By Kamila Hyat
March 14, 2013
Pakistan began as a dream; indeed many dreams rolled into one. There were those who believed a new country would help Muslims prosper; others saw it as an escape from tyranny and oppression and, classifying happenings purely in terms of class, the then active Communists looked at Pakistan as a place where poor Muslims could get away from wealthy Hindu capitalists and money lenders.
There were many other dreams too, tied in with carving out two large blocks from the Indian Subcontinent, one located on either side of that land mass. For the most part, these dreams, or at least many of them, survived the actual horrors of Partition – which brought about one of the worst genocides in human history as neighbours turned on each other and trains filled with dead bodies arrived at stations.
Indeed, the dream lived on into the 1950s, when it was forecast by international analysts that Pakistan had the potential to prove an economic success story. Today, of course, we know this has not happened.
What we need to admit, openly and loudly, is that we are living today in a nightmare; an especially macabre, terrifying nightmare from which we cannot wake up.
The nightmare is our reality. There is no way of shaking it off or sitting up to sip some cold water, knowing it will then go away. It is here to stay. We have waited too long. The question now is whether the nightmare can be swept away. The dream of course will be even harder to reconstruct
In the face of all that has happened recently, we need to revisit this dream. The question arises whether it was realistic at all. Perhaps it was. But we have seen so much mis-governance and a deliberate effort begun in the 1980s to promote extremism that the dream has more or less been strangulated and killed. Even wisps of it barely float around anymore. More of these wisps vanished with the latest outrage against a minority community in Lahore’s Joseph Colony, where on Saturday a mob of some 3,000 people burnt over a hundred Christian homes following an accusation of blasphemy.
Other such incidents have occurred before. The fact that no one has been convicted for the 2009 arson attack in Gojra, when eight Christians were burnt alive after a mob set fire to their homes is one reason why the Badami Bagh tragedy has taken place.
It is also true that while the teenage girl with Down’s Syndrome, Rimsha Masih, accused of blasphemy on the outskirts of Islamabad last year was set free after it was found that the local cleric had made a malicious and false accusation, few know that the Christians who fled in fear from Rimsha’s impoverished village still live in ramshackle tents in a camp community. They are too afraid to return to their village, and they have received no real help from any quarter.
It is hard to even narrate all that forms a part of the nightmare. We have the killings of Shias in Quetta and Karachi; we have other acts of violence against Ahmadis and against Hindus in Sindh. Yes, some of these events make headlines. But then they are forgotten, banished to smaller and smaller print and consistently the government fails to act.
After the Lahore attack, condemnations have come in, but no one is convinced that the judicial commission set up by the Punjab government will serve any real purpose. Similar commissions established in the past have been ineffective; and even when the findings they put forward are good, these are rarely implemented. Some voices speak up but it is the same voices over and over again, and too few political parties or mainstream leaders are willing to speak.
Perhaps not entirely unnaturally, the examples of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti scare them. But if our nation is to be saved we need to see a great deal of courage and resolve. Without this we cannot peel off the label of a ‘failed state’ which is now pasted on us.
We need to reassess our state. The torching of houses in Lahore was terrible enough on its own. But worse still were the inane grins, the smiles of triumph, captured on camera. on the faces of the persons – most of them young boys, many mere children – who set these homes ablaze.
We have seen these very same expressions before too. We are dealing then not just with anger and hatred, but also what seems like sheer insanity. Sicknesses of the mind are of course difficult to treat, and we need experts to undertake this task. These young men, frustrated, jobless and holding a blind rage inside them, are of course used by extremists to meet their ends.
We need stronger action from the state. There can be no doubt about this. But we also need people to speak up, to step forward to move out from beyond the safety of their ‘caves’. This is not an easy task, but it is an essential one. If we do not speak, we ourselves face being targeted in the same way, being caught in the crosshair of terrorist guns.
There is a lot we need to talk about. Why for instance, as Shias are killed across the country, does no one really bring up the fact that the founder of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was himself a Shia? This point has been debated, but there is clear evidence to indicate he did indeed belong to the Shia sect. Indeed, he was primarily an Ismaili but as he emphasised himself on many occasions, he was first of all a Pakistani and anything else simply did not matter.
Others from minority communities have contributed hugely to our lives. The winner of the only Nobel Prize claimed by a Pakistani was of course a ‘Ahmadi’ scientist. For this reason, we failed to acknowledge his enormous accomplishment.
There are many other examples, of Christians declared war heroes, of Bengalis who shot down Indian planes in 1965 and 1971. All this is a part of Pakistan’s narrative. If we fail to read it accurately, we are in danger of losing what sense of statehood we still have left.
Kamila Hyat is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor