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January 1, 2017

Fear and hope


January 1, 2017

The sun has risen for the first time over the year 2017. As the first rays of light break, we look back over the year that has passed. Like the years that preceded it, 2016 too brought violence across the globe. The war in Syria continued, sending out still more refugees across a world that remained reluctant to accept them. The horrors of camps set up for the refugees in Europe emerge clearer than ever before. So did other horrors, including three coordinated bombings in Brussels in March and the strike on a nightclub in Orlando in June. We appeared to lurch from crisis to crisis and from tragedy to tragedy with barely a moment to catch our breaths. This was the year we found out that declaring success in the war against militancy time and again did not necessarily mean the war was over. The worst for the year came in March 2016 when 74 people were killed and hundreds others injured at Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal park as Easter was being marked by the Christian community. From the Iqbal Park bombing in Lahore to the spate of attacks in Quetta, the militant threat loomed and webs of conspiracy theories were consistently weaved. A terrorist attack took away the cream of Balochistan’s legal professionals, while another attack at the police training college in Quetta claimed the lives of 60 young men. In all, at least 2,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks, around the same number as the previous year, putting into question the degree of success of the war. Militant violence was also considered responsible for taking away the beloved qawwal Amjad Sabri, but the list of those we were not ready to lose did not end there. A recurring theme of the year internationally was the loss of legends like Fidel Castro to Muhammad Ali and many icons from the entertainment industry. Pakistan lost Abdul Sattar Edhi, one of the greatest, most tireless humanitarians the world has ever known. Trailblazers like cricketers Hanif Muhammed and Imtiaz Ahmad and singer Junaid Jamshed lost their lives. Jamshed’s death, killed in a plane crash on a PIA flight, was particularly tragic as it reminded us how dangerous everyday life can be when safety is not a priority for those running the affairs. In such a situation there are always going to be preventable tragedies like the explosion at the Gadani shipyard or the fire at the Regent Plaza hotel.

Our politics remained as myopic as ever. The opportunity to address the serious question of systemic corruption was wasted as a ‘political’ storm was created to weaken and even topple the elected government. Tensions between the military and the civilian setup grew as the case developed, though how much of this ‘institutional’ crisis was conjured up by so-called media analysts remains unclear. There was a sense of déjà vu as Imran Khan once against took to the streets and threatened to shut down the capital. This time, though, the government acted differently and Imran was forced to retreat. The breathtaking fall of the MQM was the second political theme that dominated attention. Altaf Hussain finally gave one fiery speech too money and the party had to disassociate itself from its founder and his supporters in London, even while facing continuing police action from the Rangers and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring from the establishment. The PPP, too, finds itself at a crossroads with the return of Asif Zardari, perhaps its last throw of the dice in an attempt to once again become politically viable. All of this left the PML-N riding high, although a lot can happen in the year-and-a-half before the next elections. The PML-N has staked its reputation on the success of the CPEC, on which it doubled down in the last year. The project is now our centrepiece both domestically and internationally. It has been presented as the solution to our economic woes and a sign of a stronger regional alliance with China. That alliance may be needed because our relations with other neighbours are less than ideal. Former COAS General Raheel Sharif ended his tenure by bowing out gracefully and his successor General Qamar Javed Bajwa is now tasked to tackle the cross-border strikes by India which have continued along the Line of Control. The Modi government in India has proved to be as unhinged as expected and has predictably scapegoated Pakistan for the inevitable blowback that comes from its occupation of Kashmir. The killing of Burhan Wani by the Indian state parked a wave of protests in Kashmir; even children were not spared the inhuman brutality of the Indian state. Pakistan has continued to protest the atrocities at international forums but with only limited success in creating the kind of pressure needed to change Indian policy. Afghanistan has gone along with India and blamed Pakistan for every attack on its soil. The US seems even more willing to castigate us.

We can perhaps still look for hopeful signs. The operations in the tribal areas are winding down and militant groups could be further weakened over the next 12 months – provided the will exists. Our stock market is reported to be the best performing in the region. At the same time, our international  isolation should be cause for alarm with the elevation of Donald Trump to the US presidency. Indeed, the global trend is one of xenophobia and isolation. The election of Trump was only the peak of a year when the extreme right-wing began to soar. In Britain, a referendum on membership in the European Union somehow turned into a debate on refugees from Muslim countries and it was the Islamaphobes who won. Across Europe, proto-fascist politicians felt more empowered than they had in decades. The predictable result was a wave of hate crimes and the turning of refugees into whipping boys. Somehow, the very people who were the chief victims of the Islamic State’s wrath came to be equated with them in the West. And as the civil wars raged in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, the year ended much as it began – with despair once again triumphing against hope. Looking at the globe from far above, planet Earth would not look like a very peaceful place. But there is hope that new regional alliances, including those emerging in Latin America and closer to home could help create a greater degree of stability. At home, we saw democracy pull through for another year, even if there were some struggles. In the coming year, we hope this process will accelerate, the institutions in Pakistan will continue to perform their defined roles and that this will result in the kind of progress we need to promote a more egalitarian and humane society.



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