Narrative of Pakistaniat and the rule of law

Pakistaniat should be re-defined with inclusion and convergence being the central postulates

Most people tend to ask for simplistic solutions to very complex problems. One blanket answer that several of my acquaintances, including my former and recent students, always try to coax out of me, is to the question of how Pakistan can be set right.

Another typical query is about which initial steps may be taken to lead us to prosperity and a promising future. If I hesitate in responding to such questions of crucial import, it is likely to cast a spell of dismay on my audience.

States and societies are made up of a very intricate and circuitous process that involves multiple currents and crosscurrents. To reach a certain stage of evolution, they have to wade through thorny pathways, replete with tragedies and oddities. They need to hold themselves together in these daunting situations and keep learning from all they go through.

Consensual and creative responses to challenges, whether natural calamities or those created by human indiscretions, can turn disasters into opportunities. Then we may attain what we aspire for Pakistan: respectability among the comity of nations and a secure future for the posterity.

This seemingly complicated answer puts people off. The inquirers do not want references from the past, since studying history is a sheer waste of time to them. Ironically, they do not even want to look at the future projection. They are concerned only with the present, which is the acutest of all the problems.

A subsidiary question that many people are likely to ask pertains to China’s astounding progress, from a country that emerged out of utter misery and has scaled up, in a dogged manner, the ladder of development within the timespan of a single generation, to become a modern superpower.

“Look at Pakistan, despite being as old as the revolutionary China, its history is chequered, its present is uncertain and the future indicators, not quite propitious either,” they tend to say. Making such laudatory pronouncements without considering the sordid sagas that constitute modern Chinese history is the pet subject of our conversations.

The enormity of the sacrifices that the Chinese people have made can hardly be put into words. The long march spearheaded by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had a human cost of around 70,000 people. That is a very conservative estimate of the lives lost during the march.

The enormity of the sacrifices that the Chinese people have made can hardly be put into words. The long march spearheaded by Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had a human cost of around 70,000 people.

Similarly, the Cultural Revolution in which rebel elements were purged from the Communist Party and the number of those persecuted went into tens of millions, had an estimated death toll, ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million. Chinese citizens have no access to human rights even today. They are not allowed dissent with the policies and dictates of the state. In China, collectivity overrides individuality. That is the price that the Chinese people have paid and many of them are still paying it.

The irony is that we tend to get mesmerised by the glamour and the razzle dazzle of the material success of the USA or China, without delving deep into the strivings and sufferings of the people, by dint of which the material success was made possible. Making passionate speeches, as is our wont, does not suffice to make any real difference. Action must precede locution if we want to be counted among successful and respectable people.

Now reverting to the question invariably asked: what is the most crucial thing we are supposed to undertake that may put us on the path to redemption of sorts? First and foremost is the need for a new national narrative that the Pakistani state and its intelligentsia need to hammer out together.

Through that narrative Pakistaniat should be re-defined with inclusion and convergence being the central postulates. In one of my previous columns, I alluded to the change of emphasis in the configuration of the Pakistani state, which is steadily weaning away from being ‘ideological’ and going on to become a ‘nation state’. That transition calls for a vigorous campaign to mediate and forge convergence among all sects, ethnicities and social classes.

Such an act of convergence would make the citizenry possible, with Pakistaniat as the fundamental marker of its identity. The emphasis must be transferred from religion to culture. Pakistaniat obviously has socio-cultural connotations because Pakistanis belong to various ethnic and religious groups who may share the values emanating from the same culture. Religion in this scheme of things becomes the secondary determinant of identity.

Many people may disagree but the fact remains that in the era of modernity (you may read it as the era of post-modernity as well), culture is the only medium that can forge unanimity because it does not have any clear demarcation line the way religion has (the way it has been re-formulated since mid-19th Century).

If one is allowed to use the expression lent from Sudipta Kaviraj, a political scientist from Columbia University, cultures have ‘fuzzy’ boundaries with a measure of fluidity in them therefore they have an inclusionary element, which allows quite a bit of cushion for accommodating differences. Conversely, religion after having appropriated the classificatory tools of modernity, ceases to be an agent of social inclusion. It will be a workable proposition only if both the state and society embrace it and practise it in all earnestness.

‘Rule of law’ is next on my prescription for putting Pakistan on the track leading to a better future. The state has never been serious in enforcing the rule of law, probably because abiding by the law does not suit those holding the reins of power. Simply put, in violating the law, the state acts against itself.

This attitude encourages others to do the same. The traffic system is a stark example of our devil-may-care approach towards the rules and regulations for orderly conduct of daily business. Simplifying rules and regulatory frameworks may help in their proper implementation. Sadly, legislation is taken non-seriously by the parliamentarians. Meddling into the affairs of the Executive is their favourite pastime. Even the judiciary, ever since Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary’s era, has developed a penchant to try and put the Executive in its place.

All said and done, to put these prescriptions in effect, state authorities will have to act seriously, not only to ensure proper implementation of the rule of law in their own case but also in general.

Narrative of Pakistaniat and the rule of law