The loss of Swat is not the end of it. It is just another battle lost by us. This battle, and the many more to come, can only be won with more liberties, more freedom and more rights. And a state with a will to protect these at all costs. That’s the real battlefront of this war against terror and extremism
A pro-Taliban militant stands near a signboard of a police station after renaming it ‘Taliban Station’ in a town of Swat Valley on Sunday. (Daily Times, 19 Nov 2007)
We have worked long and hard at losing Swat. We lost it in hundreds of little battles fought over the last 35 years.
Since the mid-seventies, religious extremists have been chipping away at our liberties, our rights and our freedom. Bit by bit they have demolished, and continue to, all attempts to create a modern civil society.
We lost Swat the day we made discriminatory laws based on sectarian and religious divisions. I am reminded of a Jewish parable. An old Jewish man was on his deathbed and his entire family stood around him. The old man kept saying, “Take care of the Armenians; take care of the Armenians.” His son asked, “But we are Jewish; why do you keep saying take care of the Armenians?” The old man replied, “Because if they get to the Armenians, you will be next.”
We let them get one sect and now they are in the process of getting the Shias (non-protesting spectators include Mr Nawaz Sharif and Qazi Hussain Ahmad); next would be other sects and religions — Ismailis, Parsis, Barelvis and so on until, as Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy calls it, the Saudi-isation of Pakistan is complete.
We lost Swat when we banned alcohol. It’s banned but readily available. Anyone can have it and everyone has it. Smugglers and bootleggers laugh their way to the bank and the imbibers take it as a cocktail of sin, guilt and crime.
We lost Swat when the state abdicated its right to educate its people, leaving it to the private sector. For every modern school, the private sector gave us a thousand madrassas.
We lost Swat when we let the movie industry die and banned theatre, singing and dancing; when we banned Basant and everything else that can be termed entertainment (including cricket). Soon we will have the same fond memories of cricket as we have of kite flying.
There is as much drinking, gambling and fornication going on in this country as in any other country. But hypocrisy triumphs every day. We have been living a lie for the last 35 years. Google would tell you the largest number of visitors to porn sites are from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
We lost Swat when we permitted the Islami Jamiat-e Tulaba to terrorise our universities; when we inserted the religion column in our passports; when shalwar-qameez became our national dress; when we created women’s police stations.
It was a sad day when traders of Hall Road, Lahore, burned CDs after receiving an anonymous letter threatening to bomb them for selling adult CDs. Nobody is there to protect them. That’s how it started in Swat. Next in line are girls’ schools. Is Lahore ready for a bomb at any of the girls’ schools? Is there a plan?
We lost our way when we set up parallel systems with all kinds of Islamic councils and courts. Our society today is dominated by mullahs, pirs and bazurgs. A man today is known by the pir he keeps. The merit of a man is not his education and ability but the façade of religiosity. A man with beard is better than a man without one; a man who fasts is good, a man who drinks is bad. Rich man, bad; poor man, good. Can anything be more tribal than this?
It was at the peak of General Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation that writers like Ashfaq Ahmad made an industry out of it. Glorifying the pir and the faqir, he promoted ruhaniat and praised otherworldliness. At prime time, on the state-owned television channel, Mr Ahmad vilified the rich and the successful while equating poverty with piety. How simplistic and fateful can one get?
The brilliant physicist Richard Feynman used to make fun of such philosophies, joking about a posteriori conclusions — reasoning from known facts back to possible causes. “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight,” he would say. “I saw a car with the licence plate ARW 257. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of licence plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!”
His point, of course, is that it is easy to make any banal situation seem extraordinary if you treat it as fateful. Read it again; this is taken as serious philosophy in Pakistan and such ‘miracles’ are the favourite topic of discussion among the educated.
The industry based on fatalism and extremism is the only one thriving in Pakistan today. From Zia-ul Haq to Mian Nawaz Sharif to Dr Aamir Liaqat to Inzamam-ul Haq to Farhat Hashmi, the list of the captains of this industry is too long to reproduce here. Those who spent their youth during Zia’s days have come of age and are at the helm of affairs in this country. After 35 years of mass duplicity, we have at hand a completely distorted society.
We lost Swat when someone in this country decided that our cultural and religious sentiments would be irreparably hurt if a man were to kiss a woman on screen. On the other hand, that same someone decided that repulsive violence was all right to be screened to audiences of all ages.
The rot started in the seventies because it took us nearly 30 years after independence to completely distort, dismantle and destroy whatever the British had given us. In tatters you would find the education system, the justice system, the irrigation system, the railway system, good governance, law and order, a military that cannot, or refuses to, fight subversive tribesmen, the merit system and everything else that could remotely be called civil or modern. Mind you, at the time, each one of the listed systems was the best in the world.
If it weren’t for British rule, how different would we have been from Afghanistan? We would still be facing marauding hordes of barbarians from the north who used to come down regularly to loot, rape and plunder. That’s our history, at its most concise. Six decades after 1947 we are once again facing those hordes. Swat they have pillaged and conquered. How far away are we from Swat?
The sad part is that while doing all of the above, we felt good about it. Now we know that we took a wrong turn in the mid-seventies. Every day we hear about “going back to the 1973 constitution”. What we don’t hear is “we need to go back to 1973”.
The loss of Swat is not the end of it. It is just another battle lost by us. This battle, and the many more to come, can only be won with more liberties, more freedom and more rights. And a state with a will to protect these at all costs. That’s the real battlefront of this war against terror and extremism. (Daily Times)
The writer is a freelance columnist