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.
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.
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.