COMMENT: Dangerous questions —Saroop Ijaz - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If Pakistan is to survive as a state and become a nation it has to do so by being honest with history and, more significantly, its people while forming a new social contract 

Arguably, Franz Kafka’s best short story is ‘A little Fable’. The story in its entirety is: “‘Alas,’ said the mouse, ‘the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.’ ‘You only need to change your direction,’ said the cat, and ate it up.” There is a lot which is Kafkaesque in contemporary Pakistan, but Balochistan in particular seems an ideal setting for a sequel to The Trial or even ‘A little Fable’.

The debate on the Balochistan question has increasingly become exceptionally complex. However, there are a few discernible constants. First, that the armed forces and intelligence agencies of Pakistan are abducting, torturing and murdering the Baloch every day. Second, the settlers in Balochistan are being targeted. Third, there is not enough candid discussion on the Baloch question. As regards the last point, there is now some talk of there not being enough talk about Balochistan. Although this is imperative, but framing the dialogue in these terms allows the media and intelligentsia to talk about Balochistan in the abstract and reach the consensus that there should be more discussion on Balochistan in ‘the future’, hence avoiding substantial discussion.

The Baloch question, while apparently multifaceted and intricate, is at some level disturbingly singular. The use of force on the Baloch nationalists presumes a solitary higher principle which, in turn, justifies to the perpetrators the almost genocidal proportions of state violence. The superior principle is the integrity of the Pakistani state and nation. And by logical extension anyone asserting independence or even a difference with this narrative is to be subdued by whatever means necessary. The same righteous principle led to the genocide in Bangladesh. Mere condemnation of this type of violence should be intuitive but is hardly ever a sufficient solution.

All nations (especially nation states) are constructs; some are just poorly done. A dangerously unnerving question is whether any attempt to reconcile the Baloch now is a case of too little, too late? A blasphemously horrifying question is did the Baloch, the Sindhi, the Hazara, the Seraiki, etc, get a fair deal in the beginning? Another frightening question is, was Balochistan occupied under coercion on March 27, 1948 and compelled to join Pakistan? In similar vein, was the Two Nation theory a political stratagem, which may or may not have been effective tactically then, but needs to be revisited now? Can religion alone be sufficient basis to constitute a nation? Is there a shared Pakistani identity outside of the Cricket World Cup? Is there a rational historical basis for Urdu to be our national language? What is the number of civilian murders that are acceptable in ostensibly preserving national integrity? Should a transparent plebiscite be held in Balochistan regarding secession? Should Pakistan be a confederation?

To paraphrase the leading contemporary linguistic psychologist, Steven Pinker from his article ‘Dangerous Ideas’, these are dangerous questions — questions that are denounced not because they are self-evidently false, nor because they advocate harmful action, but because they are thought to corrode the prevailing political and moral order. Perhaps you think of me as being malevolent for bringing them up. The questions are shocking because they concede the possibility of an error on the part of the founding fathers. The Two Nation theory is ascribed the level of holy scriptures and hence customarily attributed timeless wisdom. These questions may have easily understandable and rational answers either way. However, civility demands that we do not bring them up in polite conversation and at all costs avoid them in public discourse, especially in the media. Anyone who does that (and there are not many), does it at his/her own peril and will be labelled as unpatriotic, anti-state and probably a foreign intelligence operative. This has a parallel to the fear that if people ever stopped believing in the literal truth of the scriptures, they would also stop believing in the authority of all moral commandments. One is reminded of Habib Jalib’s poem ‘Khatray mein Islam nahin’ (Islam is not in danger).

The genocide in Bangladesh is now fortunately discussed once a year for a day. However, the discussion is almost exclusively limited to the actual violence and the immediate preceding events. What is meticulously avoided is the historical and rational foundation of the initial socio-political contract. A detailed state apology to Bangladesh is as relevant today as it ever was. The condemning of wanton brutality in Balochistan does not entail the straining of any muscles, yet it remains a courageous step to take. The next logical step will be to question the basis of the principle providing impetus to the bloodshed. To torture a cliché, we may just be treating the symptoms instead of the cause, yet again.

Let me reassure you now, asking these obvious but terrifying questions pose no threat to the integrity of Pakistan. However, ignoring genuine nationalistic grievances of the Baloch and idiotically attempting to suppress them through unimaginable cruelty does.

The army general does not hate the Baloch, he just believes him to be utterly incapable of self-governance. He incidentally feels pretty much the same about all other civilians; however, he does not feel the need to kill them because of their servility. If Pakistan is to survive as a state and become a nation it has to do so by being honest with history and, more significantly, its people while forming a new social contract. The Baloch deserve the revenue from their natural and mineral resources, an equitable representation in the administration, etc, but, above all, they have a right to sincerity and autonomy to make their own choices. Let us not be like the mouse in Kafka’s story again, there may still be time to change direction.

The writer is a lawyer based at Lahore and can be reached at

Source :\04\20\story_20-4-2011_pg3_6

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