Our march of folly - Ghazi Salahuddin - Sunday, March 13, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=35857&Cat=9

Pakistan, in its current state of affairs, presents the remarkable spectacle of a country that seems bent on committing suicide. Remarkable it is because there is also an obvious scope for survival and advancement. But whether you look into the mirror of headlines that flicker in the media on any particular day or draw together the expressions of deep anguish that are strewn across all our social encounters, the feeling that we are on the edge of the precipice is inescapable.

There are, of course, many different windows from which you may have a peek at a narrow segment of the national landscape. It should be possible to find a patch that is radiant with flowers, far from a wide stretch of desolation. You might say that some people have the habit of wearing blinkers. When you stroll in the corridors of power, your view of the surrounding reality remains blocked. Those who live in a security bubble may not even be able to breathe the same air that raises dust in the lives of the common people.

Still, it now seems almost impossible to find a refuge from the reality of Pakistan – not even if you are a Pakistani and living abroad. And this reality is very much like a tsunami that is about to hit the seaboard. In a sense, we are being warned, say, by the rising wave of extremism, by the confrontation that has surfaced between the higher judiciary and the government led by the Pakistan People’s Party, and by the increasing breakdown in law and order.

Our feeling of insecurity and helplessness is continuing to grow, in spite of cricket and the fashion festivals that celebrate lawn. Take the example of the killing of about thirty-five people in a suicide bomb attack on a funeral near Peshawar on Wednesday. The target were the members of a Lashkar formed to oppose the Taliban and the message was that the government is unable to protect its own supporters, who would now be compelled to at least pretend their allegiance to the Taliban. Remember Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti?

Logically, a crisis should persuade all sensible people to abandon all business as usual and promptly attend to the resolution of that crisis. We are beset by not one but virtually a ‘mob’ of crises. So, look at what engages the attention of our politicians who share power in the present ruling arrangements. On Friday, Karachi and Lahore, the two major cities that represent the most advanced segments of our society, witnessed some pathetic episodes to illustrate the moral bankruptcy of our political leadership.

In Karachi and other cities of Sindh, a general strike was observed by, yes, the ruling PPP to protest against a Supreme Court judgment. And it was violent, ostensibly as a matter of familiar tactics to use the weapon of fear. When those in power themselves stage a protest against a vital institution of the state and also resort to violence, what kind of message is being delivered to the people? It is possible that the real purpose of the protest was to test and demonstrate the strength of the party in a city where the MQM has held veto power. Even then, the prognosis is very disturbing.

In Lahore, they resorted to a playful and essentially childish demonstration of the waywardness of our politics in a time of national emergency. The headline in this newspaper on Saturday was very predictable: “Punjab Assembly becomes ‘fish market’”.

This was the first session of the provincial legislature when the PPP was to sit on opposition benches, with the Unification Bloc members coming to the PML-N side. In addition to unruly scenes in the assembly hall, the ‘monkey business’ was conducted on the street. ‘Lota’ was very much in evidence.

Let us not forget that they are elected members, duty-bound to represent their respective constituencies that are plagued with poverty, social injustice and deprivations of many different kinds. Well, the Romans had devised their strategy of ‘bread and circus’ to distract the populace. Our politicians are themselves a circus. But where is the bread?

Talking of national crises or emergencies, the Pakistan Education Task Force launched this week its Emergency Education Pakistan booklet to summarise, in catchy slogans, the heartbreaking tragedy of the state of education in Pakistan. This booklet is designed as a part of the Task Force’s March of Education Campaign. The shocking list of the relevant facts and figures has made some waves in the media and a few of our political talk shows have taken it up. But is it anything more than tokenism?

Come to think of it, lamenting about our state of education has become a national pastime. What is happening on the ground is often portrayed in graphic accounts, say, of the condition of our public schools in rural areas. Education Emergency Pakistan report is an impressive compilation and may be described as the mother of all wake-up calls for our rulers. However, the problem is that our rulers are themselves not educated enough to know what they must do even when they do wake up.

In this respect, let me refer to another significant event of this week. I sat through the sessions of the Aman ki Asha’s second strategic seminar held in Karachi on Tuesday and Wednesday, titled: ‘Re-engagement for peace’ and again it became very hard for me to understand our sense of direction, though in this case India is to be equally blamed. But we have to look after our own national interests and these interests are largely not within the political domain.

In the inaugural session of the seminar, French Ambassador Daniel Jouanneau and German Ambassador Michael Koch spoke passionately about how their countries, enemies for many centuries, became close friends after the Second World War. It is true that the European model is not applicable to our jinxed region. But the gist of it was the way in which nations can learn from their history. We have suffered enough, beginning with the carnage of 1947, but we adamantly refuse to learn from history.

What is happening to us at this time would, perhaps, show that we are in fact hiding from history. We do not have the courage to learn from our own experience as many other nations have done from theirs. Perhaps, given the might of the rulers who define our national policies with their distorted ruling ideas, we are a bit afraid of re-imagining Pakistan.

The disaster that our education has become is just an important symptom of what is happening to us. The real issue is our moral and intellectual degradation. A forbidding thought it seems, but do we still have time to acquire the necessary skills to re-invent this country?

The writer is a staff member

Email: ghazi_salahuddin@


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