Just like there are two Nine Elevens, there are two December Sixteens. And just like the second Nine Eleven made people forget the first one, the same happened to December Sixteens. “[H]istory negotiates its terms and collects its dues from those who break its laws,” Arundhati Roy tells us in The God of Small Things. Arguably, the first and foremost law of history is: learning from it. Has Pakistan learnt any lesson from its chequered past is a question worth asking on a day like this. Even a cursory glance over state behaviour is enough to reveal that McCarthyism defines the state’s modus operandi.

The political unrest in the country shows the failure of the state and society both not to repeat policies and practices that led to the debacle of Dhaka forty-eight years ago. Punjab, as a province, and Punjabis, as the dominant ethnicity, unfortunately, neither then nor now, have succeeded in diffusing the perception of being usurpers of the resources and shares of the smaller provinces. Even the much-celebrated Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution failed to assuage the sense of marginalisation among the smaller provinces.

Furthermore, the state’s actions, under the pretext of security and law and order, in Balochistan and erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have deepened the feeling of alienation among its people. Worth noting is the indifference of the government to the growing resentment in the inhabitants of these areas – where 71 per cent and 77 per cent of the populations are living in multi-dimensional poverty respectively, according to one report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Pakistan. No wonder then that “terrorism” finds these places as the most fertile grounds to breed in. The neglect and often denying people the opportunity to participate in economic and political milieu has already weakened the political foundations of the state.

The recent restriction on freedom of expression and dissent is adding fuel to the fire by blocking the common man’s opportunity to express his frustration with the status quo. State coercing media houses, thinkers, academics, and activists not to dissent against its modus operandi is transforming the DNA of our society. And this transformation is ugly. The nation is increasingly becoming intolerant where everyone is at war against everyone. It is heart-wrenching to note that Pakistan is displaying the early symptoms of fascism. Paranoia, the defining trait of any state, has already pitted the government against the finest minds of the nation.

Resultantly, Pakistan’s media and journalists are busy nowadays in the acts of self-censorship to avoid the wrath of the state. “It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind,” James Baldwin once said. And is it not the case with Pakistan where the authorities do not appreciate alternative views? The government’s emphasis on portraying the positive image will not do any good to a country that is already cracking up because of the range of crises it is facing. Even after the fall of Dhaka, the power holders haven’t realised one fact: territory despite its concrete nature and solid shape is more fluid than water. It changes almost suddenly but with clear warnings. Only if people spend time studying the rise and fall of great empires and states, they will grasp this weird fact about territorial fluidity.

Undoubtedly, the state encourages public amnesia. One of the promises made in the aftermath of the APS Peshawar attack was the creation of a tolerant and pluralist society. But like all other promises, the government relegated it to the bottom on its priority list. The likes of Khadim Hussain Rizvi openly challenged the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SCP) verdict on Asia Bibi. Only recently, depressing footage of assistant commissioner (AC), Jannat Nekokara surfaced on social media. A teenager is yelling at her for she dared to teach school kids the universal application of human rights. While sitting in some government complex office, the AC was trying meek efforts to assuage the angry boy. Many lost their faith while seeing the whole district machinery a silent spectator while the boy was threatening and forcing the AC to take back her words. How can one believe in the government’s promise that it is committed to making Pakistan a pluralist society when it becomes mum in front of a teenager?

Today is that day of the year when many will make empty promises of making the society a progressive and pluralist one. Yet, we all know that the occupants of the power corridors do not believe even their own words. They represent the status quo: one that resists every kind of progress – be that social or political or economic one. Regrettably, when this day should have reminded us of the importance of dissent, we find ourselves in an environment where the space for freedom of expression has radically shrunk. As a result, the government is prone to repeat the mistakes that once divided the country after a bloody civil war.

Lamenting the lack of dissent in the Soviet Union, Andrei Sakharov once retorted, “Intellectual freedom is essential to human society—freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate, and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such a trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee of the feasibility of a scientific democratic approach to politics, economics and culture.” Hopefully, the warning of the Russian dissident may help to remind Pakistani state that its keenness on McCarthyism will eventually metamorphose the country into a fascist state.

The words stated above may bitter some. But, perhaps, these lines are the product of the highest form of patriotism that for Howard Zinn is “dissent”. If I may dare add to Zinn’s words, remaining silent in these times is the highest form of betrayal to one’s country. Therefore, not to betray the state, let me say it loud that anyone who speaks of the sanctity of human rights is deemed anti-state, nowadays. Demanding equality is considered propaganda by ‘inimical forces.’ And sympathies with people’s movements are equated with treason against the state and speaking for democracy is mocked and trolled. If this is how the state responds to people’s demands, then political fragmentation is inevitable. The political and social fragmentation that has only become more pronounced today tells us that we have long forgotten what we should have learnt from the tragedies of December-Sixteens.