Apr 172008

QUITE a few threats to Pakistan’s stability are regularly mentioned in public debate. Among the less seriously acknowledged is the danger of implosion due to the people’s violent temper.
The roughing up of Arbab Ghulam Rahim without regard to the dignity of the venue, the thrashing of Dr Sher Afgan in a lawyer’s protected chamber, the lynching of poor Jagdish in defiance of the bar to killing a human being, and the setting on fire several innocent people are all symptoms of a malady that can, if left untreated, completely consume the state of Pakistan, its society, and whatever good the people have managed to gather to their credit. Common responses to acts of depravity such as those witnessed over the past fortnight prevent the community from realising the gravity of the threat these occurrences pose.

First, take the pathetic refusal to believe that any Pakistani Muslim, supposedly a paragon of virtue, could have decided to blow up fellow Muslim Pakistanis, including women, children and defenders of the national frontiers. Countless newspaper headlines can be recalled in which such disclaimers have been issued by people whose lack of intelligence has not obstructed their rise to eminence.

Secondly, instead of uncovering the cause of an ugly happening and the hands behind it, all blame is placed on two scapegoats — the intelligence agencies of external adversaries or the rulers at home. Neither of the two is incapable of committing the heinous atrocities attributed to it but the tendency to stop at the most convenient theory of conspiracy prevents a rational diagnosis.

Thirdly, containing violence is usually put down as one of the law-enforcement agencies’ routine chores and certainly not the most important one, as the highest priority must always be the protection of the VVIPs, however worthless in comparison to Jagdish or anyone of those burnt alive in Tahir Plaza some of them may be. Thus, the agonising self-appraisal that the rising level of violence in Pakistan demands is avoided.

What needs to be grasped is the fact that Pakistani society has not only become thoroughly intolerant, the tendency to eliminate all dissenters through violence is becoming stronger and more and more socially acceptable. Resort to violence to resolve any issue is no longer an aberration on the part of a few outlaws who can be effectively dealt with by the law and order agencies. It is a social phenomenon and needs to be addressed as such. The exercise must begin by assessing the various factors that have contributed to the Pakistani people’s descent into the abyss of violence.

The fact is that we have been living by violence for centuries. The long period of Muslim rule in the subcontinent was based on the ability to subjugate a more numerous people, and to wrest the crown from a fellow Muslim by force, which is another way to describe one’s potential for killing and pillage. All such violence was justified, according to contemporary wisdom, as violence by states, applied through their recognised instruments for their protection or expansion.

Let us leave history aside, although dreams of conquering new lands can still be observed in the psyche of our people, and concentrate on our community’s increasing indulgence in and social approbation of violence since 1947.

The Partition riots marked the beginning of a new fall from sanity when men were butchered and women raped for no wrong done to the culprits. Apart from the heavy toll of life and large-scale destruction of property, significant harm done by these riots — leaders of the Muslim community were no less guilty than their counterparts on the other side — there was legitimisation of violence by non-state actors.

That experience provided a psychological foundation for violence, which has been legitimised sometimes in the name of religion and sometimes as state necessity. It is the latter phenomenon we are now concerned with because it is the legitimisation of state violence against citizens that gravely undermines all efforts to overcome criminal gangs and pseudo-jihadis.

At its inception, the Pakistan state might have been deficient in many ways; but it was not lacking in the theory of imposing itself upon the people by force. If the Pashtuns refused to submit to Qayyum Khan’s oppressive measures they could be bombed. If the Khan of Kalat did not understand the governor-general’s command he could be shown the long barrel of a cannon. If Sheikh Mujib was not amenable to the rulers’ diktat, the entire Bengali population could be put to the sword, no matter if all of them were Pakistanis and most of them Muslims.

The atrocities committed in 1971 in East Bengal in the name of the state and with the fullest possible approval of the people in the western wing, sanctified the gospel of violence for as long as the people took to purge their minds of the notion that violence was a legitimate means of securing an objective. The people in today’s Pakistan made the terrible mistake of identifying themselves with the perpetrators of the state’s war against its citizens living in Bengal and thus grievously destroyed their sense of revulsion at the wanton and gruesome killings.

Much is said about the brutalisation of society during military regimes. True, Yahya Khan’s war against the Bengali Pakistanis and the hanging and whipping in public during Ziaul Haq’s reign brutalised society. But to concentrate on such events is to miss the point that all martial law regimes in Pakistan have been innately brutalising. Scrapping the Constitution is one of the worst forms of violence.

The state by definition is an apparatus of coercion but dictatorship is the most vicious form of an oppressive state. Every time an elected authority has been overthrown, the message to the people is: any violence one can get away with is legitimate. The element of violence in the state has been directly proportional to the degree of civilian exclusion from public affairs. Violence is not bad, only getting hauled up for it is. We thus find violence in Pakistan rooted in the nature of the state.

Another spring of violence has been kept running by the state’s failure to convince the people that it deals with them justly and on the basis of merit. The have-nots believe they cannot get justice from the courts or the police; they go to the local mafia to secure what is due to them. Karachi’s takeover by the mafia proves this. The poor are also convinced that the affluent owe their luxuries to force, favour or fraud. At the slightest provocation, they are ready to vent their anger on anyone who is better dressed or looks better fed than them.

The struggle against pro-violence tendencies in Pakistani society will be a long haul. Mere police action will gain little. The solution lies in changing the nature of the state, in humanising it, and convincing the disadvantaged that their needs are being addressed according to the merit of their situation.

Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 17/4/2008

 Posted by at 1:17 pm

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