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March 25, 2017

Expecting honesty


March 25, 2017

Every time there was a village festival, I would visit it with a deep yearning to see the much-talked about fight between a snake and a mongoose there. The charmer would start playing the pungi to attract the crowd and would make an earnest promise of letting the snake and mongoose fight for public amusement. Before displaying both animals, he would perform other tricks to make people believe how different types of talisman and cure-all herbal medicine could prove effective in pre-empting an enemy’s malicious plans and curing chronic diseases. Due to the charmer’s clever manipulation tactic, all those present would quickly buy the talisman and interest in the fight between both animals would gradually wane.

As an adult, I can still relate to my childhood experience, but in a different context.  Imagine Pakistan as a big village with a number of festivals where different charmers manipulate people into buying objects they would not purchase otherwise. The charmers come in different garbs, play different pungis and have a variety of antidotes to sell. Their actual purpose is not what they show and present to the public through different media. They have personal and institutional interests which they camouflage in slogans and symbols.

Let us start with our religious scholars/leaders – the guardians of our faith and morality. From the pulpit and every other platform, they make us believe that they are devoted to the noble cause of preaching the original message of Islam which envisages a just, tolerant and peaceful society. But instead of promoting spirituality and the ethical conduct of Muslims in general, they end up serving their own position of power in society.

Then we have security compulsions that keep us in a state of constant fear of real and imagined enemies. What we have been yearning for years is to live in a peaceful environment where we could unlock our potential for personal and collective development. Instead of moving towards peace and security, we have to reckon with wars and unending military operations – thanks to the misguided policies that have been in place since the formative years of Pakistan. A promised welfare state has ended up as a security state. How long this will continue is a question that the powers-that-be can better answer. Spectators have no right to ask the charmer when he will let the snake and mongoose fight just for fun.

The political class has no match. This class constantly reminds us of its sacrifices for the country, including – but not limited to – living in exile, seeing the assassination of its close ones and lingering in prison for years. These people promise us a vibrant, democratic and strong Pakistan but they leave us in the lurch when we need them the most.

Most of them have their fortunes flourishing outside Pakistan. They are here to grab power, plunder the country and ensure a luxurious life for their progenies in the UK, the US and Dubai. Before every election, they create new ideas and slogans of victimhood, patriotism and selflessness in an environment where emotions could easily be invoked and exploited. Keeping the people ignorant and the institutions in a state of perpetual decay are their most effective tools. These methods ensure that the people are always dependent on them for little favours and a culture of patronage keeps flourishing.

But one should not blame them for all the mess in this country. Sometimes there are unintended consequences of policies and sometimes expectations run counter to real interests. We, the people, must share part of the blame. No one can enslave people without their consent. Why do we not keep our eyes open and look beyond the apparent? Why do we trust people who have deceived us time and again in the name of religion, race and patriotism?

For me, the test of those who run the show in this country is to ask myself the most important question: should I live like a spectator waiting in vain for the snake and mongoose to fight? Is it not a better option to educate our children and youth today and envision a different future where the ruling elite are held accountable for their actions and inactions?

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University. Email:[email protected]

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