George Orwell in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four asserts, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted all else follows.”
The point is to state this simple calculation without the fear of being beaten up.
We live in an unusual country, where the simple calculation of “two plus two equals four” comes with a price and a responsibility. We live in an unexpected environment and very strange democracy where truth has to be stretched or rather hidden to escape from the wrath of particular powerful forces. In our context, two plus two can also make five if the circumstances demand it – and those who question this calculation will simply be branded as less patriotic citizens or working under the patronage of RAW, Mossad, etc.
In the Land of the Pure, disagreement is equated with treason and dissent is no longer viewed as a routine democratic practice – rather it is seen as a foreign conspiracy to tarnish the image of the country.
In the 70 years of Pakistan’s history, rather than being led by a real father, this country has always been under the control of stepfathers (military dictators and the establishment in general). The cruel stepfathers have distorted the growth of the country by crippling its ability to function as a normal state. The military regimes stimulated more violence in the national fabric and introduced them to undemocratic authoritarian tendencies. The public has since been paying a high price.
Zia-ul-Haq, among the cruel stepfathers, had the lion’s share of responsibility for shaping the flawed social and political cultures and excessively crippled the long-term capacities of the society. He left no stone unturned in cementing bigotry and injecting a narrow interpretation of faith into our politics – which continues to ail the republic to date. Imran Khan’s vision of the state of Madinah is the continuation of the so-called Islamisation conceptualised by Zia.
Under military regimes, the country’s foreign policy was induced with a dangerous sport of raising and funding of militants to achieve regional goals – with the result of unleashing extremist forces at home.
Even today, megalomaniacs drunk in the wine of power run amok. ‘Sacred cows’ continue to act without regard for the law of the land or the interests of the people. Impunity is the order of the day and course correction is nowhere in sight.
Three years ago, a non -conformist fell afoul of the dark forces. Professor Ibrahim Khan, popularly known by his pen-name Arman Luni, was killed with impunity by law enforcement when he was returning from a protest in Loralai. He was a leader of the student organization Pashtoonkhwa Students Organisation(PSO) – the student wing of the political party PkMAP. A professor, Pashto poet and a very committed political worker and writer, Arman Luni was also the sole breadwinner of his family.
The major contribution of Arman Luni for his motherland and his war-weary people was breaking the shackles of patriarchy and bringing his bold sister Wrrnaga Luni to the mainly male-dominated political sphere. He faced several threats from the tribal chiefs for this daring act, but he retorted that it is her basic right
Besides working in a coalmine, he also worked as a tailor. This was a man who faced the daunting challenges of life with sheer perseverance. But a very promising life was cut short, when he was killed with barbarity, using the butts of guns – despite peacefully surrendering to arrest. When he was severely injured and fell on the ground, he was then denied the prompt treatment which cut a promising life short, and yet again sent a very unwelcoming message to the already anguished Pashtuns.
Arman Luni faced several threats to his life because he demanded what more or less is demanded by all citizens who are eager to see the back of this dark episode in our history. He demanded the end to everyday humiliation by law enforcement agencies on checkpoints, as well as an end to the state’s harmful policies with regards to religious extremists and an end to the racial profiling of Pashtuns. Arman was quick to join hands with tsunami of young Pashtuns. While addressing a Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) gathering, he stated the political problem in a very simple manner – which reflects his political maturity and coherence:
“Pashtuns are in pain, they need to be comforted.”
The cold-blooded murder infuriated people. Scenes of the sobbing mother of Arman Luni took over the internet and went viral.
The major contribution of Arman Luni for his motherland and his war-weary people was breaking the shackles of patriarchy and bringing his bold sister Wrrnaga Luni to the mainly male-dominated political sphere. He faced several threats from the tribal chiefs for this daring act, but he retorted that it is her basic right. He was then compelled to leave his hometown for this stance. This signalled the progressive mindset and staunch commitment to feminism. Unfortunately, rewarding the enlightened and bright citizens with intimidation and eventually death is our national sport and we proved it again in the case of Arman Luni.
The first step towards learning from past blunders is to admit those mistakes – and justice for Arman would also begin with this realisation on the part of the powerful.
Demands are rising today for the state to listen to and embrace the dissenters rather than alienating them and branding them as traitors. The old tactics of intimidating, harassing and branding them with various accusations have long lost their effectiveness. The only way possible for the cohesion of a federation is a fair treatment of the peripheries. No state can be integrated without the support of people and our state is, unfortunately, quite far from winning the hearts of the people – because it repeatedly falls back on this policy of crushing dissent by use of brute force.
Suppressing information, stifling dissent, disappearing activists and punishing non-conformists will add insult to injury and leave wounds untreated.
Pakistan is a nation of 220 million people and its impossible to expect them to think alike. Diversity is the strength of a nation, not its weakness. Dissent is not treason but a motivating force for the change within. It is also an indicator for the much-needed course correction. A credible state is not built on an imagination that is violently removed from the lived experience of its people.
For democracy to flourish, impunity must be dismantled, and a very sympathetic ear lent to those who have sad tales to tell in this country.
It is vitally important to watch for cracks developing in the dam before the flood gets out of control and drowns us all.