Seventy-one years later, the promised homeland – just, peaceful, equal and pluralistic – that the founding father of the nation promised days before independence is nowhere in sight. In the midst of nationalistic fervour that the country was engulfed in on its seventy-first independence day, the turbulent history of the nation calls for serious introspection. The promise of socio-economic development has been eclipsed long ago by perpetual financial and political crises.
What veils the state failures is the non-reflexive nationalism, which has been busy in the cartography of enemies. Saadat Hassan Manto’s commentary on the madness of people around partition is, in fact, a thorough critique of nationalism that was evident in the form of hypocrisy, religious bigotry, savagery and atrociousness. Of the people’s shocking behaviour fuelled by nationalism, he writes, “Hindustan had become free. Pakistan had become independent soon after its inception, but man was still a slave in both these countries – slave of prejudice … slave of religious fanaticism … slave of barbarity and inhumanity.”
It would be naïve to think that the ruling elite’s – the civilian and military – was ever unaware of the fissures in the political structure and system of Pakistan, evident from the day first. State excesses and state incompetency did not require any detailed expose: they have been very apparent in every day social life of every soul.
Iteration of development indices is not required to detail the pain of life, in a country promised to be a Muslim Welfare State: the bitter truth is that Pakistan is one of the worst performing countries in the provision of health, education and other social services to its people. Pakistan ranked second from bottom of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap index. Half of the country’s children are stunted. For a person from former East Pakistan to now mainstreamed Federally Administered Tribal Areas (‘FATA’), their everyday experiences of state-sponsored ostracisation, is a lived reality; for the social majority, deprivation is plain and simple life.
It is not that apathy has set in, or that dissent among people is not loud and widespread. The growing voices showing discontent against state actions in Balochistan and recently mainstreamed Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) narrates an entirely different tale. Pashtun Tahfuz Movement, jeered by the state as a foreign conspiracy, is in fact culmination of people’s growing disenchantment from the false promises the state had made. James Baldwin explains this disillusionment in The American Dream and the American Negro:
“It comes as a great shock … to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you… It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and identity has not, in its whole system of reality, evolved any place for you.”
No dissent can be silenced entirely by violence. Unaddressed pain is always the most dangerous when the state makes any attempt to ignore it. The political and economic elite of Pakistan realised it, years ago. A simple study of the twentieth century as the history of ‘isms’ would reveal that the political and economic elite aggravate the collective politics of identity to avoid any questioning by the masses of their social and economic deprivation.
The political and economic elite, with the assistance of the praetorian regime, ballooned to a militant non-reflexive nationalism, which throughout the 71 years created the cartography of enemies: both inside and outside the nation-state. Voices of dissent were and are subjected to extreme violence, both physical and social other-ing by the force of nationalism. State Institutions from media to education were geared towards the perpetuation of an insecure nationalism, blaming the evident contradictions upon enemies of and to nationalism.
If someone dared to object to the scheme of reality acceptable to power, and tried to bring forth the accurate picture of violence in the remote and far-flung inaccessible regions of the country, the vigilantes of non-reflexive nationalism unleashed violence and harassment upon such dissenting voices. The faculties of rational thinking of the social majority of the nation were blocked by a constant threat to their identity arising from these enemies.
George Orwell warns us of the effects of nationalism on one’s thinking in Notes on Nationalism, “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them … The nationalist not only does not approve of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” Regrettably, Pakistan has such nationalists in abundance in every sphere.
At the same time, the non-reflexive nationalism believes that the enemies within due to conspiracies by the enemy outside ungratefully deny “politics of charity” by the centre. The transfer of resources from the centre to economic elites of the regions of dissent in packages such as Aghaz-e-Huqooq Balochistan, mainstreaming of the former tribal areas and China Pakistan Economic Corridor was heralded to usher in a new era of progress and contentment. The deepening exploitative relations of centre and periphery, within the country, were placated by the jubilation over this transfer of charity, which only strengthened the structure of exploitation.
The tentacles of un-reflexive nationalism did not even spare the media that is any society’s watchdog. The ultra-nationalists silence any attempt that the press makes for challenging the negative impacts of nationalism on people’s psyche.
Every criticism of the state’s actions and policies is condemned as a foreign conspiracy. State’s unreasonable behaviour towards any criticism of its policies informs us that paranoia is inherent to the genetic makeup of any state. Paranoia is the fodder the state feeds on and gains energy from while perpetuating its desired ideology of un-reflexive nationalism.
Whereas the fierce urgency of now demands that media – that once was thought of “courageous, resilient, free and fair” – play its role of being a watchdog, however, it has now succumbed to the pressure of the deep state. Mohsin Hamid feared on the eve of Pakistan’s 70th independence anniversary, “In Pakistan, a moment where it seemed that the press might finally become free and elected civilian rulers might regularly complete their terms has passed.” Self-censorship is the defining characteristic of Pakistani media today. The latest assault on media freedoms and miltablishment’s interference in the political process of the country only testifies the premonition that Faiz Ahmad Faiz made decades ago:
This sacred morning light,
This dawn, bearing the wounds of night,
Surely, this is not the morning we
The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson.