Myth of the Lemmings
By Kamila Hyat
August 14, 2014
For decades, popular culture has spoken of the ‘mass suicide’ of lemmings, small rodents who inhabit the Arctic region and sometimes migrate by attempting to cross water. Some die along the way, but the notion that they deliberately kill themselves is a myth kept alive by movie makers, video game manufacturers and others – mainly because it makes for a good story, with a temptingly dramatic idea attached to it.
In our own country, however, the lemming effect is very real. We seem to suffer from a collective death wish, determined to create mayhem and destruction, which can only destroy a country that is already struggling to survive and stay afloat one way or the other even as attempts are made to pull it below the surface of the rising tide.
As we today face a situation of sky high tension, following the failure of the prime minister to persuade Imran Khan to call off his march to Islamabad, it is ordinary people who suffer. When roads are blocked, petrol stations shut and the threat of chaos looms everywhere commercial activity of all kinds decline, causing enormous losses in a country that can simply not afford them.
A further element of anarchy has of course been created by the antics of Allama Tahirul Qadri, who dressed in his curious fancy dress perhaps put together by the same team that dressed former Afghan president Hamid Karzai, spouts fire inciting people to kill and damage as many and as much as is possible.
Such incitement to violence is a crime under our own laws and under the laws of Canada, the country Allama Qadri has made his home. His retraction of his especially frenetic call for the blood of anyone returning back from his own march to Islamabad before the ‘revolution’ he speaks of occurs appears to have been motivated by concerns of Canadian action. After all that is where he will return after completing his mission in Pakistan, leaving behind a country more scarred than before.
The entire situation has of course been extremely clumsily handled by the PML-N government. Blocking routes, closing down the motorway and taking other steps to prevent the gatherings planned by both Qadri and Imran in Islamabad simply bolster these two men's cause and adds to the environment of panic.
We should look back to January 2013 when Qadri staged his sit-in in Islamabad, speaking of a downfall of the then PPP government and major change. That government of course sensibly allowed Qadri to remain huddled in his heated caravan for some three days while his followers tried to take what shelter they could against the winter freeze under plastic sheets and makeshift tents.
Unsurprisingly, no revolution occurred, and after seeking face-saving talks, Qadri simply left. This may have been a wise model to follow in the case of both the ‘Inquilab March’ and the ‘Azadi March’. The government’s tactic of trying to split the two groups has not worked, the action by the Punjab government against the Minhaj ul Quran was never wise and no matter how provocative Allama Qadri’s antics and words may be, responding to his tantrums as the government has done is simply not very mature. It has simply acted to hype up the situation still further.
This is hardly a positive way to be going into Independence Day. A country well into its 60s, whose key politicians continue to act like toddlers trying to snatch toys away from each other, does not make for a very pleasant sight.
We should by now have learned from our history. Disrupting democracy, demanding elected leaders resign or grappling for power has never served us well before. It will not serve us well this time either, and of course in situations like this there is inevitable speculation about shadows moving behind the lighted stage as the drama continues to unfold and directing the actions of those who are playing the central role in the whole performance. Even conjecture along these lines is not welcome in a country that has had such a shaky relationship with democracy and badly needs to make this relationship a far firmer one for the sake of us all.
It is ironic in so many ways that every leader who appears on the television screen talks about working for the welfare of people and following their wishes. But these leaders appear to have forgotten that what people need most of all is a chance to carry on a normal life and to see around them some sense of order. A tussle for power does not help in this.
The kind of turmoil we are witnessing now, with a danger that it could expand, has affected millions of lives. It has prevented people from going to work. It has held back day to day activity and it has caused colossal economic loss even if the precise amount cannot be calculated right now.
These are things for all players on the field to think about. There is no room left in our country for battles to be fought. We need to move together if we are to achieve any hope of a brighter future. Moving together does not mean agreeing with each other or saying the same things. It means simply respecting rule of law, following the constitution and giving other people the right to voice their opinions.
Yes, it is certainly possible that some mishandling was involved in the 2013 elections. This is the case in nearly every balloting process in the country. But by and large, most people when spoken to hold that results would not be significantly different than those produced last year if new polls were held. This is something certain groups are simply not willing to accept.
The climate of political tolerance needs to be constructed brick by brick and stone by stone. Political leaders need to take the leading role in this. For them, the best possible tactics would be to demonstrate just what their capabilities are and how they can serve the people so that voters have a definite basis on which to choose ahead of the next elections.
For the PTI, this would mean shaping Khyber Pakhtunkhwa into a model province. While many claims have been made of work of all kinds in KP, and by the federal government across the country, we need to see proof of this. It would be possible to judge only over a number of years.
Rather than reducing the country to a place where temperatures run sky high and no one quite knows what is to happen next, it would be best for all political parties to work for this cause. This, after all is the democratic path forward, and the path we must follow if we are to get anywhere at all. If we take a different route, there is a very grave danger of getting lost somewhere in the wilderness and as a result losing all that we have gained over the last years, with the first peaceful transition of democratic power taking place in 2013.
It is vital this tradition continues and is not disrupted in any way – just as it is vital to correct the flaws in the electoral system which stands at the base of the democratic pyramid and determines how strong it is to be.
Kamila Hyat is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor.