This is an incisive article sent to us byFeroz Khan. It argues that although the current year has been perhaps the worst in the living memory but signs are showing that the society is transforming for the better.
By Feroz Khan
In many respects, the year 2010 has been Pakistan’s worst annus horribilus since independence. The floods, which swept through the country, seemed to have dredged up the worst behavior of its politicians and the lowest denominators of its public expressions, as witnessed in the mob rule in Sialkot. The flood waters crested in the humiliation of the entire nation, before the world, in the moral failure of its cricket athletes, when they apparently became victims of their own avarice. The present year of our national discontent did not happen by chance or misfortune, but had been gestating in the womb of a collective denial soothed by the words of an empty lullaby of hypocrisy. In the wake of the natural and moral disasters which swamped us, voices were raised, which in turn were indignant and resentful, wondering and questioning the fate that had befallen on us as a nation and as a people.
The reality of our misery and the cause of our suffering is more benign than any tribulation of the heavens or any imagined conspiracies of the gods, because it is our own sense of responsibility, which is so estimable on a general level and so wretched on an individual basis that is at the root of our problems. The reason we, as a nation, are the object of scorn and are despised as a people, is that we have substituted our sense of a civic responsibility for an ethereal pleasure of an amoral social hedonism made more intoxicated by the strong wine of personal apathy. What we do not seem to understand is that these series of ill omens, which have staggered us and has left us confused, is only the beginning of our national gloom of despondency and these bad tidings will not end until, we as a people, by a supreme effort decide to resist them and in the process, change ourselves as a people and a nation.
As we plod our way from the devastation of the floods and pick up the pieces of a life discarded, we will have to look into the abyss of doubts and ask ourselves, whether we are capable and have the required moral courage within us that will allow us to resurrect ourselves as a people. We should not deceive ourselves with false promises and reassure ourselves with hollow words, because we, as a people and as a nation, are in dire straits. The social contract which binds the legitimacy that existed between a people and its government has been shredded and our politicians have been proven as a failure in the manner in which they reacted to the public expectations. The image of our president, waltzing off to his Cinderella castle, while his people scrounged for a piece of dry land to escape a merciless nature, indelibly sealed the signature of political indifference upon the expectations of the people.
The failure of politics, in the monsoon drenched summer of 2010, was spectacular. To understand this loss of hope, between a people and its representatives, we need to delve beyond our favorite scapegoats. We need to look at the reasons governments are created and the source from which they derive their just powers to govern and these reasons have nothing to do with ideals of John Locke. The simple truth is that governments are created to offer an illusion of hope, to its people, and to reaffirm their faith in the continuity of a future, which is stable, predictable and comforting. This illusion, then, creates a sense of security and from it comes the formal legitimacy of the government to rule over a people, where the people agree to give up their natural and inalienable rights to life in return for the government’s protection of that particular right.
The failure of the Pakistan government, to offer this hope to the people of Pakistan, and its inability to provide the security needed for the people to secure their life and property from danger, destroyed the contract that existed between them, and in the process, the reason which held the people of Pakistan to their government. As long as the fig leaf of this promise lasted, the people of Pakistan were willing, and historically, accepted the shenanigans of its governments and their misrule. The sadistic orgy of depravity, which was paraded in Sialkot, was the manifestation of this loss of hope, because as long as the people considered their personal lives to be safe, from harm, they were willing to accept their loss of constitutional rights. It is in the context of this rationale, that the reason behind the resurgence in the popularity of the Pakistani army and, for that matter, the acceptance of aid from militant organizations, makes perfect sense. In a reverse logic, the Pakistani army has always suffered a loss of popularity, when its expectations of delivering to the people of Pakistan a different future, from the civilian governments, has failed.
Between the failures of the military and the civilian governments, what the floods proved to the people of Pakistan, without the blinkers of any wishful thinking, was the abject abdication of the state of Pakistan and its responsibilities towards its citizens. The collapse of the sovereignty of the government of Pakistan implied, despite the objections of the most optimistic, concerns about its failure, in its definition, as a state and its responsibilities. The term sovereignty is misunderstood in the political lexicon and discourse of Pakistani politics and it is generally associated, though this is misplaced, with a nationalism of a patriotic nature. The actual term, which is attributed to Bishop Bossuet, from the eighteenth century, defines it as a power of the government over its geographic territory; the ability to make and enforce laws within its territory; to impose and collect taxes and to resist foreign interventions in its territory, which can impair its ability to exercise its influence within its own state.
The failure of Pakistan as failed as a state in an absolute term, hinges upon its choice to either accept the finality of its situation or to rebuke it and re-create its sovereignty. Pakistan is not a Somalia and neither is it an Ethiopia, yet, but having said that; it does not have much room to regress down the slippery slope, because at the end of the slide what lies is not a rock bottom, but an endless pit of anarchy and chaos. It is in this realm of the uncertainty, with its murky possibilities, that the despair at the future truly becomes sublime, because what is at stake is not only the revival of the state itself, but actually the transformation of the state within the thought process of its citizens and their outlook towards their own responsibility towards the state itself.
In a very significant manner, what the crisis of 2010 has done is that it has crystallized the nature of the prize, which had always seemed elusive, and ambiguous, since Pakistan’s independence. The key ingredient that always seemed to be absent was the sense of an entitlement that people had in their own affairs and failure of the official response to the disasters and the world’s tepid interest in the crisis, has been a boon for Pakistan and its future development. The manner in which the ordinary people of Pakistan had reacted to need of the victims, and had done so previously, hints of a level of public self-confidence that has come of age. The people of Pakistan, for a very long time, relied on the government to provide for their needs. The response of the people, to the present crisis, is a very subtle insight into the concept of self-responsibility on a psychology of national mind. The idea that the people of Pakistan have taken the responsibility for their own lives, and have refused to mortgage it to the government, is hopefully the first step towards the eventual reclamation of political and civic sphere and the demands for representative accountability that comes from a self-aware people confident in their own ability.
The next evolution of this process, inevitable but painful, will be the political maturity, which must be shown to preserve the new levels of confidence, which are emerging in the Pakistani political thought. The wars against the militants, the anger against murder in the streets by suicide bombers and the private sense of the outrage, of the individual, not only at the barbarity of the Sialkot murders but also at the official silence, lead towards a very positive realization. The present levels of a Hobbesian state in Pakistan, were reached by a complicity of the citizens and their government in cold shouldering the intent of the law for the sake of vested interests in a system that was still officially semi-legitimate and still accepted, but the summer rains of 2010 effectively washed away the ancien regime that had existed in Pakistan.
The bitter self-realization, of our situation and which has thankfully been understood, is that no progress or achievement can be protected without the egalitarianism of a law and order situation, which ensures the safety of individuals and property. Pakistan, on multiple levels, will have to be re-created and a new social contract, reflective of the new reality of a post-2010 Pakistan and the aspirations of its people, will have to be articulated. The subtext of the general lawlessness in Pakistan and the public’s demands to address the problem is the growing civic education of a people increasingly confident in their ability to re-build all that was lost and willing to be responsible to society, but not willing to see their efforts wasted due to a lack of a mechanism, which protects the results of their hard work. This realization and demand is the first, tottering, step towards the actualization of a lawful society and the demands for a political accountability to maintain the law for the welfare of the public good.
The task, and the path ahead, will be fraught with perils of many hidden shoals and silent vortexes, but the nation has shown signs of self-affirmation to overcome this problem. For the first time, the people of Pakistan have seen the alternative to a perpetual existence in a state of nature and have rejected it in the favor of a better alternative. The transition, to a new reality, will not be easy and it will messy and bloody, but to reach that aim, the people will themselves make the conditions and realities to attain their hopes and dreams within a system that best ensures their chances of reaching those goals. There is hope for the future, because the people have learned, through bitter experience, if change has to come, it will have to come first from within and it will come, because once the few become many and the many become one, change becomes inevitable.