Never despair

Published October 6, 2023
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

La Taqnatu min-Rahmatullah — (Do not despair of Allah’s Mercy) — Al-Quran

EXPLANATIONS of human behaviour — whether individual, group or collective — necessarily involve simplification because of their inherent complexity.

This allows the ‘common man’ to claim the right to his individual if not always correct opinions on social, political and economic matters which have a palpable personal impact on him in a way he would not presume to claim with regard to complex physical processes which do not appear to have any such immediate impact on his well-being.

In physics, any thesis that is ‘testable’ by rigorous observations and mathematical equations that are internally consistent is considered valid until further observation and theoretical and mathematical advances confirm or challenge its validity.

The James Webb Space Telescope is doing just this with regard to the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. No such rigour is available for the social sciences. If it were, the basis for democratic governance would cease to exist because science or, alternately, religion and ideology, in alliance with state power would decide all social issues.

This alliance (based far more on religion and ideology than science) has provided the woof and warp of political history in general and Pakistan’s history in particular. That is why democracies, whether young or old, unless constantly nourished and renewed through the rational questioning of established authority and dogma, degenerate into tyrannies.

The precondition for such nourishment and renewal is, of course, human development which is premised on culture, science and technology, an education of public opinion which provides uncensored and non-manufactured information, an ability to think rationally, and a spirit of community, accommodation and tolerance — all of which are essential to democratic governance.

All of the above has been consistently denied to the people of Pakistan culminating in today’s state of the nation in which usurpers, in one form or another and on one pretext or another, seek to permanently prevail over the people, the Constitution and the rule of law.

Everyone knows this, but everyone is coerced into believing they can do nothing about it. History will not absolve those responsible for this betrayal of the nation. Those responsible include not just the ruling elites and the purchased middle class intelligentsia and professional classes, but also the people who instead of standing up for the survival of their children confine themselves to unorganised, sporadic, and unavailing protests. Their ‘leaders’ easily betray them.

History will not absolve those responsible for this betrayal of the nation.

There are several hundreds of statistics, ratios, measures, etc. to gauge the health of a nation. The extent and quality of education is a prime measure. Sports is a vital component of education. It teaches an individual to reach for his or her potential. It teaches competition, fair play, how to take triumph and defeat and, above all, playing for the team and passing the torch onto the next generation.

Pakistan is sports-crazy. But its sportsmen and sportswomen are betrayed by bosses who see sports as a personal opportunity rather than a nation builder. Accordingly, it has marginal social priority and its development is neglected. When I was in Beijing in 1996, I wrote a report on China’s fine performance in the Atlanta Olympics as one indicator of its emergence as a great power.

Much the same could be said about India’s performance at the recent Asian Games in Hangzhou although Modi’s India has downsides that more than counterbalance its sporting prowess. India’s best-ever performance of 81 medals including 18 gold contrasted with Pakistan’s worst-ever performance of two medals and zero gold.

This pathetic performance reflects the low priority of sports and education in the governance of the country. The same neglect is apparent in current human rights, judicial, economic, social, political, health, institutional, corruption, inequality, poverty, and other statistics that collectively define multidimensional state failure in Pakistan. I might add that selling the family silver through the SIFC is not a legitimate caretaker responsibility.

None of this should instil despair. But it does define an unprecedented existential challenge the people have to take up in an organised and sustained manner. This is the meaning of jihad — a collective and unrelenting effort and struggle for survival, truth and justice. Such a jihad must provide the social and political core of our faith. Should we avoid taking up this challenge we shall forfeit the right to survive.

In his seminal 1967 article on ‘The responsibility of intellectuals’, Noam Chomsky makes clear that intellectuals have a choice: either, as Norman Finkelstein puts it, they devote themselves to the service of truth and justice or they seek power and privilege. They cannot do both.

Serving truth and justice entails a price, often a very heavy price. Very few intellectuals are willing to make the choice in favour of this calling. They choose to compromise pretending to speak truth to power while preserving their jobs and perks, the security of their families, their social status and their personal freedoms. They end up betraying their professed commitments.

Their sin is not so much their caution which is understandable as it is their pretence which is inexcusable.

Pakistani public intellectuals including media commentators are, by and large, no exception. There have, however, been intellectuals and commentators who were true to their calling and responsibilities, many of whom, as a result, paid the ultimate price. Their contribution to the ultimate saving of Pakistan — Inshallah — should never be forgotten.

According to Chomsky, this applies even more to those countless nameless persons who organise protests and movements on behalf of millions, nay billions, of their compatriots and fellow humans around the world who shall never know them. Pakistan is fortunate to have many such selfless and priceless souls. Their courage and sacrifices are a standing rebuke to the cynicism and complacency that hides under many disguises.

The power and political elites of Pakistan are confident they can always overwhelm and defeat such valiant people. But the people of Pakistan have begun to demonstrate they never will. AlHamdulillah!

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

ashrafjqazi@gmail.com
www.ashrafjqazi.com

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2023

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