To be or not to be…”

By Humayun Gauhar

Yes, “…that is the question.” Pakistanis are a very resilient people. They wake up every morning to news of terrorist attacks, Mafia criminalities, government failures, yet they go about their daily work. But resilience has limits.

Events are moving very fast. Pakistan stands at a fork. Pakistanis need to decide soon which of the two roads to take. Continued apathy and acquiescence will keep them on the low road that leads to destruction. Grabbing hold of their destiny through activism will put them on the high road that leads to salvation. The high road has never been trodden upon. It is the Correct Path that leads to the well.

On the low road you muddle along, letting events take their course until the lights go out and the State stops existing. It has already stopped functioning. Taking the high road to salvation means destroying the iniquitous status quo and its unjust political, social and judicial order that has turned Pakistanis into an endangered species and then crafting an equitable and egalitarian order.

Don’t expect any good from any government that comes out of this system. They have always taken the low road with their vacillation, dithering and appeasement of enemies of the State to keep their own undue pomp, privileges and pelf safe. You can see confusion writ large on the faces of the prime minister and his ministers with their contradictory and often meaningless statements and bootless chasing of ghosts and shadows. Hamlet-like, Nawaz Sharif soliloquizes: “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Hamlet’s question was mystical; Sharif’s brims with confusion because he is not anchored in a coherent ideology and belief system and cannot tell the difference between good and bad, right and wrong. Governments born of this system love this status quo for it puts them in power again and again and keeps their pelf and privileges in tact.

Hamlet-like too, this confusion borders on schizophrenia and has led Sharif to make embarrassing overtures to India that have been spurned with pompous contempt and appeasement of terrorists by appointing a meaningless committee of Taliban sympathizing non-entities to negotiate with the Taliban. The Taliban have shown their contempt by appointing their own meaningless committee comprising Mullah Sandwich, Mullah Burqa and other non-entities who are, naturally, Taliban sympathizers. Taliban talking to the Taliban is the lowest road one could take. It leads to chaos, anarchy, civil war and nihilism. The prime minister wants to be seen to be seeking peace peacefully instead of a military operation. The Taliban ratcheted up their terrorism while talks were in progress, derailing trains, killing kidnapped soldiers with singular brutality, bombing policemen to smithereens, wantonly killing innocent citizens and putting every city, town and hamlet in dread. Mercifully, the talks seem to have stalled after a series of inevitable barbarities of unimaginable brutality. You don’t negotiate with fiends; you crush them. You don’t negotiate with the devil; you exorcise him.

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Not that the prime minister can’t have tunnel vision. While the entire country is crying out for solutions to terminal crises, he is focused on revenge from General Pervez Musharraf through a bogus treason trial in a kangaroo court. It defies imagination how imposing emergency can be treason while talking to a banned party that does not recognize the State and its constitution is not. It defies credulity how they could put the entire army on trial. It defies reason why they haven’t learned that in such a tussle there can only be one winner and we all know who that is. Nawaz Sharif has taken the army on twice before and lost. Pervez Musharraf could again unwittingly be the cause of his third downfall for the second time. It is so stupid that it leaves one scratching one’s head. It is so tragic that it puts the Greeks to embarrassment. The drama cries out for a Shakespearean play.

The military should be careful before retaliating against the terrorists. If they don’t have full authority and the operation is not countrywide, there will be problems if things don’t go according to expectations. The blowback will be monstrous and if the operation takes longer than expected, the civilian government will shirk responsibility and blame the army. If it goes according to plan, the civilian government will take all the credit. They will not easily swallow the army they helped demonize gaining high respect amongst the people again. They still don’t understand that to prevent a coup you have to rule well, not de-fang their army.

