A look into the mirror of time - Kamila Hyat - Thursday, March 03, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=33918&Cat=9

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

We have, of course, become well-adjusted to crisis. We live with it constantly, in private and in public life, with crippling inflation, power cuts, gas loadshedding, worsening law and order and unemployment coinciding with a civil war that shows no signs of ending as well as a governance disaster that seems to grow worse by the day.

Absurdities worsen the situation. The interior minister’s announcement that students on scholarship, artistes and media professionals will require No Objection Certificates to travel to India is the latest among these. There have been many others at various levels. As the Faiz Foundation celebrated the centennial birth anniversary of the poet, it received, in response to its letter to the culture ministry seeking assistance, a query as to what Faiz had to do with culture anyway.

We live too with constant death. The suicide bombings, the target killings, the murder of teachers and the destruction of infrastructure create a constant sense of peril. But while possible disaster lurks everywhere, the state of people is most pitiful of all.

According to the UNDP Human Development Report for 2010, Pakistan is ranked 125 out of 169 nations in terms of its development, stumbling two places lower than its standing last year. This places it marginally above the group of countries with the lowest attainments and the report notes that 51 percent – a majority of the country’s people – lack access to basic education or healthcare.

Other findings are just as damning. A survey by the Sindh government, supported by UNICEF, found acute malnutrition in the province six months after the floods of 2010. Experts who work among deprived people believe this is the result of many years of social injustice, the fact that the feudal system is still in place in many parts of the country, and the failure to initiate land reforms over the last many decades, rather than the flooding which has left pools of stagnant water still standing in some places. Where tenant farmers have been able to take control of agricultural land, as on a few of the military-owned farms in Okara, there has been a remarkably swift rise in living standards.

We need, at this point in time, to look back and see what went wrong. What are the factors that lead to Pakistan being ranked by some organisations as a ‘failed state’ or a centre of terrorist training and militant violence?

Our history is certainly an uncomfortable one, beginning with the massacre of around a million people at Partition. These tragic deaths should have created greater sensitivity to human misery, increased the desire to achieve success as a nation carved out from a sea of blood. But instead, just a few decades later, what took place is now ranked by independent historians as one of the worst killings in human history. Some 1,500,000 people are now believed to have been killed in the civil war that led to Bangladesh emerging on the map in 1971. There are estimates that put that figure much higher.

The massacres in Dhaka and elsewhere are rarely discussed in Pakistan even now; and neither is the generosity of a nation able to look beyond this awful history and cheerfully add a few numbers in Urdu to the songs that formed a part of the glittering World Cup opening ceremony in Dhaka. Pakistan, of course, remained ousted from among the South Asian hosts of the event following the murderous attack on the visiting Sri Lankan team in March 2009 in Lahore.

But while this unfortunate past has had an impact on the kind of nation that we have evolved into, with the loss of the eastern wing bringing into doubt the whole ideological basis of Partition, it does not explain everything. Till the mid-1970s, Pakistan was a fairly well-respected nation, proudly hosting the Islamic Summit in 1974, and standing as a nation with friends and admirers across the Arab world, the slide since then has come fast.

The Wikileaks documents revealed just what even ‘friends’ such as Saudi Arabia thought of Pakistan while Washington’s remarks have on occasion been even less polite. The money coming in from the Gulf states, both to defeat the threat of bankruptcy faced in 2008 and the floods more recently, seems to have been given only grudgingly and in limited quantities.

There are, of course, some fairly obvious factors for this decline. The years of military rule, the obscurantism introduced during the Zia years when attempts were made to capture the energy of ‘jinns’ in vials and the role of Washington in creating the Taliban Frankenstein are all a part of this. But we need a serious assessment to determine what else went wrong, why we, as a nation, fared even worse than other nations with disturbing histories and why we have failed in granting people even their most basic rights.

At the same time, we need to develop a better understanding of the conspiracy mindset that has grown such deep roots amongst people, leading to absurd theories being propounded about why Pakistani cricketers have been found guilty of corruption or why there are so many concerns about militancy originating in the country.

Other trends need to be examined still more closely. An Urdu-language newspaper recently ran a story – which analysts examining it believe has no basis at all – on several French women wishing to marry Taliban leaders, including Hakeemullah Mehsud, who they apparently saw as ‘heroes’, while the West was described as a decadent place where lies about the Taliban were told.

Was this a plant, as some suspect – intended to glamourise militants who have wreaked havoc across the country? Or merely another example of the line taken so often by sections of the media? We need to understand all this better. We must accept that a very great deal has gone wrong and can be put right only by gazing back into an often murky past, assessing the impact of events on the present and then attempting to re-find the road which we, at some point, ventured off and stumbled into the lonely wilderness.

Email: kamilahyat@hotmail.com

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