Reinventing the ideology of Pakistan - Ayaz Amir - Friday, March 25, 2011

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The Pakistan ecstatic and bursting with joy after the victory over the West Indies in Bangladesh was the real Pakistan, the Pakistan that was always meant to be, the land of our hopes and dreams, rather than the ugly caricature on display when bigots and fanatics, and mind-blowing idiots, seize upon metaphysical or religion-related issues and try to whip up a storm over them.

Just a game of cricket and nothing more but it is hard to remember a similar explosion of joy across the length and breadth of the country, transcending all regional and provincial boundaries, as on this occasion. A profounder cleansing experience could scarcely be imagined. As long as the game lasted, everything else, all our sorrows – and we have more than our share of them – were forgotten. All that mattered was our team and its brilliant performance.

Here was joy pure and simple, joy unadulterated. If only Pakistan could always be like this instead of being a playground for some of the worst hypocrites to walk the planet. Did Jinnah, a civilized and urbane man if he was anything, create Pakistan so that these humbugs, supported by our friends in the military – let us never forget this crucial nexus – should preach right and wrong to us?

It doesn’t matter if we win or lose the next game or the one after that. Much better for national passions to be excited by such an everyday thing as a game of cricket instead of Pakistani crowds showering with rose petals – the memory is sickening – a killer like Mumtaz Qadri.

A country swaying to the passions of a cricketing triumph, or plunged into sorrow if triumph turns to defeat, is a normal country, and may Pakistan always be like this. A country not swept by revulsion when hate and bigotry are celebrated is not a normal country. May Pakistan emerge from the shadows which keep it mentally chained and retarded.

Pakistan’s foremost challenge is not Afghanistan or Kashmir or anything America-related, important as all these issues may be in their own right. It is to step into the light and leave the accumulated stupidity, collected in the name of ideology, of the past sixty years behind.

The foremost challenge is to be a normal country, rather than a messianic one tied forever to fictional notions of jihad and national greatness. And if cricket rather than anything else helps Pakistan to travel down this path, forgetting its delusions and embracing normality, then it is a greater force for good than anything else in our armoury.

The killjoy hordes can scarcely be pleased. Cricket is a distraction from the demons they have been pursuing. We have seen how they whipped up hysteria over the anti-blasphemy law and spoke with forked tongues after the killing of the Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. And how they evoked national honour after the flight of the CIA operative, Raymond Davis. If only momentarily, much of this nonsense stands exorcised from the national mind because of the glories of cricket.

Which shouldn’t mean that we rejoice in a state of distraction, forgetting our real problems. But it does mean that we should have a better understanding of what those problems are. We have erected false temples in the name of national security, pursued chimeras and fanciful objectives in the name of Afghan and then Kashmir jihad, and seen jihadi armies trained for external adventures turn into domestic nightmares.

Pakistan could have been a different place, a bastion of enlightenment, a crossroads of east and west, if we had laid the foundations of a tolerant and progressive state instead of allowing the most reactionary elements in our society to step forward and propagate theories of nationhood flying in the face of both logic and reason.

Our highest temples should have been raised to education and science, art and invention, sports and culture. We should have justified Partition by outperforming the rest of the sub-continent. And we should have been able to keep Pakistan together by not giving a raw deal to the people of East Pakistan. May our sins in this regard be expiated. And may we have the wisdom to do something about the anger seething in Balochistan. Are we incapable of learning from the past?

Why are our elite classes so dumb and feckless? Why can’t they think through things clearly? And why are they incapable of taking a tough stand where such a stand is required?

Over the blasphemy law the religious parties were trying to stoke up an artificial storm. The federal government and indeed the entire political class should have taken a clear stand and called their bluff. But by doing nothing of the kind they allowed the fire-and-brimstone armies to make a nuisance of themselves.

Whether the Raymond Davis issue was handled properly or not, is it lost on the political class that the calls of the righteous armies to work up the masses on this issue have gone largely unheeded? The eruption of joy over our cricketing victory, by contrast, was utterly spontaneous.

Since the political class has little faith in itself it cannot bring itself to appeal to the good sense of the people. So by default the space thus left vacated is filled by the armies of the benighted. This is Pakistan’s real tragedy, the cowardice of its governing classes. With no convictions to speak of, it is futile expecting them to have anything resembling the courage of their convictions?

How do we become a normal country? By going back to first causes and purging the national mind of all the ideological deadwood allowed to grow in it. National security will not be protected or enhanced by nuclear capability but by investing more in education and science and industrial endeavour. (Which doesn’t mean we abandon our nuclear capability...only this that we stop treating it like something akin to the holy grail.) And we free our minds of the hypocrisy in the name of religion injected into it during the Zia years.

Pakistan is the only dry democracy in the world. In no other democracy do the dubious rigours of prohibition apply. This hasn’t made us into a more virtuous nation. Such controls never do. The Americans tried prohibition and harvested organised crime. Our biggest harvest is hypocrisy on an industrial scale and lost revenues, the honourable calling of bootleggers earning what otherwise would flow into the national exchequer.

The reaction of the righteous armies need not be exaggerated. If the political class and the army are of the same mind – a necessary condition – Pakistan need not be the sole monument to dry democracy on the face of the earth. An open announcement to this effect may not be possible. But some reverse hypocrisy could be useful in that the rigours of prohibition could be eased by a simple repealing of the Hudood Ordinance 1979 whose only achievement has been not to open the gates of heaven but to make life more difficult for the ordinary Pakistani.

If only we could take four or five simple steps Pakistan would become a better nation, less stuffy and more at ease with itself: remove from public spaces some of the antiquated aircraft and tanks which do service as national monuments; strictly curb across the wide spaces of the Republic the misuse of the loudspeaker, surely one of the most insidious inventions of the devil; with immediate effect ban the use of the plastic shopping bag, another idea from the wrong side of heaven; use all the money in the Kerry-Lugar legislation for just one item of national endeavour, reviving our railways; apply creative hypocrisy to the Hudood Ordinance, there being no better antidote to the bigotry of the mind than being able to sit back and take one’s ease of an evening; and cancel the next few cantonments being dreamt of by the General Staff and with the money thus saved build a few more sports and cricketing stadiums.

Just these steps and no other wonders and the hideous mask distorting the face of Pakistan will drop revealing underneath a slightly handsomer and more relaxed country.


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