Being in United States for the last two months almost, as a researcher and activist I kept a keen eye on the socio political and economic environment of this country and comparing it with Pakistan. I kept on wondering how far my country, my people are from human development. Despite the fact that Pakistan is rich in resources, especially the human resource and can grow very fast if these are exploited and utilized in the right way. Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, having 180 million population according to the 2012 census. To many this is a problem but I consider it an opportunity for growth and development especially when 67 percent population is comprised of youth. This is a rare case with many countries in the world. This large number of young people could be utilized as a significant catalyst in the country’s development.

Pakistan produces a significant number of agricultural, dairy, textiles, surgical and sports products which are exported to earn foreign exchange revenue. Its military is one of the most capable, trained and organized army in the world. It is a nuclear nation, which again very few states in the world have this capability. Some of the greatest ancient civilizations in human history progressed and evolved in this country. Strategically and geographically, the country holds a very important position in the region. It is a connecting point between South and Central Asia, China, Gulf and Middle East and Russia (via Vaakhan stripe). This important positioning of the country could have earned us enormous economic and political benefits contrary to the problems. Moreover, the country is rich in lots of natural resources including coal, chromite, potassium, marble, natural gas, gem stones and some areas like KP, FATA and Baluchistan have gold and platinum so far largely unexplored due to variety of reasons.

Despite all these capabilities, human and natural resources, important geo-strategic and political positioning, we are a country that has not only become a threat to the regional and global security but to the very existence of our own diverse population and culture. It is considered to be one of the worst countries for women, children, disabled and people with alternate religious, political, sexual and gender identities.

Our young population has been always used and manipulated at the hands of extremist and radical political forces. A large number of youth is uneducated and unemployed. Those who are educated and employed are obsessed with envy against others. Half of the country’s population is women and girls. Except in some urban centers they are victims of violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect and discrimination. Those who have been able to get employment in various sectors face sexual harassment, negligible say in decision making processes and have limited access to growth and opportunities. In my personal experience, even in the social sector they are considered to be waste of resources and capital by many of their male counterparts and colleagues. Women empowerment is still considered a subject of women development ministries, departments, NGOs and not the state and society at large.

Pakistan is one of the major agricultural countries in the world producing a huge amount of valuable agricultural products like wheat, rice, variety of fruit and vegetables as well as dairy products each year. On contrary, only three percent children are receiving standard nutrition. Majority of new born babies die before reaching the age of six. More than fifty percent mothers face death at time when they are giving birth to a new life. The reason is that most of these mothers face blood and nutritional deficiency during pregnancy.

Our nuclear assets despite being empowering the government and the people had become a major security threat for the country itself, the neighbors and whole of the international community. It has made the military more in a position to demand greater share which is roughly 80 percent of the annual budget each year. This nuclear capability is one of the major resources to overcome the energy crisis that had emerged as a big challenge for the subsequent political governments over the last few years. Its affects are unfortunately mostly negative. It is continuously undermining the hope for successful development and sustainability of civil political culture, sustainable economic, industrial and agricultural growth. Majority of the people foresee military take over as the ‘only solution’ to overcome the problems of inflation, energy crisis, unemployment etc which in fact has always led to more problems and crisis in the history.

When you ask the common people and the so called analysts, experts, research scholars, religious leaders and parliamentarians about the reasons for the country’s underdevelopment, most of them will blame the USA, India and corrupt politicians. Religious leaders will give the worst explanation by blaming the victims, the very people of the country. They will say that because of the people’s excessive sins and transgressions which mostly relate to women’s emancipation and empowerment like education and employment in various sectors; Allah is punishing us by imposing a democratic government over us. They forget or deliberately deny mentioning that in 66 years life span of this country, half of the time military dictators ruled. These military regimes made the country worse than ever by making it a ‘security state’, introducing sectarianism, religious extremism and radicalization of armed forces which still are extremely powerful than the political forces in the country and beyond the reach of law and judiciary.

Very few people will mention that our country’s underdevelopment is because of ‘lack of leadership’ which generates some hope in the mind of interviewer as I experienced myself. But when you ask them, what kind of leadership do you think can take the country out of anarchy, instability and put it on the development track? The majority will respond by referring to a leader who is strict follower of a certain version of Islam (the one that respondent will believe), have unmatched hatred for America, India and Afghanistan and above all its own people who will have diverse ethnic, religious and political identities and history. In my opinion, here is the source of all problems and evils we see in Pakistan.

The reality is that most of the leaders in the history of Pakistan were unethical and hence devoid of universal moral principles. At certain points their own values’ system and belief structure clashed with what they wanted to see as ‘change’ in the country. Their personal behavior and lifestyle were not reflective of the values they used as rhetoric to come and stay into power. As an outcome they failed to promote the same among their followers and the vast population of the country. They were leaders guided by self-interest than selflessness. The character driven leaders and those whose values and leadership messages were universal were demonized by these leaders, the state and its radical forces. Resultantly, the leaders in the history of this country were never able to make the country a nation and bring the diverse population together for a shared purpose and goal. They on contrary contributed to more division, hatred and mistrust among the various factions of the population.

