leadership of the countries concerned.

China, Korea and Malaysia have reached very high literacy rates compared to Pakistan. We struggle because of our multi-faceted educational system and the chronic shortage of resources allocated to education (this is where leadership comes in - there has to be a political decision to allocate resources). In my last e-mail I said that the hold of the English language in our national life had resulted in 'good education' being confined to a small part of the population of Pakistan. A very high proportion of Pakistani parents - 95%? - lack the resources to provide quality education in a foreign language to their children. The Chinese, the Koreans and the Malaysians are free of this curse. They are able to provide quality education in their respective languages to a high proportion of their populations and they reap the rewards that flow from it: instead of the intellectual capital of the countries being neglected, it is utilised in the development of those countries.

Certainly, there are supplementary factors which play an important part as well. Here are some:

1. POLITICAL STABILITY/ LEADERSHIP. Once the Chinese realised that Mao's policies, culminating in the Cultural Revolution, had ruined China, a movement began to isolate Mao, his wife and other hangers on. Following Mao's death, the old guard lost influence, and Mao's opponents held the reins of power. In the case of Malaysia it was the leadership, typified by Mahathir Mohammad, that provided political stability and the emphasis on spread of education. The most remarkable case is that of South Korea which was totally destroyed by the Korean War. Since 1953, however, it has managed to transform itself into a modern state. I don't know enough about the country to pinpoint the precise causes of this renaissance. In general terms, spread of education and political and institutional stability must have been the principal factors behind this success story. We Pakistanis have wasted our years of independence serving foreign masters and getting the wealth of the country plundered by greedy and power hungry civilian and military dictators. Our unstable political system can, at best, be described as a fake democracy where the larger political parties are merely vehicles to serve the interests of a particular family or a privileged class. Elections are held only nationally, not within the so-called political parties. This system gives rise to weak institutions, social and economic injustice, and exploitation on a massive scale.

2. HISTORY and NATIONAL IDENTITY. Both the Chinese and the Koreans had suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese. China had also been exploited by the Western powers. Both countries had a natural desire to grow strong as a nation and face their erstwhile oppressors from a position of strength. Their language, culture and traditions helped them fuse together as a nation. However, I do not think China has been very successful in this respect because its people are spread over a large area with significant racial differences; also, China has a history of enmity among its provinces. Korea and Malaysia have been more successful. We Pakistanis had a strong sense of identity in 1947 but that has long since disappeared. The voices of Iqbal and Jinnah have got lost in the mists of time and, after 62 years of "independence", we are anything but free. We look to the West as the fount of knowledge and wisdom and we have lost awareness of the treasure trove in our own backyard. We trample on our own national language and we swell with pride if we manage to pick up some English. Our DEEN, which the Qur'an tells us is One and indivisible, has been fragmented into scores of sects. We Pakistanis do not obey Allah, we obey leaders of various religious sects. In practice, we pay lip service to Islam but our actions belie our words. The Pakistani society can hardly be described as Islamic because DEEN has been replaced by mazhab, often a collection of meaningless rites and rituals laid down by the various sects. How do we define our national identity today?

3. CHARACTER TRAITS. I hate to say it but some groups of people do seem to be just lazy and content with the stagnant societies in which they live. Somehow they can't bring themselves to widen their knowledge, learn from the experience of others, try to improve their circumstances and move towards a nobler existence. This is a sensitive subject and I shan't say much more.

To summarise, my recipe for taking Pakistan to the status of a developed nation is:

· Rapid spread of education in a way that provides equality of opportunity for all.

 · Stable and fair political/economic system and strong institutions.

 · Sense of National Identity.

· Willingness to learn from others.


Ayesha said...

Stop our competition with India, confine the mullahs to mosques and army and ISI to the barracks only.

Pakistan will be on the progression track

Sakib Ahmad said...

Let us not deal in slogans. Please flesh out your comments.

The mullahs are out of place in mosques - they simply distort our Deen. The mullahs should be provided with employment consistent with their capabilities. The mosques should be used for community development and for propagation of Islam as Deen.

You also need to think of justice for ALL, not just for a tiny part of the population which has imposed a foreign language and culture on the nation and robbed it of self-esteem.

Anonymous said...

About you:
Any one can see how far you are from Pakistan,How you can confine us is one Tarretory.
About your comments on mullah: plz explain mullah definition so i can understand mullah from you.
you know very little what is going in Pakistan. Please research before posting this scrap.
In Pakistan they are watching the collapse of super power like they experienced Russian empire, they are watching the system in which swine flu come out from laboratory and justice system like pictures from Gowantanamo bay & Dr Afia case & so on.
Suggestion for you:
go and give yr best in Pakistan then bring the change.
how easy to comment on Pakistan, but Pakistan is shining day by day, people are well aware they never believe theory like you.

Sakib Ahmad said...

rookker321, please identify yourself.

