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[Op-Ed] Giving up on Pakistan

This op-ed was drafted a day before Gov Salman Taseers assassination, erringly it talks about peace and the notion of blasphemy in Pakistan

As we round the corner, saying goodbye to 2010 and entering the new year, everyone chooses to make a new year’s resolution. Promises are made, hoping for some miraculous conviction that will transform our wishes into a reality. But practically, each one of us knowingly accepts that these promises are meant to be broken, only to be remade the following year. Many wishes are egocentrically linked to personal wealth and happiness, while some fools, like me, choose to wish for a better and a peaceful Pakistan.

Innocent and howsoever utopian this resolution may sound, it should have an important place amongst every Pakistani. After the bloodshed from the escalating violence and uncontrolled terror attacks, one would have hoped that the disastrous year would have sent shockwaves compelling people to denounce terrorism with a very strong commitment to peace. Denounce they do, but it’s limited to a simple vocal chatter rather than concrete measures to prevent such bloodshed from happening again.

Shocking as it is, I get a sense that Pakistanis have lost all hope for peace. They have been reduced to pawns in a political chess match, being used by other people who have little interest in bringing peace to their country. I choose to share the example of two back-to-back days: December 31, 2010 and January 1, 2011. These two days, interconnected with a common midnight, presented a jolting reminder that the people are being used as pawns for something that is completely not in their interest.

On December 31, the political opposition pulled off a nationwide strike, opposing any amendments to the blasphemy law. The strike had more to do with exerting political pressure on their opponents and less to do with Islam or even the notion of religious freedom. It also, in some indirect way, reaffirmed that Pakistani society accepts this form of blasphemous violence as an acceptable norm and part of its culture. And this comes as a bit of a surprise, given that people, by and large, condemn acts of terrorism perpetrated by militants and extremists.

The very next day on January 1, 2011, the Aman Ittehad, an apolitical citizen platform striving for peace, democracy and justice in Pakistan, organised a peace rally in 109 cities across Pakistan. One would imagine that such a call for peace would get strong support, yet I stood outside the Karachi Press Club with only a few dozen likeminded citizens chanting slogans for peace. The biggest crowd-pullers were in Islamabad and Lahore, which only managed to muster a few hundred supporters of peace each.

Only a few thousand people across 109 cities is a shocking reminder that the issue of peace is not on the radar of either the political parties or the citizens of Pakistan. I’m not an easy man to get disheartened, but when I walked back home from that rally in Karachi, I realised the stark difference between the two days. Ruthless politicians have degraded the people of Pakistan to such a level that they have lost any glimmer of hope to wish for peace in their own country. Call me stupid, but with such overwhelming odds, I’m probably barking up the wrong tree.

The politicians, as we all know, will continue to play their game of musical chairs, ensuring that the public remains mesmerised in their mystical trance, while the media plays alongside, focusing on its own gallery of viewer ratings. The ruling clique, and those associated with it on the periphery, will never seek to change Pakistan. After all, why should it, since it is achieving its own set of handsome profits at the behest of Pakistan’s disasters.

Is it possible that I might be living in a country whose people have forgotten what’s best for them? I hope not. But one thing is for sure. I get an overwhelming sensation that we have given up on Pakistan. Have we? Please prove me wrong.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2011.