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May 12, 2019

A mispronounced life


May 12, 2019

It is becoming obvious that they, our rulers, are incredibly more confused about how to bridge our social deficits than they are about the economy. And the truth is that the task of fixing the economy may be far easier than healing a deeply wounded society. Even if you are somehow protected from the reality of our existence – and that would be almost impossible – you should still feel the tremors of a particular kind of seismic activity underneath the surface.

Yes, the immediate focus is on the economy and the impact it has on the lives of ordinary citizens. The IMF mandarins have been at work and the alarm bells are ringing. It is going to get worse before – and if – it gets better. Meanwhile, the political temperature is also rising and the mud-slinging in the National Assembly is becoming more strident.

But my sight is set on something else. It has been my refrain that Pakistan’s crisis is not so much political and economic as it is social, moral and intellectual. Our society is in disarray and seems increasingly incapable of dealing with the challenges that have put the country’s survival at stake. To my distress, every week provides some fresh evidence of the fearful decline and fall of the Pakistani society.

So, what are my pickings for this week? Well, there has been a rush of headlines against the backdrop of some interesting developments. However, I have chosen as my peg a few stories that, in my view, project a social drift that our rulers are unwilling or unable to check. Unfortunately, this deadly drift was largely inspired by the ruling ideas or, in other words, the sanctified national security narrative. Intolerance and extremism have permeated through the national psyche.

What must have been heard above the consistent din of our politics this week was the bomb blast near Data Darbar in Lahore on Wednesday. It was a major act of terror in which 12 lives were lost. This blast has jolted us at a time when the campaign against terrorism and militancy is seen to have made significant gains. Still, there have been some acts of terror recently in Balochistan and tribal areas.

Is there a message here that we need to ponder? It is possible to find some significance in its timing. The large PML-N demonstration was held just a day before the blast at Gate 2 of the shrine. We have a tragic history of how terrorists have interfered with our political process. Think of Benazir’s return to Pakistan in October 2007 and her assassination in another rally in Rawalpindi in December of the same year.

But, for the purpose of the argument that I am trying to build, I see a different connection here. On Sunday, Prime Minister Imran Khan laid the foundation stone of Al-Qadir University in Sohawa in Jhelum district. This obviously portrayed a resolve to promote sufi ideology in Pakistan. The attack on Data Darbar, verily a shining symbol of the sufi tradition in this region, could be seen as an assertion of the elements that are opposed to the message of peace and social harmony that our sufi saints have expounded.

I have to refer specifically to the speech that Imran Khan made on Sunday but I will come to that a littler later. At this point, I am distracted by the power that is exercised by religious extremists and the bigots who readily resort to violence when they are confronted by ideas of enlightenment and humanistic pluralism.

Our security agencies may have scored victories against terrorist outfits and violent extremists but the popular mind remains afflicted with intolerance and obscurantism. We had one glaring reminder of this state of mind when Aasia Bibi, who had been accused of committing blasphemy ten years ago, was reported to have quietly left Pakistan on Wednesday. It is believed that she has found refuge in Canada where her family had already migrated.

Aasia’s has been, as one editorial noted, “a shameful chapter in this country’s history”. Without going into any detail or recalling the assassination of Salmaan Taseer by his own guard, consider the ignominy of the Aasia case. A poor Christian woman whose death sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court cannot live freely in this country. Our society, in a collective sense, is so sick that it would not even welcome Malala, who is truly the pride of Pakistan.

Now, let us turn to the speech that Imran Khan had made on Sunday. I would like to ignore that remarkable statement he made, promising to make spirituality a super science. Instead, my attention was diverted by his struggle to pronounce the Urdu word ‘roohaniyat’. Perhaps it reflected, in an esoteric way, the problem that the Pakistani society would confront in accepting ‘roohaniyat’ as a prescription for a good life.

There is this Robert Morley quote: “Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it”. So, can we say that spiritualism is a foreign language for us? Or is it that we are mispronouncing our life with reference to spiritual values and practices? In any case, it is good to see a leader who had earned the sobriquet of Taliban Khan to talk, albeit with a fumble, about spirituality.

What is crucial now is whether he is able to absorb the spirit of it and also make it the foundation of the ‘Naya’ Pakistan he talks about. In some ways, it would be a more challenging task than becoming the prime minister. Sadly, his performance in these nine months is not very inspiring.

It is interesting that despite his slip-ups, he thinks that governing this country is no big deal. This newspaper had this front-page headline on Thursday: “Opposition is difficult, governing is easy: Imran”. He may have said this in jest but it brought to my mind a similar statement made in earnest by another leader of Pakistan who may also be in Imran Khan’s list of role models.

After his election as the president, a number of interviews of Ayub Khan were recorded with a plan of compiling a biography. In one such interview, he said: “Sometimes people ask me whether I find it easier to run the country or the army, and, quite frankly, I find it easier to run the country”.

What is definitely not easy is to live with the consequences of how this country has been governed. Governance, too, is a foreign language for our leaders. They have always mispronounced it.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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