Tim Burton directed a beautiful movie based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions. The movie retains the novel’s original name and is splendid. It is a son’s quest to reconcile the tall tales told by his father throughout his life to the grim realities of life. And while other stories may have only a grain of truth in them, one story does check out. Edward Bloom, the father, most definitely stumbles upon the beautiful town of Spectre, “the best kept secret in the state of Alabama”, which no one ever leaves, while exploring a shortcut. The town is heartwarmingly cosy and lush. When Bloom returns to the town after years, it is shown to have regressed to the general state of disrepair. We are told that after he left during his first visit, a new road brought the outside world to Spectre and with it banks, liens and debt. Bankruptcy had destroyed the best kept secret in Alabama.
This corrosion, ladies and gentlemen, is all but natural when the innocence of a small town, or for that matter, even a country, is waylaid by the premature desire to grow up at once. And this is exactly what happened to the sweet little country. If someone who visited Pakistan at its very inception were to visit it now, after this long interval, he would be utterly heartbroken. Back then, the country had no money, no nukes, no cricket World Cup winners. But it had innocent dreams. Now it has many of those things but hardly any dream. The desire to prematurely punch above its weight and that to bring an overnight change has ruined the 67 years of evolution. Today, what Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri say sounds fancy, revolutionary at times. But guess what. It did every time an attempt was made, most often successful, to thwart the democratic journey and replace it with a stopgap arrangement. And yet, our failure to succeed is primarily down to the untimely, rude and prolonged interruptions of that journey. Every time the plant grows to a promising height, dissatisfied with the lack of fruits, you chop it down leaving the land barren for years and after that, you start afresh. And then you complain that you have no fruits.
Messrs Khan and Qadri’s philosophy would have had far more impact had we not known the context of their recent venture. Most of you can connect the dots easily enough. And yet, if you choose not to, it is your lookout. This piece is, however, meant for those who want to see even if they don’t possess a 20/20 foresight.
While we can go on for hours about mistakes committed by both sides across the civil military divide, no benefit will come out of it. Let us realise that owing to our rough, often daunting historical experience and scuffles in the region, we are a security state. Your enemies often keep you under pressure to force you to make wrong choices. India, since day one, did that and we obliged. Today, our security concerns dwarf all other concerns. And this can easily change.
Our biggest problem is the Napoleon complex. This complex usually afflicts men with shorter statures. But we are no dwarves, we are kids. Before we master the world, we need to master ourselves. Tell me, has anyone ever found a shortcut to cheat the forces of natural physical growth? No. You simply cannot defy the laws of biology. Nor can you cheat the rules of evolution. In order to progress, then, we need to look inwards, to our sustainable development and growth. We need patience for the democratic process. But it doesn’t say we can’t have reform at the same time. We have a thriving judiciary, media and a civil society. They can help multitask.
Meanwhile, on the security front, first thing to do is to harden all our borders. Border disputes can wait till we have grown strong enough to demand our due. We need a very strong conventional force too, to watch our borders and to fight the menace of terror. But we also need across the board civil-military-judicial-media consensus on an agenda for the next 10 years. That coupled with democracy can solve everything else once we bury the hatchet.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 1st, 2014.