BANGLADESH is not some Scandinavian heaven. It is poor and overpopulated,
undereducated and corrupt, frequented by natural catastrophes, experiences
occasional terrorism, and the farcical nature of its democracy was exposed in the December 2018 elections.
But the earlier caricature of a country on life support disappeared years ago.
Today, some economists say it shall be the next Asian tiger. Its growth rate
last year (7.8 per cent) put it at par with India (8.0pc) and well above Pakistan
(5.8pc). The debt per capita for Bangladesh ($434) is less than half that for
Pakistan ($974), and its foreign exchange reserves ($32 billion) are four times
of this growth owes to exports which zoomed from zero in 1971 to $35.8bn in
2018 (Pakistan's is $24.8bn). Bangladesh produces no cotton but, to the chagrin
of Pakistan's pampered textile industry, it has eaten savagely into its market
share. The IMF calculates Bangladesh's economy growing from $180bn presently to
$322bn by 2021. This means that the average Bangladeshi today is almost as
wealthy as the average Pakistani and, if the rupee depreciates further, will be
technically wealthier by 2020.
indicators are equally stunning. East Pakistan's population in the 1951 census
was 42 million, while West Pakistan's was 33.7m. But today Bangladesh has far
fewer people than Pakistan - 165m versus 200m. A sustained population planning
campaign helped reduce fertility in Bangladesh. No such
campaign - or even its beginnings - is visible today in
health sector is no less impressive - far fewer babies die at birth in
Bangladesh than in Pakistan. Immunisation is common and no one gets shot dead
for administering polio drops. Life expectancy (72.5 years) is higher than
Pakistan's (66.5 years). According to the ILO, females are well ahead in
employment (33.2pc) as compared to Pakistan (25.1pc).
did West Pakistan's poor cousin manage to upstage its richer relative by so
much so fast? It's all the more puzzling because Bangladesh has no geostrategic
assets saleable to America, China, or Saudi Arabia. It also has no nuclear
weapons, no army of significance, no wise men in uniform running the country
from the shadows, and no large pool of competent professionals. At birth, East
Pakistan had, in fact, no trained bureaucracy; it received just one member of
the former Indian Civil Service.
should be more surprised at these new developments than those West Pakistanis - like me - who went to school during the 1950s and 1960s and grew up surrounded
by unconcealed racism. Short and dark Bengalis were reputedly good only for
growing jute and rice and catching fish. They were Muslims and Pakistanis, of
course, but as children we were made to imagine that all good Muslims and real
Pakistanis are tall, fair, and speak chaste Urdu. We'd laugh madly at the
strange-sounding Bengali news broadcasts from Radio Pakistan. In our foolish
macho world, they sounded terribly feminine.
mega surrender of 1971 made West Pakistanis eat humble pie. But, even as the
two-nation theory went out of the window, the overwhelming majority was loath
to change its thinking. The west wing renamed itself Pakistan, many assuming
this was temporary. They said Bangladesh could never survive economically and
would humbly ask to be taken back.
optimistically imagined that the disaster had taught Pakistan a profound lesson
making change inevitable. Responding enthusiastically to the popular roti, kapra, makaan slogan,
they believed Pakistan would shift from pampering its hyper-privileged ones
towards providing welfare for all. Equally, it was hoped that the rights of
Pakistan's culturally diverse regions would be respected. None of this
happened. Instead, we simply got more of what had been earlier.
for vengeance, Pakistan's establishment could think of nothing beyond wounded
honour and ways to settle scores with India. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's secret call
for the nuclear bomb led to the famed Multan meeting just six weeks after the
surrender. That centralisation of authority breeds local resentment remained an
unlearned lesson. In 1973, Bhutto dismissed the NAP government in Balochistan
and ordered military action, starting a series of local rebellions that has
never gone away. In doing so, he re-empowered those who ultimately hanged him.
a nutshell, Bangladesh and Pakistan are different countries today because they
perceive their national interest very differently. Bangladesh sees its future
in human development and economic growth. Goal posts are set at increasing
exports, reducing unemployment, improving health, reducing dependence upon
loans and aid, and further extending micro credit. Water and boundary disputes
with India are serious and Bangladesh suffers bullying by its bigger neighbour
on matters of illegal immigration, drugs, etc. But its basic priorities have
Pakistan, human development comes a distant second. The bulk of national
energies remain focused upon check-mating India. Relations with Afghanistan and
Iran are therefore troubled; Pakistan accuses both of being excessively close
to India. But the most expensive consequence of the security state mindset was
the nurturing of extra state actors in the 1990s. Ultimately they had to be
crushed after the APS massacre of Dec 16, 2014. This, coincidentally, was the
day Dhaka had fallen 43 years earlier.
is conflicted by internal rifts. Still, being more multicultural and liberal,
its civil society and activist intelligentsia have stopped armed groups from
grabbing the reins of power. Although elected or quasi-elected Bangladeshi
leaders are often horribly corrupt and incompetent, they don't simply endorse
decisions - they actually make them. Ultimately responsible to their
electorate, they are forced to invest in people instead of weapons or a massive
Pakistan, these are lessons to be pondered over. CPEC or no CPEC, it's
impossible to match India tank for tank or missile by missile. Surely it is
time to get realistic. Shouting 'Pakistan zindabad' from the rooftops while
obsequiously taking dictation from the Americans, Chinese, and Saudis has taken
us nowhere. Announcing that we have become targets of a fifth-generation
hi-tech secret subversion inflames national paranoia but is otherwise
pointless. Instead, to move forward, Pakistan must transform its war economy
into ultimately becoming a peace economy.