Lagging Pakistan must do some introspection

The economic crisis is a major worry for Pakistanis. Experts are telling them how disastrous the country’s policies have been and how far ahead India is
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Express illustration | Soumyadip Sinha)

At the time of its creation in 1947, Pakistan chose to be an Islamic republic—a theocratic state—while India decided to be a secular, democratic republic where liberal values would prevail. Consequently, the people of Pakistan have remained imprisoned in a rigid, inflexible society while Indians have thrived in a plural environment that enables questioning and the quest for knowledge. Since diversity of thought is central to acquisition of knowledge, one can see the impact of these two distinct political systems 76 years after Independence in many fields, especially education.

Providing some valuable insights into this aspect of governance in the two countries is Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy from Pakistan, a nuclear physicist and the guiding light of a platform called The Black Hole (TBH) on YouTube where issues pertaining to public policy, education, culture, science and technology are discussed. TBH is described as a non-profit, open-to-all and casual educational and intellectual space for science, art and culture in Islamabad. Many youngsters attend these events.

In one of Dr Hoodbhoy’s lectures, students in his audience spoke about India’s success in landing Chandrayaan 3 near the south pole of the moon and asked him why Pakistan had not developed such a space programme. His response was straight and unambiguous. Dr Hoodbhoy said Pakistan has lagged behind India in various scientific and technological disciplines because of its inability to separate religion and science and to inculcate a scientific temper among the youth. He did not elaborate, but it was obvious that he was referring to some doctrines in the scriptures which are in conflict with modern science.

Interestingly, he said that during his visits to technological institutions and universities in India, he learned that Indian teachers earned less than their counterparts in Pakistan but were far more dedicated to their profession. Further, he found that Indian teachers (from whichever denomination) were as religious as their Pakistani counterparts but left their religious beliefs behind when they went to work.

To drive home his point about the quality of education in India and Pakistan, he asked engineering students in his audience to cull out questions from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) entrance exams and seek answers from their professors. He said not one Pakistani professor will be able to answer the questions. That is why even the best of engineering colleges in Pakistan are no match to the engineering colleges in India because Pakistani teachers are not proficient in their subjects and are also not dedicated to their subjects. They are always thinking about their next increment and the politics in their departments and universities. There may be a bit of exaggeration here, but he was driving home the point that the alumni of engineering colleges in Pakistan are unable to match the alumni of engineering colleges in India. He concluded his analysis by saying, “In our educational institutions, talim nahi hoti (there is no education), just procedure … no questions are asked or answered.” The quality of education in Indian engineering and management colleges is best exemplified by the fact that their alumni head several top-ranking institutions and corporations in the world.

Needless to say, Dr Hoodbhoy’s matter-of-fact lecture on Chandrayaan 3’s success and his general comments on religion and education irked a couple of mullahs, who denounced him as an Indian agent.

Another interesting programme on TBH was ‘76 years of Independence: Where do we (Pakistan) stand?’. It had an eminent panel of experts and authors who discussed Pakistan’s journey since its creation. The panellists referred to three major problems that have impeded Pakistan’s growth. The most worrisome aspect they said was the vice-like grip the Army has on the country and the hard knocks that democracy has taken there since 1947. Another major concern is the dominance of religion in all aspects of life which affects education, gender equality and minorities. The third issue on which there was unanimity was the poor quality of education from the primary level to higher education.

In their view, the country’s leadership had bungled at various stages leading to the creation of Bangladesh and current turmoil in Balochistan and other areas. Shakil Chaudhary, an author, said blind patriotism, self-righteousness, obsession with defence of the country, and constant blame and propaganda against the enemy (India) has caused much damage to Pakistan. He added that the media deems it unpatriotic to say anything good about India and there is no self-criticism whatsoever.

Several Pakistani experts have in recent times been trying to bring their people closer to reality and explain to them how Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policies have been disastrous and how on the other hand, India under Narendra Modi’s leadership has forged ahead in the international arena with tremendous confidence.

Among them is Dr Sajid Tarar, a commentator on international relations. He is telling the Pakistanis to come to terms with the fact that Modi has built strong relations with Muslim countries in the Arab world, dashing Pakistan’s hope of using Islam as a trump card against India at all times. In his view, the Ummah concept is over, meaning that religion alone cannot be a binding force and it is foolish for Pakistan to pretend to be the standard-bearer for all Muslims across the world. Further, several Arab nations have conferred their highest national awards on Modi.

The dire economic crisis is also a major worry for the people. Earlier this year, the world was shocked to see videos from Pakistan of people mobbing trucks carrying wheat flour and the violence inflicted on individuals wanting to buy a bag of atta, which was selling at astronomical prices. Currently, the price of petrol in Pakistan is around Rs 320 per litre, and there is constant comparison with food and petrol prices in India on social media.

Thanks to social media platforms and WhatsApp groups, it is no longer possible for the Pakistani establishment to brainwash their citizens on issues pertaining to India. Pakistani youngsters are getting a reality check from programmes on media entities about the terrible consequences of Partition, religious hatred and bigotry. What impact will it have on the future of Pakistan, its political system and its relations with India? We must wait and watch.

A Surya Prakash

Vice-Chairman, Executive Council, Prime Ministers Museum and Library, New Delhi


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