By Ayusyha Khanna:
I recently read an article in a Pakistani newspaper (The Express Tribune) that Moody had downgraded the Pakistani economy from B3 to Caa1 and that this came as a surprise to most analysts considering that the economy was doing marginally better than some time back. They did not downgrade the economy then, so why are they then doing it now? That seemed to be the question that was puzzling most economists and analysts of Pakistan.
Several readers had suggested reasons for why the economy was downgraded. Most spoke about the War on Terror that has severely compromised the stability of the Pakistani society, which it undoubtedly has. Others spoke of an investment sentiment that was lacking and another spoke of the ills of democracy and prescribed a return to dictatorships and so on.
Yet I think that as far as a diagnosis of the issue and as far as Pakistan is concerned, it would do well to go to the crux of the situation. The most basic requirement for any economy is that it needs a certain atmosphere that can nurture it. That atmosphere is peace. Peace is the most basic necessity for any economy and no economy in the annals of world history has done well when peace is compromised. Peace is the primary issue and all others are subject to its presence. So when I read the article I really did get the feeling that most readers were missing a point.
Peace of course is of two generic kinds. Peace that is internal and peace with different countries. Internal peace would mean a civil society wherein different religious, ethnic and linguistic groups are at peace with each other by and large. This is the first prerequisite for a healthy economy. The problem however is that in Pakistan’s case, the civil society has always been troubled. The period in which the Pakistani economy performed well was in the 60’s. This period is termed as the golden period for Pakistan’s economy. In the 50’s the economy was sluggish and after that stellar performance in the 60’s, the economy started slowing down the 70’s and 80’s and by the 90’s the economy was in a mess.
So the only time that the economy did well was under secular Ayub Khan who did not tolerate victimization of minorities. Sandhurst educated Ayub even attempted to remove the ‘Islamic’ from the Islamic republic of Pakistan but despite being a dictator he was unable to implement this for a long period of time. This period of internal peace in Pakistan coupled with intelligent industrialization decisions on the part of Ayub Khan were important reasons for the growth rate of the economy. During the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, the growth slowed, but picked up quickly again after that. The loss of East Pakistan was a severe blow to the economy as that was where all the jute which grown which was a major export product. From then on, the economy kept sliding to a point where in the 90’s, things were quite close to a crisis.
In the backdrop of all this, the theory that I have been very interested in exploring is the link between a good economy and secularism and the correlation therein. These two do not seem to be directly linked at first glance. However a closer look will reveal that they have more to do with each other than previously thought. In my opinion, the government of a country cannot align itself with a certain religious philosophy and yet see a stable and dynamic civil society. Any government that does so spawns an inherently flawed structure. The reason is that in a country where the government has aligned itself with a certain religious ideology, the people who subscribe with the government ideology will automatically be favoured above the rest. They will then be the primary citizens of the country. Consequently, any people who do not subscribe to the government ideology will be secondary citizens who are in tune with the state. Now when such a paradigm exists, the legislature is going to favour the primary citizens in policy making and discriminate against the secondary citizens. This further starts a process of discrimination between the state and the primary citizens on the one hand and the secondary citizens on the other. In Pakistan’s case, the primary citizens, thanks to the efforts of Abu Ala Maudoodi and his ilk, are Sunni Muslims. Everyone else constitutes the part of secondary citizens.
In the immediate aftermath of 1947, the secondary citizens were Sikhs and Hindus. What happens in this process is that when a group is discriminated against to such an extent that they are either exterminated or converted, the divisive attitude among the proletariat and the government does not get satiated just because the targeted groups did not exist anymore. It simply looks for another group to discriminate against. This is the inherent flaw of a government that is based on a certain religious ideology. The process of creating a more homogeneous society does not end and this spirals into a vicious cycle of violence since the divisive attitude that the religious alignment of the government creates, looks for a new group to target once the originally targeted groups are exterminated. This is why the next group to be targeted was the Ahmedias. Now Sufis are being targeted along with Shias. This discriminatory attitude seeks to create an increasingly homogeneous society from an existing heterogeneous one. This is why religious alignment of a government is inherently flawed. Secularism on the other hand believes in inclusiveness. So on the one hand is an ideology that is inherently divisive and on the other hand there is secularism which is based on inclusiveness. with the former ideology, differences will continue to be created either linguistic, ethnic or religious to discriminate againstbecause the state is aligned in one direction whereas in the latter, the state is not aligned in any direction which leads This is why I feel that any government that is religiously aligned cannot see lasting peace among it’s civil society.
Now we come back to the economy. As has been made clear earlier, a healthy economy needs a healthy environment of peace. But a country where the government is aligned to a particular religious ideology and yet is diverse ( as Pakistan certainly is) cannot have a peaceful society for the reasons explained. Thus the first anodyne for a healthy growing Pakistani economy is secularism on the part of the government and a reflection of that in every sphere including the judiciary and the legislature. All the countries in the world that are doing well or have done well in the past from an economic perspective are countries that do not have a religious philosophy that the government aligns itself with. All the countries that are big economies today are secular. China, the fastest rising economy in the world is secular and so is India which is the second fastest growing economy (recent sluggishness in both notwithstanding). Turkey, a secular country has some of the best prospects that any country has as far as her economy is concerned and Turkey is famous for its secularism. This is true of all the Muslims countries in the world because not only does secularism usher the primary requirement which is peace, but it also provides a climate for holistic education which is another prerequisite in these times for the amelioration of an economy. Secondary measures like improving production to reduce the fiscal deficit, curbing inflation, cutting interest rates, managing the trade deficit, reducing debt, improving infrastructureetc. can come only once the right environment is created.
So if there is then a correlation with the performance of an economy and secularism, then talking about other secondary issues that affect the Pakistani economy will not avail it. This should be incentive enough. The incentives for secularism are many and i am doing my small but in raising a voice for it in Pakistan. If Pakistan truly wants to realize its potential as far as economic performance is concerned, then it seems that the first thing that it must do is to adopt secularism to create an atmosphere of peace which can then further nurture the aspirations of 180million people. Secularism is the right way forward for peace and education. but somehow if the economy is linked to it, then people seem to sit up and pay attention. And for Pakistan now, it is time to do just that.