Oh for a bit of Arab disorder - Ayaz Amir - Friday, February 25, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=32964&Cat=9

The disorder we have we could do without. Beards on the march, raising the banner of one inane issue after another, obsessed with bluster and riding the wing of passions they themselves can ill-define. Now comes an all too rare moment in the world of Islam and we in Pakistan are no part of it.

Yes, we have a democracy but it is a myth to suppose that there can’t be movements against democracies. Western Europe, the democratic half of the continent, was convulsed by student-led strikes and riots in 1968. And the anger generated in that endless summer of discontent was not against the Kremlin or the iron curtain but against their own democratic governments. The youth of that generation was simply tired of the same old faces -- especially in France where de Gaulle was president for the previous ten years.

Gilani, Pakistan’s excuse for a prime minister, is right to say that Arab-style insurrection won’t happen here. A pity that it won’t because what Pakistan needs more than anything, more than foreign investment or the next cheque from the IMF, is shock therapy of the severest kind to (1) sweep away the cobwebs responsible for the permanent closing of the Pakistani mind and (2) shake the political-cum-governing class out of its torpor and complacency.

The old shibboleths just won’t do. This country needs a moratorium on religious discussions and disputes. There is too much intolerance and downright hate and ignorance clogging the national atmosphere. Urbanites and what passes for civil society should visit the rest of Pakistan outside the three or four major cities to see the spread of sectarian divisiveness -- Sunni vs. Shia, Deobandi vs. Barelvi, the complexities of the Ahl-e-Hadees school of thought -- to get a measure of the new cleavages rearing their head across the land.

At present, this is our only flourishing industry -- the spread of bigotry and fanaticism.

The clerical armies are entitled to their passions. This is the only wave they can ride. But the rest of Pakistan is under no obligation to be swept by the same grim tide.

This is and will remain until the end of time an Islamic country. Nothing is going to change this. Soldiers of the faith we will always remain. So this shouldn’t be a problem. In any event, we consider Allah to be on our side. Over matters spiritual therefore we should not be losing any sleep.

What should be worrying us more is our inability to manage things, to be better technocrats and engineers, better doctors of the ills plaguing our very poorly-managed country.

There are firebrands in every society but in a sane society they are not as much of a nuisance as they are here, and their voice is not so loud. When the Pakistani revolution does take place -- although I am sure it never will -- the life of Kemal Ataturk should be compulsory reading for all Pakistanis. There are several good biographies of him. If someone translates them into Urdu, especially the one by Andrew Mango, he will be performing a national service.

Our relationship with China is strategic not emotional. The one country with which Pakistan has an emotional bond is Turkey and yet, superficialities apart, there is little understanding here of the man Ataturk and the profound social changes he wrought. If anyone deserves the title of leading Muslim of the modern era it is Ataturk.

Things taken for granted in reasonably well-run countries, and I am not talking of Switzerland or Germany, seem beyond our ability: the disposal of municipal waste, the need for public transport, investing more in education, and taking simple decisions to keep our environment clean -- like taking care of that gift from hell, the plastic shopping bag.

When we put our minds to something we can achieve quite a lot. We decided to go the path of nuclear fusion and despite American hostility and a low technological base we pulled off that feat. Why can’t we bring the same focus to other things? Perhaps because we have got our priorities wrong.

Our nukes should have made us a more confident nation, more sure of ourselves. But to hear our army commanders talk of India is to get an entirely different message.

If a hundred ready-to-use nuclear warheads do not give us security, then we are dealing not with threats but a phobia of the mind. And the cure for this is not more arms but the consulting couch. We don’t need to be pushed around by any country but we don’t need to be obsessed with any country.

Don’t they teach the Russo-Finnish war of 1940 in the Staff College and the National Defence University? Despite being outgunned and outnumbered the Finns, under Marshal Mannerheim, put up a defence that should figure in every military manual. Proportion-wise we have more on our side vis-à-vis India than Finland against the Soviet Union. Sixty three years is a long enough time to work through any obsession. But we haven’t managed to get rid of ours.

The other spectre at our table is Afghanistan. We can’t put our own house in order but we are desperate to put things right in Afghanistan. A hostile Afghanistan under King Zahir Shah and later Sardar Daud was far better for us than a friendly Afghanistan under the Taliban. With friends like the Taliban we needed no enemies.

As the Americans mull over the prospect of exiting from another theatre of their folly, we should look to our minimal interests but, if we can help it, without wearing Afghanistan on our sleeves, much less allowing it to dominate our dreams.

All these things are inter-twisted and intertwined. The rise of fanaticism and bigotry hasn’t taken place in a vacuum. It is tied intimately to our India phobia and the paranoid national security state it has spawned. Jihad in Afghanistan, jihad in Kashmir, the pampering of militia armies, the consequent rise of extremism and sectarianism, are all elements of the lethal cocktail we put together long ago and from whose hangover we have still not emerged.

This cocktail has been our national drink for the last 30 years, ever since that fateful summer when Gen Zia, a figure more suited to the dark ages of Islam, seized power. The reinvention of Pakistan will remain a pipedream unless we put aside old habits and acquire new tastes.

Pakistan should be renowned for its doctors and engineers not its terrorists or bomb-making experts. We should match India in science and technology, invention and knowledge. We have allowed ourselves to be caught in the wrong race.

The pillars of the national security state -- a reincarnation of the kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in which the Khalsa army was everything and everything else nothing -- must come down if Pakistan is to leave its various obsessions behind.

But for this to happen, for the old ways to change, we need a bit of creative disorder. We seem too set in our ways. For these to change we need a tempest from the mountains.

Consider our crossed stars then. When the Arab world is in turmoil -- the best thing to happen to it since the golden era of Islam when it led the rest of the world in the pursuit of knowledge -- Pakistan is stuck in the past with its dead dogmas and dead certitudes. Come to think of it there is no Liberation Square in the whole of Pakistan. Which makes the task of igniting some disorder all that more difficult.

Email: winlust@yahoo.com

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