First sentence: sorry, didn't get it - just flew over my head.

Mai.n jaanta hoo.n jamaa'at ka hashar kya ho ga
Masaail-e-nazari mei.n ulajh gaya hai khateeb

Voh mazhab-e-mardaan-e-khud aagaah o Khuda mast
Ye mazhab-e-mulla o jamaadaat o nabaataat

Knowledge of Pakistan: simply living in a particular place does not necessarily give you knowledge of that place. You sometimes need an external perspective, looking in. I was in Pakistan earlier this year and I happily mixed with the beggars and the lower rungs of Pakistani society. Any idea what they talk about? Your particular social circle may not be representative of Pakistan as a whole.

I am in agreement with you that we may be witnessing the gradual collapse of a super power. For my views on USA imperialism, see the post "conversations with a new breed of Pakistani Muslim", and also the open letter to Gen Kayani.

Good suggestion. However, do you know that if all overseas Pakistanis returned to Pakistan its economy would simply collapse? OPs are the largest single source of foreign exchange earnings for Pakistan. I have enormous respect for people like Imran Khan who have returned to Pakistan and are doing all they can to improve conditions there. Lesser mortals like me can make a worthwhile contribution from afar. Among the OPs there are rotten eggs, of course, and I have done my bit in exposing them (see my most recent post in this blog).

I have no theory to offer, only painful, ugly facts.

Anonymous said...

No logic in yr argument.
Recommended for you:

Anonymous said...

Another recommendation for you: (Modern Western Civilization)

Lima said...

Wow! That youtube link is the most boring thing I've ever witnessed. I suggest you re-read the post once more with an open mind and less blind loyalty to your country. There us as much to be done within as without.

Ghazal said...

Your basic points are fairly sound, Sakib. But the rest of your argument is so strange. You cannot compare Pakistan with ethnically homogenous countries such as Korea which possessed fairly high literacy rates even when under colonization by the Japanese.

Secondly, perhaps you are not aware of the many books written, by Japanese scholars, on the necessity of Japan learning more English if they wish to keep holding on to their status as a major economic power. I agree with you completely that Urdu is suffering and must be rescued. But the ethnic makeup of Pakistan must be kept in mind. In one way, English is only doing to Urdu what Urdu did to Balochi Pashtu Punjabi Sindhi Seraiki and the many other proud regional languages of Pakistan in 1947. Bengali and 1971 should never be forgotten--what difference does it make to the 92% of Pakistani households who do not consider Urdu their mother tongue, whether their child receives education in English or Urdu? A foreign language is a foreign language, and English is useful.

Instead of looking as far afield as South Korea or Japan, which are countries with very very different histories from ours, and about which you yourself admit you do not know much, maybe you should look at India. India is admittedly not perfect--it has many many flaws. But one of the weapons of the vast Indian middle class, that enables it to compete in the world market, and to be preferred even over their East Asian counterparts, is the fact that all educated Indians speak English, and speak it well.

The fault lies with the education system, I agree. But while Urdu's status (along with that of every one of Pakistan's many languages) must be raised, the real problem is with the abysmal standard of education in Pakistan, and the fact that a double track has entrenched itself so deeply into our psyches that it is perfectly natural that the elite complete their O Levels and the lower classes their Matric. Girls in Pakistan continue to be denied education, in whatever language, of whatever standard.
Language is really not the issue. But education undeniably is.

Also, political instability is not a supplemental factor it is one of the main factors in the many problems faced by Pakistan. And I fail to understand how you can cite secular countries (even officially athiest, as China is) as examples and then say that our problem is that we have forgotten our deen. That seems logically very stupid.

Sakib Ahmad said...

I do think, Ghazal, that you have been a bit quick off the mark. You might have drafted your comments a bit differently, with less youthful petulance, if you had read a couple of other posts: “Islam spin” and “Islam: back to basics”. The latter article was written with my own children and their friends in the forefront of my mind.

I write as a Punjabi with an Afghan grandmother – I understand Pakistan’s wide racial mix first hand. I was brought up in a household where we spoke Punjabi but there was only one language of communication with fellow Pakistanis: URDU. The contribution of the Kashmiris, the Punjabis and the Pakhtuns to the development and enrichment of Urdu is immense. Just think of Iqbal, Faiz, Baba-e-Urdu Sani (the Second Baba-e-Urdu) Dr Syed Abdullah, Inayatullah Khan Al-Mashriqi, Allama Parwaiz, Qudratullah Shahab, Mumtaz Mufti, and loads of others. I am sure the Sindhis and the Balochis have made valuable contributions as well but, offhand, I cannot identify them.

You appear to lack a historic perspective on Urdu - Reekhta, the language of the army - which originated as a result of attempts to facilitate communication among the arrivals from Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan and the indigenous population of India. Urdu is thus OUR language, the most developed we have, understood throughout Pakistan. It is a rich fusion of Indian languages with Persian, Arabic and Turkish - in 1947 Urdu was the language most widely understood in India. By contrast, English is a colonial relic, which had been imposed on a reluctant population by the British. It is understood by less than 5% of the population of Pakistan. Those who have managed to learn this foreign language really well comprise a fraction of 1% of the population. The flip side of that “achievement” is that these people tend to be highly westernised whose hold on our traditions and home-grown wisdom is tenuous.

Pakistan’s literacy rate today is said to be under 50%. If we are to extend that to the higher 90’s in the shortest possible time, then the only realistic option is to educate the masses in the language they can understand, that is, Urdu. Spread of education will open up people’s dormant abilities and enable them to express their suppressed genius in all sorts of ways – to enrich their own lives and the life of the nation. That, to my mind, is the only way to provide justice and equality of opportunity to our people in the foreseeable future. And, equally important, to rid our nation of the terrible inferiority complex it suffers from.

While Urdu ought to dominate our national life, the importance of English (and, to a lesser extent, of Spanish, French and German) can hardly be denied. Once we have near 100% literacy I am sure that there will be plenty of linguists among us to fulfil the needs of the country. Here we shall have a head start over your Japanese friends: because of our recent history, we are going to find it fairly easy to draw upon a pool of people familiar with the English language.

Your reference to India is unfortunate. Following the unsuccessful attempt in 1857 to topple British Raj in India, it was the Hindus who served the British wholeheartedly while the Muslims sulked. Thus it was that the Hindus became acquainted with the English language to a much greater extent than the Muslims. The “Indian middle class” you refer to consists overwhelmingly of upper caste egocentric Hindus, Brown Sahibs who speak English and look down on the “natives” who do not. The caste system remains strong and the Muslims are fast becoming second class citizens, reviled and butchered at will. The rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India has made it an ugly place to live in today.

Do read the original post again. My comments on Islam as Deen are in the context of a strong national identity. Do you know why it was necessary for Pakistan to be created?

Teri zindagi isee se, teri aabroo isee se
Jo rahi khudi to shaahi, na rahi to ru-seaahi

Anonymous said...

"The Indian middle class you refer to consists overwhelmingly of upper caste egocentric Hindus, Brown Sahibs who speak English and look down on the "natives" who do not. The caste system remains strong and the Muslims are fast becoming second class citizens, reviled and butchered at will. The rise of Hindu fundamentalism in India has made it an ugly place to live in today." Wow and Pakistan with its decades long decimation of minorities, rejections of Ahmediyas, butchering of over a million fellow Muslims in East Pakistan is a shining star on the hill?? Mr. Sakib Ahmed you clearly know nothing about India other than feeding off what is written in the well you inhabit. You've obviously not heard of Mayawati who is not an upper caste Hindu who came within a whisker of becoming Prime Minister. Nor have you heard of Azim Premji - a Muslim and one of India's richest men nor Abdul Kalam a former President nor Idris Latif, a former Chief of Air Staff not countless other success stories of Muslims and "lower" caste folks. Is it all perfect? Far from it and, yes, there are Hindu fundamentalists who sometimes get pink underwear to bring them down a peg or two. But will you, like so many other tiresome Pakistanis, stop throwing stones at India whileintrospecting about your own country? Thank you,

An Indian

Sakib Ahmad said...

Dear Anonymous Indian,

If you keep yourself under wraps it is difficult for me to know where you are coming from. It is a fair guess, I think, that you are neither an Indian Muslim nor a Shudar/Sudra/Dalit. Yet you speak for them. Do you not realise that members of those communities have spoken directly and they are more likely to be believed than you are?

I am sorry to disappoint you but Uttar Pardesh's Chief Minister has been around too long for me not to be aware of her existence. However, she has been mired in all sorts of controversies, ranging from mega corruption to egocentric acts of having her statues erected in public spaces. I have no idea which charges are true and which are false. One thing I do acknowledge: she is a remarkable lady, who would have succeeded anywhere - such exceptional people cannot be chained. Mayawati ia an exception to the rule that the Dalits in India face a bleak future.

As for Abdul Kalam, his claims to be a scientist of the highest order have been disputed. He appears to have been a person who was happy to play along with the wishes of the Indian political leadership and was rewarded with the office of the president. Again, he is the exception that proves a rule - as do the Khan super stars of Bollywood. The average Muslim remains at a distinct disadvantage compared to the Hindus.

The other two names you mention are new to me though a name like "Premji" sounds distinctly non-Muslim to me.

May I suggest that you spend a little time researching the composition of India's middle class and comparing your findings with the proportion of Muslims and Dalits in India's population as a whole?

Regarding the perceived sins of Pakistanis, I put up no defence. I know better than you do what is wrong with our nation and this blog has drawn attention to our shortcomings. Insha Allah, we'll turn the place around one day, when it will be recognisable as the homeland for Muslims that Iqbal and Jinnah had in mind.

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