The world of finance is falling apart. It seems that if things get any worse we might see the end of modern civilisation as we know it. Whatever this mess is all about, it does seem that for a country like Pakistan, there is indeed a silver lining. As Bob Dylan sang a long while ago, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
For if one believes our newspaper headlines and the talking heads on TV, it would seem that Pakistan is already well on its way, if not to the Stone Age then at least to the Dark Ages. And that too without any help from the international financial crisis!
What for Europe were the Dark Ages, were for the Muslims their period of greatness. Starting from the Rightly Guided Caliphs onwards. The Abbasids in the Muslim heartlands, the Ommayads in Spain, the Fatimids in Egypt, the Ottomans in Turkey, the Safavids in Persia and of course the Mughals in our part of the world.
As it is, a significant part of the population of Pakistan not only wants to return the country to that period of Muslim history but is actively working at it. Many liberals like me have been against such activity but it seems that the time is rapidly approaching when we will have throw in the towel. Being a rational person, I have found a very rational reason to do so.
I have decided to support the Talibanisation of Pakistan, purely from an economic point of view. After all, for a country that has no money, what could be better than not having the need for money? Let us look at some of the advantages that would accrue to Pakistan if it went back to those times.
First and most importantly, no load shedding, since there wouldn’t be any electricity to begin with. No worry about energy, since petroleum, natural gas, diesel, LPG, LNG etc would still be much too far in the future. No factories, shopping plazas, high rise buildings, cars, trains, planes or other energy consuming monsters.
No reason then to spend money on building multi-lane highways, airports, rail tracks and other such expensive projects and facilities. And, of course, no expensive jet setting visits by our leaders to foreign countries. Also, no hospitals and advanced medical care.
Our maternal and infant mortality rates will increase and at the same time our expected life expectancies that are approaching civilised norms will collapse. This will rapidly solve our over-population problem.
For me however, the greatest advantage of Talibanisation will be that there will be no TV and therefore no talking heads, followed closely by the fact that there will be no motorcycles on the roads. The major downside will, of course, be no air conditioning.
So I imagined myself walking down the streets of Cordoba (Qurtaba) listening to Averroes (Ibn Rushd), expound on the intricacies of Aristotelian philosophy. But then I suddenly realised that Cordoba is now a part of modern Spain and as far as Pakistan is concerned, a thousand years ago, there was no flowering of Islamic civilisation in this part of the world. The major problem with the Talibanisation of Pakistan then is that we might go back in time but the rest of the world is going to stay in the twenty first century!
All this might seem a trifle facetious but strangely enough, people I know are actually talking about such stuff. Whether this is in response to the worsening situation in Pakistan seems to be the question.
It is true that many Pakistanis today might not be overtly Talibanised but they are definitely sympathetic towards them and would not mind having that sort of system in Pakistan.
What we are seeing in Pakistan is really the political divide between the liberal secular political parties and the conservative Islamist parties. Over the last few decades something similar happened in the US when the Republican Party swung to the right and became dependent politically on the conservative Christians for electoral support.
However much liberals might dislike the idea of Talibanisation, the fact is that what Pakistan needs most at this point is the kind of austerity usually but inaccurately associated with the Islamist parties.
Objectively, the PPP represents the urban poor and the economically deprived population in the villages of southern Punjab and Sindh. If an austerity campaign starts, it must really start with our middle and upper classes that are generally more supportive of the PML and Islamist parties. The primary focus will have to be on less conspicuous consumption, payment of taxes and a decrease in the utilisation of precious natural resources.
The deteriorating law and order situation and the insurgencies in our western and the northern areas will continue to bleed our resources. Unless we can de-link Islam and the Taliban it is unlikely that Pakistan can make much progress in this respect. And that, in my opinion, is the greatest challenge that faces us a nation at this time.
Is some degree of Talibanisation of Pakistan inevitable? The answer to that question is a partial yes. Traditionally conservative areas will become more religious in time, not unlike the so-called Bible belt in the US. But not all of Pakistan.
Most of the Punjan, Sindh and parts of other provinces where the majority follows the Hanafi-Barelvi denomination will continue to be a moderating influence and will not submit to Talibanisation.
And yes, if the US and NATO intervention in Afghanistan ends, things will get better for Pakistan, but that will not solve the problem of religious extremism. Whether we like it or not, Islamist thinking will still be around.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Daily Times, 20/10/2008