Values and reality

04 Oct 2020


The writer is an architect.
The writer is an architect.

IN 2000, the first edition of my book The Unplanned Revolution was published. In the book, I documented the change I had seen in the urban and rural communities and settlements that I had worked with for more than 30 years.

The most important change that I identified was that, in much of Pakistan, an economy based on barter was being rapidly replaced by cash. Also that a social system based on caste was being replaced by class. This was the result of the emergence of a cash economy. The two things put together made the functioning of systems of local self-governance difficult. As a result, the baradari (except during elections), the panchayat, the mukhi, the numberdaar, the patel, had ceased to exist or were on their way out and the jirga had no moral authority left. Also sharecropping was slowly being replaced by contractual systems, thus adding to the number of landless families. Women were slowly entering public life and education, facilitated by the breakup of the extended family.

Seeing and documenting these changes made me feel that a new Pakistan was being born, which would result in greater freedom and more progressive politics. However, it was clear that the change that was taking place required new societal values if it was to be consolidated.

By the time the next edition of the book came out in 2010, the changes I mentioned above had become the norm except for in islands of conflict and retrogression. But the new societal values did not emerge, and we were left with old values and new behavioural patterns that were appropriate for our emerging lifestyles and aspirations. Given the absence of systems of self-governance and of a legal system that dealt with personal and property conflicts, a powerful individualism emerged to replace traditional forms of social relations, and a strong conflict between values and behaviour patterns developed.

The vast majority of the youth have no idealism left.

This, backed by consumerism and the absence of civic facilities and legal alternatives to solving societal disputes, evolved into a culture of protecting and promoting your interests at all costs — even if it meant monetary and moral corruption. Before, the father hid his corruption from his children. Today, they practise it collectively. Here, one is forced to ask the question as to how a society so schizophrenic in nature can evolve into a progressive, conflict-free and rational entity? The other question is that, despite so many political movements, why have we not been able to develop new societal values that correspond to our evolving behaviour patterns and global trends?

Perhaps the reason is that our political movements were about fighting for the vote and a parliamentary political system. We believed that once they were restored, all would be well. This did not happen for a simple reason. The political movements, even very powerful ones such as the MRD, did not have an agenda for social change and its relationship to political culture. The women’s movement led by WAF was an exception, for it changed perceptions about the role of women in politics for all times to come.

Ziaul Haq, on the other hand, established a culture by building on the existing institutions of the madressah, mosque and political Islam, and the space provided for this by the Afghan war. This culture already had moral authority to decide on religious matters — Zia merely provided the legal framework for it. As a result, dissent was controlled not only by the state but also through the non-state elements whom he empowered.

The result is that, though Zia is gone, the culture and institutions he created remain and the conflict between values and behaviour patterns continues to increase.

This conflict is the greatest problem that Pakistan’s youth (64 per cent of the population, and hence Pakistan itself) faces. The vast majority of them have no idealism left but are only interested in ‘improving’ their lives at any cost. But they know their problems, especially when they wish to marry someone of their own choice, or as women when they are not allowed to go out of the house alone, or when they are forced to renounce their involvement in art and culture.

Yet there are individuals and small groups in society that seek a platform to debate their problems. But such platforms are not available except through insecurely foreign-funded and fragmented NGO projects. Without these young people having a place to voice their dissent and debate reform, change for a better future for Pakistan cannot be created. There are many ways in which this issue can be addressed, but the most effective one would be to promote the creation of students unions at universities and colleges. This would create a generation of new and aware politicians who have gone through a process of debating and understanding socioeconomic and cultural issues in the larger context of their country.

The writer is an architect.

Published in Dawn, October 4th, 2020