Who says coun­tries are per­ma­nent?

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL -

WE should know this more than oth­ers. The Pak­istan of 1947 is not the Pak­istan which ex­ists to­day, one half of it hav­ing bro­ken away to form an­other coun­try. I served in Moscow in the sev­en­ties and noth­ing seemed more solid or per­ma­nent than the Soviet Union, a mighty power which cast a shadow far and wide. Who could have thought that in a few years’ time it would frac­ture, leav­ing a trail of small, in­de­pen­dent re­publics be­hind?

Ger­many be­fore the fall of the Berlin Wall was two coun­tries. Now it is back to be­ing one. Cze­choslo­vakia was one coun­try then. Now it is two. In the UK, of all places, the Scots, or a goodly part of them, are de­mand­ing in­de­pen­dence. A ref­er­en­dum is set to de­cide this ques­tion in 2014.

Af­ter the fall of the Soviet Union it seemed as if Amer­i­can pre-em­i­nence was an as­sured thing, last­ing for the next hun­dred years. Bright-eyed schol­ars an­nounced not just the clos­ing of an era but the end of his­tory. As hubris goes, this had few equals. There were other Amer­i­cans who said that re­al­ity would be what Amer­ica wanted it to be. Yet Amer­i­can power has de­clined be­fore our eyes, noth­ing more con­tribut­ing to this than the wars Pres­i­dent Bush ven­tured upon in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Clash of civil­i­sa­tions was an­other phrase cur­rent just ten years. Some­thing of the sort has hap­pened but not in a way that the US could have in­tended. Wouldn’t the Tal­iban, wouldn’t Al-Qaeda, de­fine their strug­gle as a clash of civil­i­sa­tions?

Ten years ago in a Ja­maat-udDawaah mosque in Chak­wal (not far from my house) I heard one of their lead­ers talk­ing of Amer­ica’s even­tual but sure de­feat in Afghanistan. I thought his rhetoric too fan­ci­ful then. It sounds much closer to home now.

I have just read a longish re­view of Norman Davies’ ‘Van­ished King­doms: The Rise and Fall of States and Na­tions’. This book should be re­quired read­ing for any­one con­cerned about the fu­ture of Pak­istan. For the les­son it em­pha­sises is that his­tory does not prom­ise progress. All it prom­ises is change. Noth­ing is fixed, all is move­ment, na­tions ris­ing and fall­ing, the old dis­ap­pear­ing to make way for the new, the new in turn be­com­ing the old and mor­ph­ing into some­thing else

Ayaz Amir – the phi­los­o­phy of Heraclitus and Hegel, even of Marx.

Ap­plied to na­tions this can be a slightly un­nerv­ing phi­los­o­phy, more so for na­tions or states which have had their share of trauma, or whose ex­is­tence for var­i­ous rea­sons con­tin­ues to be frag­ile. Canada could coun­te­nance a ref­er­en­dum on Que­bec’s in­de­pen­dence, the UK a ref­er­en­dum on Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence, be­cause th­ese are self­con­fi­dent so­ci­eties not threat­ened by such ques­tions. But when the Baloch speak a lan­guage which sounds strange to our ears we feel threat­ened. When the peo­ple of Kash­mir give voice to their as­pi­ra­tions In­dia feels threat­ened, huge pop­u­la­tion and ge­og­ra­phy not­with­stand­ing. Ours are not very con­fi­dent so­ci­eties. For­get­ting the larger can­vas, we must look to our­selves for our prob­lems, mostly self­cre­ated, are im­mense. Far from be­com­ing more co­he­sive and over­com­ing the prob­lems of the past, Pak­istani so­ci­ety seems af­flicted by a strange death-wish. It is not just that sec­tar­i­an­ism and vi­o­lence are tear­ing this so­ci­ety apart. Our minds seem closed and we seem to be liv­ing in a dif­fer­ent world. Those who care to think are prob­a­bly con­cerned about this state of af­fairs. But at the level of government, at the level of the gov­ern- ing class, civil and mil­i­tary, this con­cern, or the right amount of it, seems to be miss­ing.

Fires are burn­ing ev­ery­where. We know the list of prob­lem ar­eas. We know where ter­ror­ism is strik­ing. But are we get­ting the im­port of this mes­sage? Are we gird­ing up for the fu­ture? Are we get­ting ready for the time when the Amer­i­cans are fi­nally out of Afghanistan and the forces of Is­lamic rad­i­cal­ism have the field to them­selves? I vis­ited Kabul for the first time in 1974. What a beau­ti­ful city it was. Then I re­turned in 1978, soon af­ter the Taraki coup. Although it was still a beau­ti­ful place one had a sense of the shad­ows over it. By 1989 when the Soviet army had with­drawn it was a dif­fer­ent place, the old Afghani elite hav­ing dis­ap­peared, scat­tered to the four cor­ners of the globe.

In 1930, to take a random year, could any­one then liv­ing have imag­ined the hor­rors that would un­fold in Pun­jab in 1947? In 1947, or even 1965, could any­one in Pak­istan have imag­ined the emer­gence of Bangladesh in 1971? We are liv­ing wit­nesses to this his­tory. We, the chil­dren of the first post-Par­ti­tion gen­er­a­tion, grew to adult­hood in a Pak­istan which seems so strange com­pared to the Pak­istan of to­day.

This is not mere nos­tal­gia. Things were ac­tu­ally dif­fer­ent in Karachi, La­hore and ‘Pindi. The at­mos­phere was not sin­ful – there is prob­a­bly more sin now than then, de­spite our de­scent into a fake re­li­gios­ity – it was sec­u­lar. De­spite the curse of mil­i­tary au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism, the at­mos­phere was more ra­tio­nal. The warn­ing signs were there. The Ja­maat ruled the cam­puses, pro­mot­ing amongst the youth of that day its own brand of in­tol­er­ance and big­otry. And with­out really know­ing why, we stepped into the mine­field of the 1965 war. The only good to come out of that dis­as­ter were the war songs of Madam Noor Ja­han. But we took no heed of those sig­nals. The walls went up in our minds, mil­i­tarism re­ceived a boost and the in­tel­li­gentsia of East Pak­istan be­gan think­ing hard of the mer­its of stay­ing within the con­fines of Pak­istan. Is­lam is not a prob­lem in Iran. It is not a prob­lem in the UAE, the flesh­pots of Dubai ex­ist­ing hap­pily within the bo­som of a strict Is­lamic so­ci­ety.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.