DISAPPOINTMENT is the word that comes to mind when one thinks of Pakistan’s current situation. Sheer disappointment. Not necessarily with the state of our economy, the abysmal security situation, or even the uncertainty in the air. All these things have afflicted us so often that they no longer seem unusual.
So, if it isn’t that, then what? To put it bluntly, there seems to be little to no hope. In Pakistan’s excruciatingly frustrating history, there has always been something to cling on to, even if bordering on the delusional. If not the politicians, then one would look towards the judiciary. If not the judiciary, then even the army. And if not them, then perhaps someone else. But at any point, it appears, that one or the other could be identified as a possible solution to the problem. And that allowed us to keep ticking along. Until now.
This time round, however, there is realisation that no one is the solution, and no one has learnt from our past. In life, we are told from a very young age that it’s okay to make mistakes so long as we learn from them and don’t repeat them. However, no one tells you the irony of following such advice in a country whose functioning is predicated on collective amnesia and blissful ignorance. Tragically, we are forever held hostage to a merry-go-round that never stops and is anything but merry.
Many will see the realisation itself as positive, something to take heart from. After all, it only took us 75 years or so to collectively appreciate that those in power may simply not be learning from their mistakes. But that is not the case, unfortunately, because even our epiphanies are selective.
The problem isn’t simply the army, politicians, or the judiciary, and how they’ve made a hash of things.
The problem isn’t simply the army, the politicians, or the judiciary, and how they have made a hash of things. They have been able to do this because of our inability to hold them accountable. We all realise that none of them seems to have any solutions, and in fact, may simply be adding to our problems. Yet we do not call them out, in most cases, because we are blinded by our own prejudices which mould our view of Pakistan’s past.
You can’t learn from history when your history is just a version of the truth that is convenient to you. If I don’t have it in me to consider all the facts, then I am not learning from history but rather succumbing to it. And that is where we stand today.
If I am a PTI supporter, history starts from the year 2018. This is probably why our friends in the PTI, despite repeated reminders, refused to acknowledge the army’s role in politics prior to, during, and after the general elections of 2018. The realisation of how army interference in politics is bad only dawned on them after they lost their government, and even then, they considered it ‘unprecedented’ — because the PTI version of history had not witnessed such interference against their interests before.
Similarly, the PML-N supporter’s version of history starts after the demise of Gen Ziaul Haq. Even then, this supporter only acknowledges that part of history which looks at the Sharif leadership kindly, such as its infrastructure projects and motorways. What the supporter won’t remember is how the PML-N racked up horrible debt, failed to manage Pakistan’s economy every time they came to power, piggybacked on the same establishment that they then abused, and intentionally left an economic minefield for the next government in the run-up to the 2018 elections to sabotage it and benefit themselves, at the expense of the country.
The supporter of other PDM members and allies has a memory that starts from the year 2013 and revolves around the PTI and its unnatural rise to power. What their version of history lacks is any recognition of how their government is merely a continuation and extension of everything that they claimed was wrong with the Khan government. In fact, they are the new ‘selected’. And for some reason, they are ecstatic about it. They actually don’t want neutrality, they want favour, and that is beyond ironic considering their allegations against Imran Khan.
Then there are those who support the army’s role in politics. Their version of history spans most of Pakistan’s existence, not because they are well-read, but because the army has directly and indirectly ruled Pakistan for most of its life. According to them, these were glorious periods when nothing could go wrong. We were economically strong, socially united, and everything was being managed efficiently and with discipline. Those were the good old times, and everyone should be thankful to the armed forces.
However, they tend to avoid talk of the Constitution or the armed forces’ oath to defend and preserve it, nor do they like to discuss Kargil, the loss of Siachen, or the 1971 civil war. If they do, they blame the civilians for it all. They don’t recall much about the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report, nor the excesses that may have been committed in erstwhile East Pakistan. For all we know, these things may never have even happened.
And that is where we stand today. We are in trouble not because of how badly we are being led, which cannot be questioned, but because we allow these persons, institutions and ‘leaders’ to pander to our personal biases and prejudices and repackage it as our convenient truth.
We may have the intelligence to notice that we are being taken advantage of, but for the time being at least, we seem content with feigning ignorance. We are okay with no one in power learning from history or correcting their mistakes — because if they do, what will become of us? I’m afraid we may have to check our prejudices and biases, and confront inconvenient truths that don’t fit our notions of right or wrong. God forbid we ever have to do that.
The writer is a lawyer based in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2023
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