This need not necessarily be our end, not if we take our destiny in our hands. Our current gaggle of politicians have more than proved that they cannot take the high road. They are averse to it because their business of corruption would come to an end and they would go into oblivion. Only the people can take the high road by coming out in protest to destroy the status quo and throw out the Act of a rump Assembly we call a constitution, throw out the Objectives Resolution and take back their social contract of August 11, 1947, reduce that social contract into writing to form a new and first fully legitimate constitution that reflects the will of the people, that consistently throws up good governments that deliver and replaces the existing man-eating status quo with an equitable and egalitarian one in which everyone has a stake. If some African Arabs could do it, why can’t we? Are we a lesser people? Sure those Arabs going through a tough time but who said that the high road isn’t bumpy? Freedom isn’t free, my friends, it comes at a steep price, a very steep price.

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Columnist Ayaz Amer has rightly come to the conclusion that religion is no glue to keep a state together. Only continuous improvement in the human condition does: the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its east European satellites proves that, because they lacked upward mobility of all kinds. He has finally also come to the conclusion that only the Pakistan Army keeps the State together. Sure, but he missed an important factor that also keeps Pakistan together: it suits no one that we fall apart, least of all India. If Pakistan Balkanizes, northern India and Afghanistan at the very least will balkanize too, and perhaps Iran as well with pressure on its Baloch population to join up with the Pakistani Baloch to form a new state. The shock waves of Pakistan’s disintegration will go from Turkey to Bangladesh. If Saudi Arabia also faces an ‘Arab Spring’ as seems increasingly likely what with the rekindling of the US-Iran romance, it will put pressure on Iran’s oil- and gas-rich Arabic-speaking Shia west to join hands with the Arabic-speaking Shias of Saudi Arabia’s oil- and gas-rich Eastern Province to form ‘Arabistan’ that I first heard about in London in 1977. Both straddle the eastern and western shores of the Straits of Hormuz and give access to the energy-rich Caspian Basin. China and Russia that can only hold negative views on Pakistan’s Balkanization. Pakistan falling apart suits no one except some in its provinces who wrongly see milk and honey at the end of this low road. It is like a house whose four walls are being pushed outward by its occupants while outsiders are pushing its walls inwards. But if the occupants of a house don’t wish to stay together it is not easy to keep them together, except by ensuring that their aspirations are met and their frustrations sublimated. That can only happen when there is a new status quo, a new constitution, a new political, economic and judicial order that delivers the needs and aspirations of the people and removes causes of frustration. Perhaps that’s a bit much to expect from a simple people who love simplistic solutions like, democracy will solve all problems: actually, it increases them. An independent judiciary is our solution: actually, it becomes hyperactive and politicized. The army will fix everything: the army starts well and then loses its way in the maze and pitfalls of chasing the chimera of legitimacy through ‘democracy’ and we are back to square one. No, only the people can fix their future by taking their destiny in their hands.

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I, like many of you, was born free. I am not a dual national. Pakistan is the only state I know as my own. It is my identity, my destiny. This land is my land; this land is your land; this land was made for you and me. My heart cries when there is talk of disintegration. My soul rebels at the thought of taking another identity. 1971 was enough.

We too have been reduced to a Hamlet-like condition, trapped between wishful thinking and reality. The former is informed by delusion that places us in a comfort zone: come what may, Pakistan can never fall apart. Realism may be very painful, but then it is up to us to make our own reality and not be hurtled along by historical forces. We have to make our own history.

Our wishful thinking makes us forget how many states have collapsed in our lifetimes. We too forget our own history, that Jinnah’s Pakistan fell apart when we lost East Pakistan through a sinful combination of chicanery and stupor. We became poorer for it in every respect. It is time we wrested control of our State and made it our Pakistan before it is too late. Wishful thinking is to deny reality, to hurtle to the precipice like lemmings. Facing reality is based on the survival instinct. Until we stop deluding ourselves we will never face reality leave alone craft it for our survival.

Remember Faiz? Tairay azaar ka chara nahin khanjar kay siva; aur yeh shaffaf maseeha mairay qabzay mein nahin. Haan magar tairay siva, tairay siva, tairay siva.

“The only cure for your malady is the dagger; but this beautiful messiah is not in my hands; only in yours, only yours, in your hands only.”