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The obscurant discourse

July 22, 2013

THE utter confusion of the socio-political discourse in Pakistan’s state and society is manifest in the latter two’s response to three distinct yet interwoven discourse patterns.

First, the response to the threat that extremism and terrorism have posed to society and the state seems to be consciously or unconsciously made ambiguous through raising irrational and contradictory questions over and over again.

Those sections of the state and society which are instrumental in subverting and manipulating the discourse might wish to establish intellectual control over the masses that would rather live a life of peace and prosperity.

Instead of working out a comprehensive and coordinated policy to mitigate the threat, the middle classes and state functionaries in Pakistan muddle the response by indulging in incoherent debates to figure out the ‘real cause’ behind the menace.

In contrast to the clear policy stand and systematic strategies militant organisations evolve to defeat the state and establish their writ, state functionaries and the middle classes would have us believe that terrorism exists because of state vacuums — the lack of speedy justice and education, poverty and unemployment.

Moreover, they would have us believe that extremism and terrorism originated in Pakistan after 9/11.

At the same time, they raise the point that terrorism crossed over the border from Afghanistan and landed in Pakistan for no reason. Drone strikes are yet another purported reason. State functionaries and the middle classes still keep singing the mantra of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban.

Though one would rather see state vacuums filled sooner than later, the confusion thus created results in the inability of both the state and society to construct an alternative discourse based on pluralism, human rights and constitutional democracy.

The confusion also strips the government, state institutions and civil society of the ability to evolve a coherent, coordinated and comprehensive counter-extremism and counterterrorism policy.

Second, ambivalence and inconsistency in using collective wisdom to formulate foreign policy has created a dangerously polarised discourse.

Who should formulate foreign policy? What should be the guidelines for a consistent foreign policy? Should it be guided by our collective insecurities or by geo-economics? Should we strive towards acting on common interests with other states and societies or name permanent ‘enemies’ and permanent ‘friends’?

Should we engage in a meaningful dialogue on issues related to foreign policy or dub those who differ with us as ‘traitors’ and ‘agents’, and silence dissenting voices through the use of force?

It seems that at the core of the debate on foreign policy is the fundamental question of the supremacy of parliament. Perhaps until this question is resolved in Pakistan, the foreign policy discourse will remain obscure.

Third, the response to the attack on Malala Yousafzai last year and the celebration of Malala Day this year has clearly indicated a fractured socio-cultural fabric in Pakistan. The discourse on Malala as a symbol of education and civilisation was obscured by raising questions about her integrity, humanity and intentions.

The simple fact is that a young Pakistani girl who wanted to go to school and who wanted other girls and boys to go to school was shot in the head by militants while she was on her way home from school. The other fact is that well-meaning people in Pakistan and abroad stood by her and condemned the attackers for the sake of education and civilisation.

The Malala discourse does not only represent modern civilisation; it also symbolises the historical continuity of the land. Malala has not only taken the discourse of human dignity, pluralism and constitutional democracy forward but has also recognised the Gandhara, Indus and Islamic civilisations.

Malala today symbolises the struggle of all those prophets, saints, revolutionaries and freedom fighters who stood for indigenous wisdom and identity, freedom and equality, irrespective of creed, caste, gender, race and religion. She represents those who triggered human creativity and innovation.

Instead of supporting this discourse, sections of the state and society in Pakistan have created confusion. Starting from questions related to the attack on Malala to questions about her ability to write diaries and speak in public, a consistent effort has been made to malign her as an ‘agent’ of CIA, RAW and Mossad.

Illogical comparisons between her and those killed in drone strikes as well as Aafia Siddiqui are drawn to obfuscate the discourse on civilisation.

As her voice for education and civilisation gets stronger, sections of Pakistanis become more insecure. This third response indicates a rupture between Pakistan’s state and society and modern human civilisation.

The question one is tempted to ask is whether this is a collective suicidal tendency or a yearning for achieving perceived ‘national and strategic interests’. Is this rupture because of the manufacturing factory that is our education system or because of political segregation and isolation from the modern world?

Civil society organisations, political parties, the academia, media and state institutions in Pakistan have to engage in deep deliberations and dialogue to identify and address these ruptures. Threats and weaknesses have to be converted into strengths and opportunities.

Holding the rest of the world responsible for whatever goes wrong with us won’t work for too long.

The writer is a political analyst.