One of the quotations that I had culled from Hollywood movies in my youth came from ‘The Teahouse of the August Moon’. It makes a simple statement: “Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable”. That thought can make us wise is, perhaps, the gist of it. But does pain necessarily make us think? And in a logical, rational manner?
That we, at this time, are suffering almost intolerable pain, including in an emotional sense, is obvious. In addition, we are confronted with anxieties that relate not just to the floods but also the state of our society and the disarray in the political domain. The maniacal lynching of two young brothers in Sialkot has become a flaming point of reference in the context of what we have made of our society. Then, a statement made by Altaf Hussain, in his somewhat ritualistic telephonic oration from London , is generating heated debate in the media.
All encompassing, of course, are the floods. Fears have constantly been expressed about Pakistan being or becoming a failed state. There have been statistical and learned assessments of our failings by international think-tanks. The Pakistani mind itself remains afflicted with grim thoughts about the country’s future – and not without some corroborating evidence.
With all that, nobody could have anticipated the disaster that has come down from the heavens in the form of rains and the raging waters of the Indus. It is truly of Biblical dimensions. Indus has been christened as the ‘lion river’ and how it has roared! We have suffered a tragedy that will live in history. What happens next will also be recorded by chroniclers of major events. Irrespective of how we have been judged as a nation until now, our capacity to meet a grave challenge could define our future image in the community of nations.
Hence, Pakistan must devote all its energies and resources to dealing with the present emergencies. There is a lot that demands immediate attention, such as rescue and relief. Lives are at stake. Hunger and waterborne disease are stalking the land. Soon, as the waters recede, medium-term measures will have to be undertaken so that the displaced persons can return to their settlements and livelihoods. Finally, the entire social structure will need to be redesigned. A new Pakistan is possible.
While there is certainly an urgent need for financial and material resources, all these endeavours demand a high level of governance that obviously has moral and intellectual dimensions. We can get funds from the World Bank or Angelina Jolie or the ordinary citizens of the country but what kind of moral and intellectual resources do our rulers possess? Where can they get these resources from? And how, in a crucial sense, do we understand these issues?
Many of our commentators have noted the soul-destroying conditions in which the rural poor have lived their lives – a reality that has struck us almost like a revelation in the aftermath of the floods. Questions have been raised about how these people have been betrayed by their feudal lords and by their corrupt rulers. Not just something but many things are rotten in the state of Pakistan. We need a well thought-out strategy to deal with these crises. There is little time to indulge in any Hamletian Dilemma.
Now, the task of objectively examining the existing state of affairs and understanding the social drift to plan a future course of action necessitates an informed debate. This debate should attract the participation of social and political scientists, historians and, yes, our leading writers and poets. We have to depend on people who have knowledge and, hopefully, wisdom. People who can think.
Altaf Hussain’s possibly conspiratorial proposition – as diffuse in its formulation as our conventional wisdom has become – for a martial law-like intervention by ‘patriotic’ generals to deal with the marauding ‘jagirdars’ has naturally put focus on the state and the future of democracy in Pakistan. This, to be sure, is a very relevant theme for our sober and serious consideration.
But, with nothing much to mentally digest, just look at the talk shows on news channels that have picked up the subject. Because the MQM is mainly having a dig at PML-N, they have leaders of both parties in every panel. It would be amusing if it were not so repetitive and banal. The tempo that builds up is potentially subversive to earnest reflection. There is hardly any concession to historical facts or any inclination to indulge in self-criticism.
So, where do we go and what do we do to find valid clarifications about the scope for a democratic dispensation in this unfortunate land? I must admit that this is a very difficult debate to conduct in the mass media because two major points of reference – the role of religion and the domination of the military establishment – cannot be reviewed honestly and bluntly. However, there should be some possibility of pursuing this subject at a scholarly level, in think tanks and on campuses.
We may not have sufficient intellectual resources to critically inform public opinion. However, the television talk shows do not even search out the relevant academics and what are known as public intellectuals. The same political leaders, interspersed with a few independent commentators, are shuffled like a pack of cards. They may not add up to fifty-two in number and have more jokers than aces.
All of us have our separate arguments about why Pakistan is becoming ungovernable and why it constantly throws up leaders who ultimately do not come up to our expectations. In fact, it just does not make sense that our rulers do not learn from history, even when their degrees are not fake. They do behave like imbeciles when it comes to corruption and cronyism. Again and again, they get an opportunity to make a new beginning. But they bungle it with a vengeance.
With the deep depression that has set in after the floods, further bolstered by barbarity exemplified by the Sialkot lynching, we have reached the end of our tether. Many of us are totally confused about what is going on. Emotions tend to overwhelm reason and logic. The situation on the ground is very scary and primitive passions are coming to the surface.
What can happen in the coming weeks and months? A comment by Con Coughlin in The Telegraph of London begins with this sentence: “If ever a country were ripe for a coup, it is Pakistan. ” And the last sentence is: “Extreme measure will be required to rebuild large swathes of the country once the waters have receded – but building the effective and inclusive government that Pakistan deserves will be an every greater challenge”.
The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail .com