“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
– From Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.
It’s just over a month since the murderous attack on educationist Dr Debora Lobo, which she fortunately survived. Another educationist, Dr Bernadette Dean, received death threats and was forced to flee the country. Three University scholars were murdered in cold blood, as was the protean Lady of T2F, Sabeen Mahmud. Two senior police officers were killed and (geometrically multiplying the terrible toll) a busload of citizens of Pakistan was brutally attacked and 48 of them murdered. This is not to mention the daily death toll from dacoities, muggings, personal vendettas, gangland killings, abductions, and various shootings. Yes, life in Karachi remains a continuous spasm of extreme violence.
This is not to suggest that, elsewhere in the lands drained by the Indus and its tributaries, life is more secure or less violent. And all this trouble is not of recent vintage; it actually goes back a long way.
To the very beginning of national existence, in fact, with the cycles of violence and counter-violence that accompanied Partition, most notably in the Punjab. The land experienced the forced dislocation, both ways, of over 12 million people and the frightful killings that left perhaps two million dead. Our greatest poets and writers have written about that Daaghdaar Ujala, as our Faiz called it.
In the midst of this tsunami of blood and fire, the nation state of Pakistan was created. A quarter of a century jolted along, through two wars against India (1948 and 1965) and three coups d’etat (Ghulam Mohammad, Ayub, Yahya), climaxing in the 25th March, 1971, massacre in Dacca and the Mukti Bahini uprising in Chittagong the same night. These triggered a civil war, a third war with India, another ten million refugees, and another million dead. After this, there were yet another four coups d’etat: Bhutto, Zia, Musharraf and Musharraf again.
It was the Zia dictatorship that deliberately unleashed numerous scourges: heroin, the Kalashnikov culture, reactionary perversion of the legal and penal systems, religious bigotry, extremism and sectarian and ethnic violence. The Zia years saw Pakistan enter — indeed, initiate — the war in Afghanistan, in order to gain acceptance for Zia’s black regime by avenging American humiliation in Vietnam. This is now the longest running war the world has seen since the fifteenth century. More, this war has fanned international terrorism as well as the suicide bombings and religion-based militancy that have swept across our land.
Ours is a culture of hyper-macho posturing
The Zia government was only one, albeit the worst, example of the kinds of governments we have had. Such is the opportunism of our social and political leaders — that dark era became the longest uninterrupted period any regime has yet enjoyed, brought to its fiery end almost by happenstance.
Alongside all this have been the many political assassinations: Liaquat Ali Khan, Dr Khan Sahib, Shaheed Suhrawardy, Hayat Sherpao, Samad Achakzai, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Shahnawaz Bhutto, Ziaul Haq, Ghulam Haider Wyne, Azim Tariq, Hakim Saeed, Murtaza Bhutto, Akbar Bugti, Benazir Bhutto, Imran Farooq, Salmaan Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Bashir Billour; the list is not exhaustive. Add to these the names of journalists and civil society activists, such as Mohammed Salahuddin, Daniel Pearl, Hayatullah Khan, Musa Khankhel, Wali Babar, Saleem Shahzad, Murtaza Razvi, Rashid Rahman, Zahira Shahid, Parveen Rahman, and of course Sabeen Mahmud. Again, it’s still far from an exhaustive list.
Violence, it seems, is the Pakistani way. Here, unrequited lovers throw acid on the erstwhile objects of their passion. Friends quarrelling over a meal at a teashop end up shooting one another. On TV, one heard two bearded gentlemen debating which particular transgressions would render a person liable to be murdered. My goodness! Such a preoccupation with killing…revenge…violence. One would think that men who claim scholarship in the Word of God would speak to us about His Mercy, His Benedictions and His Infinite Love.
Where does one begin to grieve? The daily toll of the dead and the missing in Balochistan? In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa? The unending bloodletting of my fellow Karachites? More than 80,000 men, women and children murdered all over Pakistan by terrorism? Where will the grieving end? This is a nation born in violence and it continues to remain in a state of violence.
This is the kind of body politic where, in one regime, the apex court was attacked by rowdies and where, in another, the chief justice was physically manhandled and roughed up. Ours, it seems, is a culture of hyper-macho posturing, at all levels and amongst all categories of persons. These are the kinds of values that have been drilled into us, perhaps since the days of the ‘Martial Race’ claptrap of the British Raj. The continuous florescence of violence here is the result of our history of false narratives and fantasy identities.
Where then is the fatal flaw that has created such a sulphurous cauldron of violence? The flaw is a failure of leadership — leadership as a process, not of this or the other particular leader. And leadership is provided, as the great historian Arnold Toynbee pointed out, by a creative minority. It is the task of leadership to identify and articulate the people’s needs, not their uninformed prejudices. It is the task of leadership — whether political, judicial, entrepreneurial or professional — to provide the vision, strategies and executive action that will fulfil those needs and provide people with physical security, economic opportunities, cultural enrichment and all the other good things of a civilised life.
I began today’s piece by referring to the violence in Karachi. I need to make the point here that there is a fundamental distinction between terrorism and crime. Both, of course, need to be combated but it also needs to be appreciated that dacoits, extortionists, muggers, etc, may make life difficult for the ordinary citizen; but they do not threaten the very survival of the state. Organised terrorists do. Anyhow, the strategies for fighting the two are quite different. Perhaps it is this very confusion that has prevented the Rangers, who have been operating in Karachi now for more than 25 years, from succeeding.
Is there a way forward and away from these deadly spirals? Yes, wake up. And tell the truth about all those murders, those pointless wars and the origins of the bigotry, intolerance and violence that have more and more become a Pakistani characteristic. Tell the truth. And, yes, the truth shall make you free.