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Ayaz Amir
Friday, February 22, 2013
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Islamabad diary

If we had to come to this why did we go through the trouble of Partition? I have wanted to ask this question for years but never could bring up the courage to frame it thus. After all, how can one question the basis of one’s existence?

But as we continue to invent ever more elaborate forms of extremism and violence – killing in the name of our higher faith and exulting no end when the wages of barbarism are impressive – this question returns to haunt me.

I can understand our helplessness, or rather the army’s helplessness, in getting hold of someone like Hakeemullah Mehsud. He is in the mountains where our troops cannot go, perhaps for perfectly valid military reasons. It was not easy for the Americans to fight the Viet Cong and the Taliban plus Al-Qaeda are our Viet Cong.

What a simpleton like me fails to understand, however, is our helplessness in the face of other extremist and sectarian elements holed up not in the mountains but to be found across Pakistan. Lahore, Karachi, other cities – zealots of the faith ready to pick up the rod or the gun at the slightest provocation, you find them everywhere.

Oxford and Cambridge, misguided spirits, may boast of their colleges. Thanks to a history of jihadi warfare, and thanks to other countries, fortresses of piety, meddling in our affairs, we can take pride in the largest collection of religious schools or seminaries anywhere in the world. Can the outstanding scientists produced elsewhere match the stream of outstanding bigots pouring out from our founts of learning?

And state and army are helpless spectators, mounting empty words and firing the most fearful verbal broadsides and going on and on about what they will do, always in the future tense. The title the Mughals gave such intrepid warriors was Sher-e-Qalin, Tigers of the Carpet, their most terrible victories won on reclining cushions. (I am indebted to friend Aakar Patel for this information.)

The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claims proud responsibility for the Hazara massacres and while in Balochistan this may be a shadowy outfit, although there are enough reasons to think this is not the case, aren’t we aware that elements connected to this outfit, or mutations from it, are to be found across the four corners of the holy province of Punjab? Will anyone do anything about them? We’ll look and sound tough, count on this, but perish the thought of anyone actually doing something.

So I will frame the question again: will some astrologers kindly shed some light on the meaning of our destiny? What are we about? Where are we headed? What are we doing to ourselves? The purpose of any society is to give a better deal to its people, a semblance of justice and prosperity, and some hope for the future that those who come after us will have something to hold on to. But if after 65 years of independent existence the mess that we have created is the best that we can do, any fool will be tempted to ask whether we have proven ourselves fit for nationhood.

We sit across a great piece of geography. But this strategic location, if it is strategic – and I am aware that in the hands of no Clausewitzian scholars has the word strategy been put to more absurd uses – what have we done with it except get into needless adventures and become the bag-carriers of outside powers, on wages that any self-respecting coolie, put to such hard usage, would think twice before accepting.

Let’s stop worrying about India. In its wildest dreams India could not do to us what we have managed to inflict on ourselves. RAW, with input from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, could have tried for a hundred years and not been able to invent the lashkars and jaishes and tehriks that we have produced in such abundance. What’s more, to scare no one so much as ourselves. Our jihadis used to dream of planting the green flag on the Delhi Red Fort or creating fanciful emirates in Central Asia. Those proving arduous undertakings, they have embarked upon a new jihad – conquering Pakistan from within.

Sinners of my age are in a strange kind of bind. We remember Pakistan as it used to be, no ideal kingdom to be sure but for all its faults a good place to be in. And now this onslaught of ignorance and illiteracy, the population breeding as if the end of the world is at hand and a laughable class of people claiming the mantle of national leadership, each luminary of this class a bigger hypocrite than the fellow standing next to him.

Look at the next joke: the Election Commission wants to clean the national stables. Does my friend Fakhruddin Ebrahim think he is Hercules that he will go about this labour? He can be Hercules and blessed by the gods into the bargain and yet not come close to touching these sacred stables. If the loan write-off or default clause alone was implemented, more than half the so-called national leadership would be out of the ring. That is why it is not going to happen. So let all doubters be reassured that the only thing to fear is the Election Commission’s bark, not its bite.

Since when were we so lucky that at the stroke of a pen we would be rid of half the incompetents and humbugs vowing to bring about a revolution in these hallowed spaces? The meek shall inherit the earth but, alas, not so soon.

We recently worked ourselves into a passion on the subject of dual nationals, and rightly so. But why didn’t we stop to think a bit about those politicians aspiring to high office, or already in high office, with huge bank accounts abroad, and not just the odd flat or corner shop in London and New York but immense properties at their command? Indeed, some of our leading worthies now have most of their income parked in other countries. Dual nationals and dual capitalists: whose allegiance is the more divided?

Trust my friend Malik Riaz to take the vulgarity stakes to greater heights when he gifts a behemoth of a palace amidst a 25-acre spread in Lahore to the sitting president of the republic. In any other place this would have provoked a storm of outrage. Not in Lahore where this elegant move is greeted with a deafening silence...perhaps because, Allah be praised, many of the potential stone-throwers themselves reside in glass palaces. And from such ping-pong players the more innocent amongst us expect the miracle of change and, you’ve guessed it, revolution.

This is a tale of two countries, both named Pakistan. The Pakistan created in 1947 collapsed amidst the tumult of the 1971 war, the two-nation theory plunging into the waters of the Bay of Bengal. In the aftermath of that self-propelled disaster Zulfikar Ali Bhutto proclaimed the birth of a new Pakistan. But learning nothing from history we have allowed that thing of fantasy to come to its present pass, a cockpit of some of the most confused ideologies to be found anywhere on the planet.

With our national energies thus crippled how on earth do we get our priorities right? How on earth do we fix our economy and break our begging bowl, and bring out the potentiality of a people still able to achieve so much if only there was someone to light their path and show them the way?

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