Time for new ideas
By Mubarak Ali: Dawn, September 20, 2007
ANY account of Pakistan’s history has to include two aspects of its 60-year existence. One, there is the political history of the country and, two, there is its social and cultural history which has changed and shaped the trends, values and thinking of the people. Of course, the two are closely linked. Here I will focus on how society has changed since 1947.
In the early years of Pakistan, people recognised the problems the country faced. They understood that many of these were a result of the partition of the subcontinent but they endured the ensuing hardships and sufferings in the hope that their future would be better. But as time passed, the gap between the rulers and the ruled increased imperceptibly for want of a participatory political process.
Those who acquired power through intrigues and conspiracy did not care much about public opinion. They distorted the institution of the state in order to protect their own interests. As a result, the state ended up being a symbol of exploitation and coercion. Its main function was confined to that of protecting the privileges of the ruling elite and their properties.
The elite had no interest whatsoever in the people or in their problems. In the end, the state came to be perceived as a burden and the people became a liability for the state. This antithesis persists to the present day.
The state and the people are not only poles apart, there is also mutual hatred. Whenever there is a strike or a demonstration, the people express their anger by destroying state property, though this destruction hurts them as they end up paying additional taxes.
The state’s reaction in the wake of demonstrations and protests is hostile, to say the least, and the protesters are brutally crushed with the help of the police, the Rangers and the army. The protesters are termed ‘miscreants’ and ‘anti-state elements’ who have to be dealt with through the use of force.
One example is the treatment meted out to the Okara peasants by law-enforcement agencies. Their right to the lands they have tilled for nearly 100 years was ignored and their struggle was treated as a rebellion against the authority of the state.
When institutions of the state assume the role of the exclusive protector of the interests of the ruling elite, such as the army, the police, the bureaucracy and the secret agencies, they adopt brutal and violent methods to curb the people’s movements. They harass and terrorise people in order to subdue them and keep them submissive.
To ensure their allegiance, feelings of patriotism are roused by national songs and national anthems. The textbooks narrate the ‘achievements’ of national heroes in order to inspire the youth and motivate them to emulate these heroes. The media helps propagate the state version of history to mobilise people to make sacrifices for the country. Besides, special days are celebrated with great pomp and glory.
In our case, March 23 is one example. Interestingly, in the early days of Pakistan, there was no special significance attached to this day. In 1956, when the first constitution was adopted on March 23, it was declared as ‘Republic Day’. When there were a series of martial laws in the country and constitutions were abrogated blatantly, Republic Day celebrations were called off.
After 1971, when East Pakistan became Bangladesh, the Pakistani state needed ways and means to promote patriotism in the demoralised rump that was left. The March 23 celebrations were revived but this time it was not Republic Day that was observed. It became known as Pakistan Day in memory of the 1940 Lahore Resolution that was adopted to demand a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Since then, the day is being celebrated with great élan.
August 14 has been observed since 1947 as the Independence Day of Pakistan. In the early years, it was commemorated by declaring it a public holiday. Some modest official functions were also held to mark the occasion.
Ziaul Haq capitalised on it to counter his unpopularity among the people. The public was exhorted to celebrate the day in a befitting manner. People were asked to hoist flags on every rooftop, and at eight in the morning sirens signalled all vehicles to come to a standstill, and people, wherever they were, observed a five-minute silence. The military parades and military and civil awards ceremonies were glamourised and very soon a number of vested interests were created.
For instance, the printers who print thousands and thousands of national flags and the shopkeepers who sell them have kept the tradition alive long after Ziaul Haq is no more. The youth compete to take active part in the celebrations and on the evening of August 14, all roads of major cities are crowded with young people who express their feelings vociferously and at times so violently that a number of them die every year.
The only possible explanation for this unbridled enthusiasm is that there is no other outlet for youthful energy and the celebrations provide an opportunity to young people to express their sentiments by asserting their presence in public places. However, these celebrations are short-lived and people have to quickly return to the humdrum activities of their daily existence.
There is historical evidence that when a society goes downhill, its moral values also decline. This has happened in Pakistan’s case. Sixty years have brought the country to a state of near-total collapse of morality. There is widespread corruption in every walk of life and that, unfortunately, has become the norm.
Corrupt and dishonest people are no longer looked down upon. They are actually respected because they have resources to win over people to their side. To give a respectable gloss to their ill-gotten wealth, they perform Haj and Umrah, visit the holy shrines of Sufis, give donations to madressahs, mosques and charitable organisations, and end up being highly respectable citizens with an aura of outward religiosity to impress the people with their piety.
These religious rituals and ceremonies help the elite class to integrate with the people and influence them with its generosity. Paradoxically, along with the show of their religious enthusiasm, traders are busy adulterating food and raising the prices of their commodities, doctors charge exorbitant fees from patients while bureaucrats are busy in their own way. Hypocrisy is on the rise and there is not much of a conflict worth the name between good and evil.
This is what our heroes have bequeathed us in 60 years. Yet we continue to worship them, and nobody ever criticises them for their role. If history remains static, how can we create new ideas and thoughts? There is need to assess the very foundation of this country and make an attempt to develop a new basis on which to build our destiny. If we continue with the same old hackneyed ideas, it would be disastrous to say the least.