Pakistan: Great nations, suspect leaders

By Kausar S. K.

PEOPLE in Pakistan are great but you have horrible leaders, whereas we have lousy people and great leaders, said a frequent visitor from South Africa. He found the people here to be courteous, friendly, caring and accommodating.
If one can briefly shut out the constant reminders of the wrongs with which this land bristles, the culture of helping others and the philanthropy that flows to soften the brute shocks of life can be seen more clearly.

These attributes cut across the various ethnic and religious groups that constitute Pakistan. It is the subtext that prevails in sharp contrast to the mindset of the minority that rules the country. This distinction must be remembered so that the ills of the few are not used to discredit the vast majority that is Pakistan. Nor should the ills of the few, even as they have hurt the country since its creation, be used to question the very existence of Pakistan as a nation.

Pakistan represents a plurality. It is not one nation but a bouquet of nations. All the nations of Pakistan are caught in various processes of change and in struggles of competing identities. Rights are claimed on the basis of one or the other identity. But besides claims of entitlement on the basis of identity, common themes can be found across ethnic lines.

A woman from anywhere in Pakistan could say, I am discriminated against not only by our customs but also by law. A landless peasant anywhere in Pakistan could say, I toil on the land but my family does not have enough food, nor do my children get quality healthcare or education. I walk or get packed into crowded buses, while those who share my language and religion ride big cars and are well fed. Ask any poor woman and the meaning of justice becomes unequivocal. She knows her deprivations. This sense of what is right and wrong is innate, as some religious scholars also emphasise. It has been said that even the worst criminal knows deep down that what he has done is wrong, as he would never want that inflicted on himself. What then is the problem that grips Pakistan?

Today, all those who live within the geographical boundaries of Pakistan watch the injustices emanating from a powerful centre with mixed feelings of anger, frustration, helplessness and/or indifference. The centre appears blind to the importance of the role nations must have in directing their own future, and their right to negotiate a better future for themselves. Nations are ready to seek a better future through democratic means, but when this is denied violence erupts. When rights are demanded not on the basis of democratic principles but through the barrel of the gun or from behind a rocket launcher, chaos is bound to follow and render any state dysfunctional.

Psychologists differentiate between functional and dysfunctional families. Dysfunctionality, however, does not indicate absence of family but a family where its members, especially the children, could start becoming dysfunctional. Not all such families disintegrate, for many lift themselves up with the help of therapists or some members from within play the critical role of positive change. Pakistan today needs a therapist and its emerging civil society could play this role, for the political leadership remains suspect.

Pakistan’s response to the recent horrific incident of women killed brutally in Balochistan’s Nasirabad district, and the continuing menace of karo-kari killings in Sindh, presents two distinct realities: the people who have the strength to say NO and cry out in the name of humanity and justice, and a leadership that can at best voice its condemnation but cannot act for substantive change and therefore remains suspect. Our horror stories belie the deep goodness of people, and the two (the good and the bad) must be kept separate.

Maulana Rumi says that after the rains you see muddy water streaming down the ground, but within it is the pure water of the rains. The purity of our people, among the urban and rural poor, among the ordinary rural and urban literate and educated, is to be respected. Despite the lousy job done by the leaders, despite the leadership’s inability to introduce a single measure that would make a difference in the lives of the poor, people by and large continue to be civilised, erupting only now and then in acts of desperation like the burning alive this year of suspected dacoits in a middle-class area of Karachi.

There are millions and millions of people all over Pakistan who are straightforward, honest people struggling to lead an honest life as hardships mount and the fissures of inequality deepen. What does this do to the inner simplicity and goodness of people? Needless to say it is challenged, and it comes under tremendous stress.

The leaders appear oblivious whereas for the poor the solution is simple. If the government cannot give us healthcare and education then why is it there! exclaimed a poor woman in Sindh. We are forced to go the feudal lords in our area for justice because the courts are difficult to access, said another woman. An angry young man at a civil society meeting in Karachi demanded, if it is to be our Pakistan then it has to be shaped according to our vision.

The struggles of nations can be destructive or constructive as demands are resisted and the cost of change takes on staggering proportions. The path through the mess created by deprivation, violence and the indifference of the political leadership can be cut not by the rhetoric of democracy but the practise of democracy at every level — micro, meso and macro — and in every domain of life. This path must be predicated on the dreams of the majority of Pakistanis. After all, as Paolo Freire said in Pedagogy of Hope, “there is no change without dream, as there is no dream without hope.”

Source: Daily Dawn, 18/10/2008

Leave a Reply