IT is the dawn of yet another new year and hope has risen with first light. Hope that warms like the sun. And burns like the sun. Burnt over seven decades, the citizens of Pakistan rub disillusionment from their eyes as they venture out this crisp morning to inhale the freshness of air and exhale the staleness of expectations. Beyond them stretch 365 days of possibilities. And of disappointments. Which will it be?
Ah, there’s our Catch-22 right there.
For what else is this term but the amalgam of contradictions? Just like us. The dictionary tells us the meaning of the phrase used in the title of Jospeh Heller’s 1961 book: “A problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem”. In other words, you have a problem if you’ve lost your eyeglasses, but how do you find them when you don’t have your eyeglasses? Sounds familiar?
Thoughts weigh heavy on the first day of the year. Still reeling from the lacerations of the months past, citizens can be excused for not prancing in anticipation of the delights on offer. The echo of anxiety rings with familiarity. There’s the government looking busy trying to survive the onslaught coming its way; there’s the opposition shaking its fist at the ruling party while shaking its hands with the ruling state; and there’s the state shuffling its feet and pivoting on them to find a new way out of the self-created morass. The new season of this gripping series promises fresh twists and turns in a plot that can entertain even on an empty stomach. The characters retch out their lines every evening on primetime to rapturous applause and raucous abuse. Today will be no different. Neither will tomorrow. Or the day after.
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Those pining for better days ahead may need to plant their feet firmer in ground reality.
But what about the day after the day after? And the one after that? Jeering and sneering at each other can only go on for so long before it starts to pay diminishing returns. Venom and vitriol can last only for so long before they begin to poison the lives we live. And feigned obliviousness to the dangers embedded within the folds of our society can only survive so long before it dissolves into the acid of pungent reality.
The reality is that this society needs to heal. It needs to heal from the wounds of political hatemongering and toxic partisanship; it needs to heal from the gashes of religious intolerance and sectarian disharmony; and it needs to heal from the trauma of chronic underdevelopment spawned by decades of criminal neglect by those who have ruled with intense mediocrity, unadulterated selfishness and cold apathy. We are a nation in pain. And what are the surgeons doing?
Herein lies our Catch-22 for ’22: how do you heal when the healer wields the sword that sliced through your flesh?
We bleed from bigotry and intolerance but those fanning it sit atop the citadels of power.
We bleed from political loathing and detestation but those inciting it lord over the system that breeds power.
We bleed from ill-governance, ill-education and ill-intent but those fomenting it control the levers of power.
Can’t get elections right? See who is making the rules. Can’t get development right? See who is making policy. Can’t get legislation right? See who is making the laws. The conundrum of cyclical inadequacy rages on.
But for how long? A nation of 220 million people cannot be held hostage to the whims of flippant leaders on a journey of self-actualisation. In the grand scheme of things, this does not add up. Cannot add up. The system is creaking at the joints as it strains to break free from the stranglehold of knights who strut around enrobed in their armour of entitlement. There they go galloping around on their Destriers swinging their mighty swords in an act of random defiance to no one in particular. There’s something mediaeval about them.
The disconnect is nauseating. Everyone knows the disease afflicting us, and everyone knows the cure we need. And yet, here we are, groping in the dark and stumbling upon our own ineptitude as the world passes us by without even a wave. Everything is hiding in plain sight. The changes in our neighbourhood, the transformations among our fellow-religionist countries and the steady rhythm of economic progress and prosperity picking up pace after a Covid-hiatus — it’s all unfolding in vivid colours while we sink into the black, white and greys of our leadership failures.
Will this be the year we pinch ourselves awake? When we slap ourselves out of the charade that we call governance and statecraft? A tall ask. Especially when the detritus of 2021 continues to burden the polity. Those pining for better days ahead may need to plant their feet firmer in ground reality. Turbulence is around the corner and misgovernance is not about to take a leave of absence. The political discourse remains shallow and hollow. Priorities are as warped as they were last year and the nation is all set to sink further into the morass of superficial experimentation with policies that effect our lives and those of our children.
Order is what we want and chaos is what we get. That has been the outcome of stratagem designed with the best of intentions and the worst of understanding. This year it may all unravel, or it may not — but the ingredients that went into cooking this stew remain on the kitchen table for another chef to make another concoction for another set of diners. He too may sprinkle hope with a spoonful of red chillies, but the reservoir of hope begins to dwindle as the year wears on. It always does.
Could we catch a break this year? Here’s to catching ’22 and holding on to it as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.
Happy New Year.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2022