Pakistan is a hot mess. I got that sense of Pakistan recently when I was invited as a distinguished guest to Pakistan’s 73rd Republic Day event. Yes, Pakistan has a Republic Day, which is separate from the August 14, 1947 Independence Day. Republic day marks the day when Indian Muslims decided to split from the Hindu dominated effort for independence to create a Muslim majority nation in the subcontinent. This moment in history is marked by a resolution that was past in 1940 on March 23 and that is the event that we were celebrating. I was invited as a distinguished guest because I was a recently elected California Democratic party delegate (ran in an election and won the second highest number of votes!) for District 36.
I am very appreciative of the invitation, however, as an American Muslim of Pakistani roots (I was, after all, born in Karachi) I am a bit disappointed that the most distinguished politician in the room was Congressman Ed Royce, a Republican who has no love for Muslims let alone for Pakistan. The fact that the Pakistani community could only rope in Royce is a sad state of affairs, but that is also reflective of the hot mess that is Pakistan.
Pakistan has so much potential. I saw it on the streets of Karachi when I visited in 2008, but its split by economic class warfare, compounded by ethnic and sadly religious sectarian violence. All of that is politicized into a neopatrimonialist structure of coercive power.
That got me thinking, what if- WHAT IF- we could take a portion of Pakistan and cleave it from the Federalist system to create a experimental political and economic model, not a perfect society, but rather one in which democratic institution building is given a chance to succeed while there is real economic development. Basically, why can’t we scrap the entire government/social structure to begin building a small piece of what Pakistan could be and slowly roll that model out elsewhere.
This is not my idea, is actually something Paul Romer has been advocating. His contribution was this concept of “charter cities” which he promoted at a TED talk in 2009. Subsequently Honduras followed suit but that relationship quickly fell apart, largely I believe because of Romer domineering (almost new form of imperialism) character, but not out of malice but rather out of a desire to keep the charter city concept from falling into the interests of a few elite elements within the political ruling class.
Check out the NYTimes article about the project in Honduras and in terms of Pakistan, a charter city in the Himalaya’s where tourism could potentially feed economic growth or Gwadar, China’s deep sea port access to the oil rich fields of Central Asia, really its pet project, in the arid deserts of Baluchistan, would be awesome sites for consideration. Pakistani’s can start from scratch, young activists and western educated entrepreneurs, congregating into a place where democratic institution building can truly take shape- utopia? Dare I dream?