This could be such an exciting country
Some architecture becomes beautiful by adding things to it domes and minarets, and quadrangles and outer walls. Some architecture looks good when unnecessary clutter around it is cleared.
Some daughters of Venus look stunning after the application of mounds of makeup, less the glories of nature and more the beautician’s art creating their lustre. But the chosen of Venus…the only make-up they need is a wash or a bath.
Pakistan falls in this second category, requiring not the addition of new things or – hateful phrase – ‘mega-projects’ to look good, but just a decent haircut (too much hair on its face), a proper wash, and, to stretch the point a bit, some de-worming and de-lousing.
Not advanced hygiene, no French beauty salon, just basic hygiene, and it becomes cleansed of so much that disfigures its real beauty…becoming at once an exciting destination, the land of romance and adventure it has been throughout history.
Consider the sheer variety of this land’s geography: not just mountains but the highest mountains, the deepest valleys, the endless plain stretching from the foothills of the Himalayas down to the sea, the Cholistan and Thar deserts, the Makran coast which took such a heavy toll of Alexander’s troops as they struggled to make their way back to Mesopotamia, the hills of Balochistan, the rivers of Punjab.
Civilisation began here, in the Indus Valley, ages before the glory of Greece or the grandeur of Rome. The cradle of civilisation, the crucible of history: what are the armies that have not marched through this land? Aryan, Greek, Mongol, Tartar. On the faces of Pakistan, on the ethnic mix of its population, this history is etched. We are not one race. We are an amalgam of different races and we speak different languages.
And this, far from being a source of weakness, should have been our principal strength. And it can still be our strength, creating an altogether more vigorous country, if only in some respects we could begin our journey of nationhood anew.
What are our chief national characteristics? Alas, nothing more inspiring at present than intolerance and a proclivity for stupidity that at times appears almost supernatural. If we are among the forebears of civilisation are these qualities worthy of such a past?
Why are we so bad at the study of history? Why are we so bad at the true analysis of the present? Why are we obsessed with superficial ideology? And why is it so difficult for us to face temporal as opposed to spiritual challenges?
Which other country in the world, apart from Iran, would have such clauses as Articles 62 and 63 of our constitution in their charter of national duties, prescribing a code of morality for parliamentary candidates? Iran’s ayatollah was the Imam Khomeini. Our ayatollah who put these clauses in the constitution was Ziaul Haq. And it is a measure of the strength of Pakistani democracy that no National Assembly after Ziaul Haq has had the courage to touch these and similar laws which Zia brought on to the statute books under the garb of Islamisation.
The National Assembly which has just departed into the shades stands condemned at the bar of history for its failure to undertake this task of cleansing. Zia and the constitution: two things a world apart. Yet Zia’s ghost still haunts the constitution and the laws of Pakistan.
If Jinnah were to revisit the land he created would he recognise it? And if he were to recognise some features of it, would he be overjoyed at what has been done to his legacy? How would he react to Articles 62 and 63, and the frantic interpretations being put on them by a frenzied horde of self-appointed muftis and guardians of the faith? Every society has its share of outright fools, holding forth as if they have a direct line to heaven, but few societies give fools such a free rein as we seem to do.
If Pakistan’s fortunes are to be turned around then sooner or later these questions have to be addressed. How long can we go on living with these distortions visited upon the constitution? The 18th Amendment was a splendid opportunity to undo this handiwork. The simple expedient could have been for the National Assembly to say that the time had come to do away with Zia’s hatchet-work, thus at one stroke removing his constitutional innovations…not only 62 and 63 but much else besides. This would have required, however, courage and imagination, the two qualities which the Raza Rabbani committee conspicuously lacked.
A pack of paper-tigers its members turned out to be, addressing every issue, even those whose relevance was not immediately obvious, but closing their eyes to the elephant in the room: Zia’s constitutional heritage.
This lack of moral courage is the story of Pakistan today, the good and great cowering in their several corners while the forces of extremism are on the march. This story has to be reversed, a counter-narrative written, if the grime from Pakistan’s face is to be washed and its beauty, in all its myriad forms, a beauty created not by us but left us by the past and our history, is to come into its own again.
What if time had stood still in 1977 and Zia’s coup had not happened…Karachi would have become the Dubai on the Arabian Sea, and the winds of obscurantism that were soon to scour the landscape would not have lifted. Bhutto had his faults and grievous faults at that and he did things, like playing around with religion, that he could have avoided. But at least the darkness that was soon to follow, the triumph of extremism in thought and action, was something that cannot be laid at his door.
Throughout history many have been the invasions of India from the direction of Afghanistan. But never has an invasion had more baneful and lasting consequences than the tide of extremism which came washing down its mountains as a result of our ill-judged intervention in its affairs under Zia.
This was historical irony at its best: our generals sought strategic depth in Afghanistan, and considered themselves clever when they thought they had acquired it. Pakistan ended up conceding depth to a brand of bigoted fanaticism whose roots lay deep in Afghanistan.
But there is hope. The people who make up this land, the vast majority of them, are not Salafist firebrands and will never be, not now, not ten thousand years from now. The Islam of Pakistan, the Islam of India and the Sub-continent, is not the Islam of Salafist warriors, funded by outside dollars, but the Islam spread and propagated by Ali bin Usman Hajweri, Nizamuddin Aulia, and Moinuddin Chishti.
The Islamic culture that developed in India, and whose epitome was the culture of Delhi, was unique to India, in the same way that the Islamic culture of Turkey is unique to Turkey, and that of Egypt and the Maghreb unique to those regions. The onslaught of extremism first set in motion by Zia’s coup and then accelerated by the CIA-backed intervention in Afghanistan is alien to this South Asian Islamic culture.
The people of these parts resonate to the dhamal as danced in the courtyard of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s mazar in Sehwan Sharif and to the sounds of the qawali sung in Ajmer. The Salafism transported from the Arabian desert has nothing in common with this sensibility.
And what is called the ideology of Pakistan, what is it? Nothing more or less than the ideology of Iqbal, the ideology of Jinnah as set forth, when he spoke from his heart without a prepared text, in his Aug 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly. Any other interpretation amounts to undermining and indeed subverting what they stood for.