By Kamila Hyat
The ability to stay calm and collected in the face of crisis is usually a much-admired quality. Through the centuries it has been associated, alongside the quality of courage, with the most successful statesmen and warriors of history.
But courage can sometimes veer dangerously close to foolishness. The 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade, eulogised in poetry and film, comes to mind. The 600 men making up the British cavalry brigade commanded by Lord Cardigan, who set out on a disastrous advance against Russian forces, would have been well advised to stay put. The Roman Emperor Nero is, of course, best known for fiddling while Rome burned. There are examples from modern times, such as that of President George W Bush who refused to acknowledge that the Iraq war into which he led his country had been a disaster.
We wonder if today we have foolishness, or great courage, on display in Islamabad. Our president smiles often – even as killings in Karachi intensify, the war in the north becomes more and more complex, with no one apparently quite certain what is going on, and millions of flood victims face the threat of death due to disease and prolonged suffering in the face of a crisis that has left them without shelter, without livelihood and without hope. We also have a continued threat of confrontation between the judiciary and the executive and a completely dysfunctional government which seems to have less and less control over events in the country.
The battle against the militants has apparently been left largely to the military, which is, we are given to understand, quite openly doing business with its old ally – the North Waziristan-based Haqqani network which operated alongside the agencies in the war against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
The breakdown in law and order means we have more and more cases of mob murder and other kinds of mayhem. In Punjab the writ of the central government is a weak one, "targeted killings" strike down Baloch nationalist leaders and add to the restiveness in the province. This restiveness results from time to time in the massacre of "settlers" from other provinces, some of whom have been in Balochistan for generations. And we also have sectarian violence that expands rapidly across the country.
Like the president, the prime minister too appears largely unmoved by all that happens on his watch, implying through his speeches and other statements that all, in fact, is quite well, and that things continue on a routine course.
As people too, we seem to have become accustomed to living in a condition of constant turmoil. Many of us are surprised when friends write in from abroad after the latest bout of frenzied killings or bombings to ask if all is well. So usual has violence and chaos become that we barely react to it. In Iceland, murder is unknown as a crime. But it is significant that even five African countries – Senegal, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Mali and Mauritania – figure on the list of the world's ten nations with the lowest rates of murder, which suggests that wealth or development, or lack of them, are not necessarily a factor in violence.
Our stoicism, and that of our leaders, is the consequence of living for years in a state of crisis. Indeed, notably over the last two decades, periods of genuine order have been less and less frequent. We have seen a swift descent into a state of lawlessness, where today it is hard to say if the biggest threat comes from the north, with at least seven separate militant forces operating across it, the south where death squads stroll through Karachi, or areas of Punjab where organisations with jihadist or sectarian motives continue to operate without any real check.
The links of some, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba of Hafiz Saeed to the ISI complicate the equation and explain why it has been impossible to shut the LeT down. It seems clear that civilian governments cannot do so on their own, with this question of balancing out Pakistan's civilian and military also at the forefront of US thinking. The latest aid package for the military, which the US media tells us comes wrapped in yarn after yarn of string, is a reflection of this – with Washington linking the $2 billion it has agreed to extend with determined action against militants and also an increased presence in Pakistan for the CIA.
There is plenty of reason for the confusion and the mistrust that exists everywhere. But perhaps we need to accept that solving crisis means that, first of all, we must accept that it exists. Our political leaders would do well to move in this direction. The charade of normalcy all of us have played out for years cannot continue indefinitely.
Eventually the fragile world of make-belief we have created will collapse. Many have no such world to hide in. Hunger, the misery of deprivation and the frustration of joblessness never goes away. Those who live in such conditions are already rapping at the glass bubble within which politicians function and the elite live. The rapping could in the months to come grow louder, angrier and more dangerous.
Courage demands that leaders step forward and first of all acknowledge that many things are far from well. This in itself would come as a kind of relief. There is really no point in pretending that all is well. This, in fact, borders on insanity, of the kind displayed by Nero. Most people, and indeed the world, know this is not really the case at all. What we need to do is find solutions.
Failing to address the malady will only allow the basic problem to get worse and for more turbulence to break out. People everywhere blame the government and the political parties for much that is wrong. It can be put right only by the leaders demonstrating some degree of distress over the plight of people and the state of the country – rather than pretending all is well.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
Source: The News, Pakistan