Monday, August 21, 2017

Pakistan is not doomed after all

Change is wafting all around, engulfing us slowly but surely

22-Aug-17by Hasnain Iqbal

Countries age no different from wine as years add both maturity and taste. 100 years old is better than 70 years old for sure for the discerning. Time has its own way and pace of dealing with the young. That said, growing up is inevitable. Let’s be a little more patient, give our nascent country time and try to distance ourselves from the turbulence on ground for a dispassionate view of the landscape. Pakistan is yet again caught in a maelstrom of political instability triggered by the Supreme Court verdict. Many view Pakistan teetering on the edge of the precipice for the umpteenth time. I see it all as creative chaos that will eventually blossom into order. A lot is going Pakistan’s way as the optimist in me refuses to pander to cynicism and Kafkaesque impulses. I let go of all the opportunities to settle abroad. Pakistan is now my home till death do us part.

I had always had a vague sense of endearing mystery about India, infected with a clutch of clichés, enamored of the beautiful Indian actresses but weary of the common Indian. That changed when I went to UK for higher education and had my share of sparring with our neighbors. To be fair, I found Indians to be no less interested in us, smacking of a natural affinity due to a shared sense of history, traditions, values, cuisine, appearance and language. The young and educated on both sides of the border came across as more curious than apprehensive, unencumbered by the weight of the historic rivalry, the bloody spectacle of partition and two full scale wars. We now know that bigger enemies are not on our borders. Extremism, power crisis, water scarcity and exploding population are the tumors growing within. Our official relationship with India has, however, stood the test of time and remains to the pleasure of many, riddled with distrust and hate. It is time to seriously evaluate the legacy we bequeath to our young as our national security and foreign policies remain hostage to stasis and paralysis of thought.

Pakistan is on its way up. There are good omens and there are many. Terrorism is on the wane and the deafening sounds of blasts have muffled. PTI and media have politicised the fence-sitters and elections in future promise to be more representative as women and the middle class exercise their right to choose. The political landscape is a little lopsided with no clear Left, but there is definitely more competition in the space right of center.

PTI has broken the two-party stranglehold, affording more choice to people. Media is independent and unlike the fabled mirror of Snow White, ruthlessly reflects the disease infecting our nation, in addition to enlightening people and shaping public opinion on issues of national bearing. CPEC has descended and Pakistan is a key stakeholder in the grand Silk Route tapestry envisioned by the Chinese. Silk Road will connect Asia to Europe, integrating South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia into one great grid of countries with shared military and economic interests. Imagine the tsunami of infrastructure development and business activity CPEC will unleash. Peaceful coexistence with India will be a huge enabler as a Pakistan apprehensive of its eastern border will continue to disproportionately allocate resources.

Can we possibly eliminate extremism with only guns? No, we can’t. It will be a slow, long drawn process to weed out the rot that took several decades of patronage to entrench. This is a war we have to wage on multiple fronts: ground operations, reforms and narrative. The National Action Plan (NAP) should ideally be an all-encompassing exercise taking tangible, specific and measurable actions in all the three areas. Ground operation is at best a short-term fix. Building a counter narrative is long-term, attacking the incubators, from which sprout the perverted notions of xenophobia, self-righteous madness and hate. There are more than 50,000 public-sector schools in Punjab alone. The need of the hour is to have the curriculum standardised across Pakistan and dubious sections on religion and Pakistan history expunged. In addition, we have to disseminate a curriculum that encourages questioning, tolerance, co-existence and conformance to law.

There is so much good to my Pakistan. And there is a lot to whine about. I choose to drink from the cup of optimism. Change is wafting all around, engulfing us slowly but surely. Democracy inching forward, an unleashed media bent on unveiling the rot, magically touched bourgeoisie flexing political muscle, a nation finally beginning to rein in the demon of extremism, CPEC promising renewal and rebirth, all indicate convalescence. And there is more to my Pakistan. There are frothy seas, lush meadows, peaks that kiss the skies and plains that stretch into infinity. There are seasons. Hot summer breathes fire to sweeten the mangoes and the glorious winter celebrates the marriage of ice and fire, serving ice cream on a warm plate. Spring is a riot of colors with blooms all around and autumn a saffron bride, minus the trappings but no less inviting. Monsoon splashes love onto the parched earth and rainbows descend to the ground. And the romance goes on.



Published in Daily Times, August 22nd 2017

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