COMMENT: Intellectual mumbo-jumbo —Shahzad Chaudhry - Monday, February 14, 2011

Source :\02\14\story_14-2-2011_pg3_2

Is not forcing one’s ‘right’ over another’s ‘wrong’ a most fundamental negation of liberal conception? Yet we keep making the same mistake over and over again even as we don our liberal garb and go out on a crusade

We Pakistanis thrive on abstractionism. No, not the poor commoner, he hardly has time to look beyond his daily survival — if anything he remains the world’s most fastidious realist since for him his world exists in the tangibility of what he possesses — the spirit being the furthest from his mind. Such luxuries are not his to engage. That remains the exclusive precinct of the budding intellectual, keen to make his mark with complex formulations of abstract argument. The struggle between idealism and realism is not new and has been the basis of some great literary engagement. That though was the domain of those who had pedalled their way through with steps that took them to the mantle of abstractionism. But we all in Pakistan are but budding Jean-Paul Sartres.

Are we not already a confused nation? Come to think of it, these budding intellectuals would have us question the two-nation theory and whether the idea of Pakistan was right or not. What about identity and ideology? After 63 years of existence, we need to revisit these aspects as if, when proved, Pakistan will be undone and time will rewind to rectify what suddenly 63 years later appears to have been a misstep to some. Since ideology and identity have become confused in a largely over-extended nation that is struggling to remain afloat in challenges that abound, we may as well sit aside and seek answers to these ethereal issues before wandering in search of the next morsel. Ideals and dreams are good, in fact essential, but those must remain grounded. More importantly, when times are difficult and complexities huge, we need to get back to that very basic of fundamentals, of resolving the muddle by physically untangling the web, bit by bit, piece by piece, and not overload perceptions with even greater innuendo.

Some questions that the idealist needs to answer: is the US of the 21st century the country that the wandering white man of the wild west was in search of? Heck, it took Lincoln to emerge before slavery could be abolished. It was Johnson who gave Blacks their voting rights — that is as recent as 1968. The march of time remains the most efficient filter, but our difficulties remain embedded in our own split existence between the west that we adulate and the poor east that we inhabit. There will always be relative gains, some fast and some not so fast, but those shall be relative and never absolute, each conditioned by its own set of experiences. Similarly, is today’s England different from medieval England? And what about the time elapsed between territorial formulations of these countries of yore and the constitutionalism that governs them today? Ever wonder about the basis of such constitutionalism? Historical experience, I might add, is a time-driven basis and not a copy-paste formulation.

Our trouble though hinges not on any of these references, but the grandeur that ‘Incredible India’ projects in our neighbourhood (pun intended), and without the quirky fate as ours of having the army rule the country, or the absence of a clear conception of their identity (secular or Hindu?). In contrast, we, the blighted Pakistanis, have nothing to show but army rule for 33 years, and of course the great identity debate since it strikes at the root of the most popular quasi-liberal formulation: identity of the nation skewed by the overtly manipulative military that gave birth to the hedonist mix of the religious-extremist, a potion that the army uses to hijack the nation and the country away from the originally intended owners — politicians and civil society — the elite that sits in rule over the country when the military is out. That remains the most popular and elitist intellectual refrain. True and unfortunate! Perhaps there is no plausible defence for this excess in the constitutional frame. But can one design time and events, and shape life as we please? What about events that remain beyond human control, or for that matter global forces, ideational trends, matters of belief and the universal applicability that right and wrong do not of essence have to be exclusive but are formed entirely of our unique historical experience and perceptual framework? Is not forcing one’s ‘right’ over another’s ‘wrong’ a most fundamental negation of liberal conception? Yet we keep making the same mistake over and over again even as we don our liberal garb and go out on a crusade.

Leave identity aside — it is only an intellectual abstraction when a Pakistani is more concerned with eking out a survival. What such abstraction tends to overlook is a profusion of the identity menu that rules the roost instead. For those who remain liberated from the onerous task of survival, the taxonomy is rich: liberal, liberal-fascist, quasi-liberal, fundamentalist and conservative with as many religious formulations as you need. It is a free-market out there with the ever growing litany of identity denominations. Let us get back to the people, the real owners, with whom rests sovereignty as per the constitution.

Pakistan’s challenges are real and palpable; they are not a heady formulation with a philosophical bent. It is not about ‘Roe vs Wade’, it is about basic justice; it is not about euthanasia, it is about eking out a living. Yes, we may aspire to be there one day when all else has been adequately addressed and we have the time and the liberty to sample the niceties of life and death. Till then it will remain a long hard slog, where physical grappling with issues remains the task at hand. Look around: it is the economy and somebody will need to do something about it. Whether it is PIA or the steel mills, their issues need to be resolved — someone has to get down to it. There is FATA and Balochistan — each needs doing in the physical sense. Lest we indulge in the frivolities of the mind and create further dissent and thus confusion, Pakistan’s case is that of faltering steps as it must learn to walk away from this onset of cumulative adversity.

Incredible India was lucky; it had, for the first 17 years, the guiding hand of Jawaharlal Nehru who helped establish the founding principles of secularity and a bridled military. The flip side was the economy, a restrained socio-economic philosophy giving India till the 1990s a persistently low Nehruvian rate of growth. As India broke from that tradition and embraced contemporary notions, it found its potential. Pakistan was mired in early instability, and has not seen steady progress. Social upheavals and military interventions have stunted political continuity. As India feels more reassured with its ascendant growth, it must seek liberation from a pervasive competitive relationship with Pakistan, more a DNA disposition than a real correlation. It will permit each its own space and time to focus on their respective set of challenges, which now vary considerably. Our intellectual discourse must remain grounded to this reality.

The writer is a retired air vice marshal and a former ambassador

No comments:

Post a Comment