A few weeks ago I was asked to set down in a seven minute speech my ideas on how Pakistan can reverse years of stagnation and resume the path of developing peace and prosperity for its 180 million people.
My talk to the annual convention the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) came at a critical time:
-- Opposition politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri had led thousands in a march on Islamabad and demanded the ouster of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
-- The army refused to take power.
-- Legislators backed the government.
-- A military push against Islamist extremists in the tribal areas near Afghanistan had reportedly left 900 dead militants and was proceeding with some success.
-- Despite pledges by the new Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sharif to end hostilities and open trade, shelling erupted along the Line of Control separating Pakistani and Indian held portions of Kashmir.
So once more nuclear-armed Pakistan faced uncertainty with millions of impoverished people, Sunni Muslim extremists killing Shiites and Ahmadi minorities and Taliban blowback as U.S. troops prepared to abandon Afghanistan.
My seven-minute proposal for peace and prosperity in Pakistan follows:
1. Reduce ethnic hatred that has killed thousands of surgeons, scholars, journalists and others simply because of their ethnicity, religion or ideas. Hold one annual three-day conference in each of the four provinces for journalists, academics, religious and cultural leaders, and federal and local civilian and military officers. Each meeting would air local grievances, economic problems, need for capital resources, infrastructure problems, and cultural issues ranging from the status of women and children to the use of local languages and the need for access to media in local languages. Each conference will include town hall type meetings to be broadcast so that local people can be heard.
At the end, the conference will issue an action plan highlighting what could be achieved in the coming quarter and the coming year. Priorities in one province may be elementary and secondary education; in another it may be security; or roads and water.
Budgets can be small and it is best to plan to do without foreign aid. Pakistanis need to fix their own problems.
2. Enforce tax collections: only the very poor should be exempt. Anyone earning more than a basic wage should contribute something. And progressive tax rates will call upon those with most income to bear a heavier burden.
3. Reform the judiciary from within. The justice system must appoint a few honest, educated, sincere officers to oversee the reform process and determine if judges, police or prosecutors have violated human rights through seeking bribes, imposing arbitrary punishment, failure to provide legal counsel, or use of torture to obtain confessions. The Magna Carta, in the year 1215, said that no one shall be appointed as a sheriff or constable unless they know the law and apply it without seeking benefit to themselves.
4. End the state of conflict with India. Kashmir has been divided -- India holds the valley and Pakistan holds Azad Kashmir plus the Northern Territories. More than 60 years of conflict has not changed those facts but it has left 100,000 dead. Move forward by accepting the status quo for now -- never giving up hope for eventual change in the status. But open the border to trade, family visits and investment.
5. Educational reform: require and enforce the addition of Urdu, science, literature, history and cross cultural lessons in all schools, including madrassas. Teach all students the basic beliefs, ideas and history of all religions during a three-day cycle of classes in the sixth and seventh grades. Show what is common among the religions and what is not. Humanize the religions by showing videos of children from each faith explaining their holidays and their places of worship.
6. Outlaw militant terror groups such as Lashkar-e Taiba and Sipha-e-Sahaba. End their ability to recruit people to carry out attacks inside or outside Pakistan.
7. Population explosion must be held stable through free family planning and joining with imams to inform public it is not anti-Islamic. Women must be protected under the law as equals and with rights to end marriages, ask courts for custody of children and rights to inherit equal with boys. Girls' education should be mandatory. Forced marriage, child brides and selling of girls must be ended.
I hope these ideas are seen as common sense and gradually gain acceptance.