The Malaysian model

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During my recent visit to the Far Eastern countries, I found many similarities between Malaysia and Pakistan: they are Muslim countries and had been colonies of British imperialists. Like Pakistan where states like Swat, Qalat, Bahawalpur and Dir willingly joined this land, more than ten small states and units had opted to form Malaysia. The majorities in both countries are Muslims, but religious minorities also exist. Malaysia has a 60 per cent Muslim majority. Christians are 9 per cent, Buddhists 19 per cent, Hindus 6 per cent. These and other religious minorities are a crucial part of that country. We have linguistic and racial diversity. We have Punjabis, Sindhis, Baloch, Pakhtuns, Saraikis and other ethnic groups. Malaysia has Malays (50 per cent), Chinese (24 per cent), Indians (8 per cent) and other groups (8 per cent).


At a juncture, the communist movement flourished in Pakistan and has died its natural death now. Malaysia also passed through that phase. Pakistan’s official religion is Islam and Islamists have a considerable presence here. Malaysia has almost the same situation. In some states in both countries, Islamists are dominant; in a state (Kelantan) in Malaysia, the party led by Islamist Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has been in power for the last twenty years. Both countries have endured pains of losing parts of their territories: Pakistan lost East Pakistan while Malaysia lost Singapore. Pakistan is mired in disputes with India, while Malaysia had confrontation with a bigger Indonesia. Both had played frontline states; the US used Pakistan as a frontline state against the former USSR, while Malaysia played this role against Japan. Pakistan harboured militant groups in view of impending threats from India and the USSR while Malaysia did the same thing to counter threats from Japan.


There was a time when Malaysians used to idealise Pakistan; Malaysia gifted land worth billions of ringgit to the Pakistan embassy the same way as we are now gifting land worth billions to the US embassy in Islamabad. Malaysian elites and leaders used to send their children for education to Pakistan the same way as our leaders and elites now send theirs to the US and Europe. Malaysians at one time were very impressed with us; they had even expressed their desire to appoint Gen Sher Ali Khan of the Pakistan army as head of the Malaysian forces. They were so awed by our physical and mental capabilities that thousands of Pakhtun from Pakistan were invited to settle in Malaysia.


But this is a story of the past: today Malaysia seems to be another world. We still hold the begging bowl before the US while Malaysia has been challenging it. Our economy is dependent on foreign aid while Malaysians are self-reliant and strong. Pervez Musharraf had requested Turkish good offices to establish relations with Israel in order to please the US, but Malaysian leader Mahathir Muhammad had made it a habit to issue statements against Israel to provoke the US.


Democracy in Pakistan is still frail and under threats after long dictatorship was over, but the Malaysian army neither had taken over power in the recent past nor are there chances for such actions in the future. Pakistan is suffering from capital flight while Malaysia is an attractive place for capital. Even Pakistanis are averse to investment but Malaysia is attractive destination for Western investment. We are suffering from brain drain, but Malaysia attracts this asset from all over the world. Islam has become a hollow slogans in Pakistan, but its spirit is dominant in Malaysian social, economic and political lives. Pakistan’s economy is based on riba, but Malaysia is seriously trying to oust usury from its economy.


Muslim women are working side by side with Chinese, Indian and other women. Non-Muslim women don’t wear hijab but Muslim women wear it regularly. Muslims, Christians and Hindus pray in their own worship places – mosque, churches and temples – andpose no threat to each other. Our mosques have become unsafe, but the Malaysian prime minister comes to the mosque like an ordinary man without fear. A few days back, non-Muslims freely celebrated Valentine’s Day while Islamic parties were distributing pamphlets against this non-Islamic festival. Non-Muslims did not try to impose this festival on Muslims and the latter did not try to stop it through lathis (sticks).


We don’t have provincial autonomy but lots of inter-provincial prejudices. On the contrary, the states (provinces) in Malaysia are autonomous to the extent that they even have their own flags and financial and family laws. There is no tension between the centre and the states. Pakistanis are unable even to solve water distribution issues and construction of Kalabagh Dam, but Malaysia has amicably solved all such issues. Some time ago, it had constructed a dam larger in size than Singapore, but all problems between the centre and the affected state were amicably solved.


Our militant organisations are challenging the writ of the state. The military is involved in operations against such groups. However, members of such groups in Malaysia were so skilfully rehabilitated in society that today not a single group or individual has risen to challenge the state. We have made the whole country hostage to disputes with India, but Malaysia converted its disputes with Indonesia into strengths and today the issue no longer exists.


We should ask ourselves; how did Malaysia become an advanced country and we are mired in problems? And why Pakistan cannot become another Malaysia?


I think that instead of Iran and the US, Malaysia is the best role model for Pakistan. If Mian Nawaz Sharif had followed Mahathir Muhammad as a role model, and Imran Khan, Asfandiyar Wali Khan, Sanaullah Baloch, Altaf Hussain and true inheritors of the PPP had imitated Najib Tun Razzaq, prime minister of Malaysia, Syed Munawar Hasan, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Samiul Haq became religious leaders like Nik Abdul Aziz, the Pakistani people followed the path of patriotism, hard work and love, Pakistan could overtake Malaysia in a few years. Unlike Malaysia, Pakistan has abundant natural resources. Pakistanis are far too intelligent and more hardworking than Malaysians. Our strategic location too makes us better placed than Malaysia. So we should turn our weaknesses into strengths.


The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem.