Following the Pak media these days, just out of curiosity and interest, I've come across articles that express worry about being left behind as the rest of Asia powers on with high economic growth, led by the twin engines of India and China. And I felt I needed to express, in the hope that Pakistanis read this and see what is possible, how I've always been baffled at how Pakistan has squandered all the opportunities it has for becoming a prosperous country at peace with itself and its neighbors, and I've tried to see what could have been and could still be, were Pakistan a different country devoid of its twin self-destructive obsessions of Islam and hatred for India/Hindus.
As a premise: Imagine that Pakistan was not a fanatic Muslim country with a raison-d'être of being not-India. Imagine that each and every one of their policies was not about being anti-India - whether it was controlling Afghanistan to gain strategic depth against India, the nature of their budget-spending or obsessing over territorial issues.
From my Mumbaikar perspective, such a country would have been and could still be a paradise on earth.
1. It has vast natural resources and a relatively small population (imagine the population is not Islam-obsessed). This makes for a great combination to launch a modern educated country.
2. It is geostrategically well-situated. Imagine freeways and railways allowing people to drive or travel from Mumbai to Paris, and on to Indo-China and China. In fact, until the 60s, it used to be commonplace to travel by road between Germany and India. We used to get European tourists all the time who had traveled by road via Greece-Turkey-Iran-Pakistan. Goods being transported all over from Turkey to Shanghai. The attendant economic benefits to Pakistan would be enormous in terms of tolls, roadside malls, eateries where people would stop to shop and eat, leading to employment for Pakistanis, a construction boom, lower prices and better products due to speedy transport of goods, and tax for the Pak state, not to mention that the country would be well-integrated into the global economy. India and China are building highway and railway systems connecting the two via Indo-China. There is no reason why these should not be extended to West Asia and Europe. It is a known fact that the American freeway system built in the 50s led to massive economic growth by creating new employment opportunities and speeding up the transport of people and goods.
And of course, Pakistan would also stand to get a lot of revenue from ushering gas from West Asia to energy-thirsty countries like India.
3. Pakistan's upper reaches like the Swat and Neelam valleys could easily become Asian tourism destinations, dare I say, akin to Switzerland in Europe.
4. As a neighbor to India, Pakistan has such a gigantic and hungry market right next door for all kinds of goods that it produces from simple foodgrains to sophisticated stuff like automobiles. Again, leading to huge employment and prosperity for Pakistanis.
5. Kashmir could become a place that Pakistanis could visit just by driving over or taking a bus or train, like they used to before Partition.
6. Pakistan would be standing shoulder to shoulder with India, China, Indonesia etc as we define the Asian future and secure the interests of developing countries that we all are.
India's problems in comparison are of an astronomical scale. With about 10 times the population of Pakistan, a population that's mind-bogglingly diverse with identities based on language, state, faith, caste, tribe, sex, political ideologies, economic class to mention a few, where 40% of people are poorer than sub-Saharan Africa and female feoticide and infanticide is rife, India is still moving ahead. Slowly and steadily, inch by painful inch, we get closer to realizing the vision of our Constitution. Pakistan has got it good, in comparison. They have no excuse for languishing in a state worse than India's on the HDI scale.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that were Pakistanis to leave (or had they left) their anti-India obsession aside, as well as their state's mission to impose supremacy of Islam on all of us non-Muslims (and let's not be under any illusion that this isn't exactly what is being attempted), it could very easily (have) become a paradise on earth and a model to emulate for the rest of the developing world. The early years were a pointer that this was a possibility. So much time has been wasted for absolutely no reason, fighting a windmill and wallowing in a stupor of Islamic purity. It is really up to Pakistanis to decide if the next 50 years are going to be more of the same.