The way we imagine change in Pakistan is somewhat inspired by comics, novels and movies where characters like Batman emerge in the corrupt, chaotic city of Gotham and eradicate evil and create...
The way we imagine change in Pakistan is somewhat inspired by comics, novels and movies where characters like Batman emerge in the corrupt, chaotic city of Gotham and eradicate evil and create paradise.
This collective optimism of the people of Pakistan has created a numbness which has made everyone blind to the systemic failure and scientifically weak structure of Pakistan. We as a nation don’t see politics as a science. We don’t believe in the technical equation that could identify the actual and concrete problem of our society with facts, figures, numbers and references. Because we are so unscientific in our approach to politics, we can only identify our problems in an abstract manner. Some believe that corruption is the root of all our problems. Others believe religious extremism is, and still others identify lack of infrastructure, voting rights etc as the base of turbulence in Pakistan. They believe that an individual with ‘high morality’ can magically save all of us from misery and suffering.
At the risk of shocking many who believe this to be the case, I must put it bluntly – such a hero is never going to emerge today nor has this ever happened in the past. Society is not a corporate firm where a CEO can revise policy and create harmony with new packages. A society is a collective formation of countless individuals with complex social and economic relations, cultures, narratives and historical backgrounds. I believe what we need is not to answer the problem but first to ask the right questions. These range from questions such as ‘who runs this state?’ to ‘how has this society – which is now fundamentally shaken to the core – been formed?’ The first question will be answered in the end but let’s analyze the latter.
Society is not formed artificially but is the result of historical evolution, major tragedies and mutual interests. In a multicultural society like that of Pakistan, we need to admit that there are a thousand years of consciousness and identical roots of many cultures. People of these cultures have existed long before the geographical boundaries of our country. They have farmed these lands, witnessed the loot and marauding, faced the inevitable tragedies of war and life – and yet they have survived. Their hymns, folktales and stories have evolved without any certain distinction or boundaries.
To put it plainly, these cultures have interacted in history when there was a mutual interest or war or trade but they were never bound to give up their identity for another group. This complex structure becomes more complex when a historical shift like Partition occurs. Thousands of families left their ancestral spaces to move into a new land with new people and their alien culture. The host ethnicities have had to compromise on many things including the adoption of new means of communication and accepting variable backgrounds, norms and values to co-exist.
The insecurity of regional groups that have been existing for thousands of years here saw this as an intervention and since then there has been a constant tension among various ethnic groups. Now, the national question that exists in various forms in Pakistan is not a singular frame of the notion but exists with a variety of demands, historical references and radical stances. This apparently unnoticed case of a multicultural society is further divided into a class conflict. This conflict can be observed on a very large scale.
Sindh, for example, suffers from severe class oppression – a province where feudals hold political power and their corporate relationship with major corporate owners multiply power, profit and oppression. This nexus makes unthinkable profits in Sindh. This confrontation is reflected in Karachi when ethnic war is at its peak. The ethnic tensions in Karachi existed not only because of the wrangling of two or more ethnic groups but was a tension for resources, profit, possession of assets and power. The lower middle class was thrown into the fire of hatred to sustain the insecurity necessary for feudal political power.
Capitalists were doing mega-business of armoury, stocks, rationing of food items and raising the prices. Apparently, groups wanted the blood of their rivals in Karachi yet somehow every group managed to construct large housing schemes in Karachi, private universities, private hospitals and private malls and we see no tensions on these projects. While this reel of events was turning, the middle class from both sides was finding a way to isolate themselves from the root cause and were putting emphasis on their sheer power in bureaucracy and political apparatus. Feudalism was criticized not because the institution of feudalism was inherently exploitative but because it held major political power, and the middle class wanted that power.
In between this, no one asked the right questions, such as: why do those representing the state from rival ethnic groups sit on the same benches in parliament and have joint ventures in businesses but hate each other’s presence on the ground? And more importantly: why has the state always been absent during these conflicts?
Who runs the state? The equation we came to understand is that in a state that has a class contradiction at its very core, the national question at the bottom and democratic/civic crises on the surface can go nowhere but into the quagmire of darkness. This dysfunctional society is standing on the pillars of violence, misinformation, propaganda, and sentimental exploitation on the basis of religion, proxy wars and jingoism. Whoever is operating this state holds these pillars and uses them on a need basis. Sometimes, there is an uprising of religious fundamentalism. At other times, it is ethnic violence. There are even times when there is violence without reason. This complex drive of misery in Pakistan cannot be solved by an individual. It can only be solved collectively by the people of Pakistan. We don’t need to read literature to understand the class war in Pakistan – all we must do is let go of a small percentage of our privilege to see the facts.
The state has been ignoring the national question but it manifests every day in our conversation and turning events. Without a collective consensus, there will never be any democratic process in Pakistan. The working class is the wheel that runs this state, while the middle class is the brain that can see the blatant injustice but chooses to remain silent and always functions to divert the catastrophe for its own class interest. In view of this complexity, the jargon of corruption, a fluent English speaking leadership, and highly confident morally ideal individuals for saving our society is a fanciful dream. In a nutshell, this fanciful dream is making Pakistan a nightmare everyday.
The writer is an Mphil scholar, and president of the Progressive Students Federation, Karachi. He tweets WaqasAalam