The story starts with Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan himself. He demanded a separate homeland for Muslims from the newly independent United India. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other religious and ethnic populations in the subcontinent fought together for independence against the British Raj. However, Jinnah was consistent in his stance that Muslims by all means are a separate nation from Hindus and thus creation of Pakistan is inevitable. He failed to foresee that among Muslims there is a great diversity. There are fundamental differences of belief and practice of one sect from another. Also the historical evolution, traditions and cultures of major ethnic factions are hugely different from one another. More ironically, he failed to understand or did not wish so that the Islamic Republic has been historically home to Hindus (as many in Sindh), Christians and other non-Muslims as well. He denied even the history of this very region that constitutes Pakistan today for the vested interests of Muslim League at that time. Hinduism and Buddhism has been historically the religion of majority in today’s Pakistan. The clear evidence is the Harapa and Mohenjodaro in Sindh, Gulkada in Swat Valley, Takht Bai in Mardan and even the Bhudhists, Sikhs and Hindus who are citizens of Pakistan. They lived in this country even in FATA (Orkazai and Khyber agencies) before Islam was introduced through Arab invasions. His speeches later were mere an attempt of a dying leader to portray himself universal which he was not by character and ideas.

Today in the same country Christians’ only job is that of a sweeper and a sanitary worker. Non-Muslims could not be promoted beyond the rank of Colonel in armed forces. Muslims like Ahmadis and Shias who are not followers of the official version of Islam are subject to systemic discrimination and killing by the state, its radical institutions and allied forces. Generations after Jinnah experienced and realized that there are far more fundamental cultural differences among Punjabi, Baluchi, Pashtun, Hazara and Saraiaki than the one Jinnah used to say about between Hindus and Muslims. There could have been far better ways to build this diverse population as one nation than on the basis of religion.

General Ayub Khan focused on the economic progress and remained successful to great extent. However, he had extreme cultural bias against the Urdu Speaking Pakistanis migrated from India to the new country that they perceived as their homeland. Still many outside the Karachi call them ‘outsiders’ and ‘mohajir’ and not the equal citizens. This terminology has a historical significance and could not be denied if one is determined to understand the root causes of the current situation of Pakistan. Karachi fall prey to ethnic riots during his regime and since then the situation had remained unchanged. The city historically used to be home of everyone and famous for economic and business activities is now home of none. It is now more famous for target killings, ethnic and sectarian violence.

General Zia Ul Haq was supportive of a certain version of Islam and considered Shias, Ahmadis, non-Muslims and progressive political forces as a formidable threat not only to the society but also for his own regime and power. He was one of the worst leaders in the history of Pakistan. During his regime the whole of Pakistani society, state institutions and most importantly the armed forces were Islamized and radicalized. He was succeeded by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto a charismatic intelligent diplomat and statesman. However, being not an ethical leader he alienated Bengalis on the basis of race. He being very liberal and progressive, practically betrayed his values by succumbing to the pressure from religious parties to declare Ahmadis as ‘non-Muslims’. In his regime, first military operation was started against Baluchis who demanded justice and fair share in their own resources. Many Pakistanis call him a great leader but somehow he was not a man of character and principles. He was extremely selfish, not selfless. He played a critical role in the massacre of Bengalis at the hands of Pakistan Army at that time.

General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf initiated a selective enlightenment process of the society. He helped people of Karachi, especially the Urdu speaking to modernize and enlighten them but went against the same in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and specifically FATA. When the US and NATO forces were fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda inside Afghanistan, he was busy in sowing the most fertile seeds of talibanization and religious extremist movement on the other side of the Durand Line. These seeds that sprung in days and weeks became powerful trees in months. He was excellent in rapid talibanization of whole of FATA and cleverly used the political administration and local seminaries established during General Zia’s regime in times of the USSR – Afghan war. The Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as perceived by the General as mercenaries of Pakistan’s military during the ‘sowing process’ are fighting the US led NATO, ISAF forces and Afghan National Army but at the same time also attacking Pakistan’s own security forces in the same region, considered by them as ‘infidels’ and ‘collaborators’ of external powers.

Most of these leaders were more or less driven by their flawed values’ system and personal beliefs. This led the country towards destruction and chaos under their leadership. They utilized all the above discussed tangible and potential resources of the country for their own vested interests and those of their followers. Education was used as a tool of indoctrination by them to prepare Jihadi minds instead of a system to build a nation and celebrating the cultural and religious diversity. Afghanistan and India being close in culture, religion and history were promoted and portrayed as enemy states through curriculum, media, popular culture, literature and most importantly by leaders. This mindset is still prevalent both at the level of society and the state. On contrary, China being a communist country is considered a friend of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I fear if a person like Munawar Hassan became prime minister, Pakistan would be at actual war with China and the hatred would be more visible than the one we see against USA and India these days.

At present, we can clearly see the same generation of leaders. Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan are positional leaders. Their popular rhetoric is no more different from that of Taliban and General Zia Ul Haq. Their sayings and promises contradict with their character, behavior and lifestyle in the past. The minority religious and ethnic groups in the country do not trust them as leaders. They lack a concrete set of values like those demonstrated by Mahatma Gandhi, Ghaffar Khan Baba, G.M. Syed, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and even the great Sufi saints who are part of the Pakistan’s rich culture and history.

Our coming generations has been made to hate the people of our neighboring countries without any reason and logic by such leaders. It’s Okay to remember our heroes in the history who created Pakistan, but is it necessary to hate Hindus even now. It is just like that today an American is told to hate Germans as many would have hated them in the post-World War II America. This is simply unethical and irrational. The today Germany is not the one under Nazis. Similarly India today is not the one under British Empire and immediately after the partition of the Indian sub-continent. The coming generations could not hate each other if they have no experience of war and using violence against each other. This is probably one reason why the military defense complexes of both countries don’t want peaceful relations. This perpetuated antagonism throughout decades is what giving legitimacy to armed forces of both the countries to have maximum share in budget expenditure, use and occupation of land and natural resources and more importantly supporting terrorism at home and exporting it to the rest of the world.

Not a single leader except Benazir Bhutto Shaheed and her husband Asif Ali Zardari tried to promote a feeling of love, friendship and peaceful coexistence with India as well as internally with dissident ethnic groups. For this good, she got assassinated in a clear yet mysterious way. Only she was the leader in the history of this nation who really owned her values, her love for the people of Pakistan despite the class, gender, religion and ethnicity. This was the reason when she was assassinated by reactionary forces, that day her friends, followers and political opponents mourned together and lamented this great loss. Except her, all who came before her labeled certain population groups, political rivals, religious, ethnic and sexual minorities as threat to the country’s existence and its flawed Islamic outlook.

Asif Ali Zardari became president after her and is hated by many Pakistanis despite the fact that he is a selfless leader. The energy crisis, inflation and negative role of media and some powerful state institutions made him and his regime infamous among the people. It was under President Zardari’s leadership that the historical 18th Amendment Bill was passed from the Parliament. It is the only law of the country that explicitly recognizes provincial rights, autonomy and devises directions for how provinces could be in control and in charge of utilizing their own resources and production. At present there is a lack of capacity in provincial governments and institutions to enjoy the fruits of the devolution but in future this is the only legislation that will make provinces not only develop but also may save the country from more division and disintegration.

Actual need over the history was for recognizing and accepting each ethnic and religious sub culture as equally legitimate and deserving of participation and benefiting from the country’s resources. On contrary what happened. Leaders and their followers from different ethnic groups and the provinces who struggled to achieve equal rights and share in the country’s resources, employment and services were bashed and labeled as ‘traitors’. Democracy was always used and considered as a tool and system by the majority to suppress the legitimate voice of minorities. Majority always ruled and controlled the country’s resources which over the times led to more resentment and mistrust among the provinces against the federal government and particularly Punjab province, the largest in population. This is why provinces now don’t trust the central government and the central ministries including racial defense institutions (ministry) of the state.

Historically the major challenge remained that of building a nation which is truly a ‘Pakistani’; A nation which is equally Pashtun, Baluchi, Sindhi, Saraiki, Hazara, Potohari and that of Urdu Speaking; A nation where one’s belief, ethnicity, race and gender is not a hurdle in accessing the opportunities and services. A country, where Christians, Hindus, Parsis, Ahmadis, Shias and the non-believers (atheists and agnostics) feel secure and equal citizens of the state will be a true Pakistan.

Building such a Pakistan need leaders who strongly realize that their characters and lives should be equally reflective and representative of all the citizens’ voices, aspirations and demands irrespective of their cast, gender, ethnicity, religion, socio economic status and even the physical fitness. They as leaders possess and practice a set of values that each citizen irrespective of the above mentioned identity markers is able to align him/her values with that of the leader. This kind of leadership is not easy to invest in and to promote. Its demands and price are very high, especially at present. This will even demand major changes in the Constitution of the country. But this is the only option left. This is the only way out. Either we continue with cursing the leaders and ourselves or start to have courage and faith in our abilities, potential and resources.

This could be possible by exploring and listening to the leaders who are driven by character, selflessness, universal human values, neutrality and their love for every Pakistani irrespective of class, profession, gender, ethnicity, geography, religion and other such markers of identity. We don’t need to import them from the rest of the world. They are part of the country’s own history, traditions and rich culture. Some are dead, some are living. It’s just the matter of trust, acceptance, listening and exploration of those leadership voices.