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Calling all cynics

December 13, 2011

Cynicism is the last refuge of the disillusioned idealist. Jilted by unmet expectations and jaded by dashed hopes; the disillusioned idealist eventually resigns himself to reality and finds some semblance of peace in cynicism.

The multitudes of problems that have beset Pakistan over the last decade have swelled the ranks of the cynics. This is a grave danger to the future of Pakistan because cynicism induces inertia. It creates an environment where people give up even before trying. It can push society so far into the depths of despair that it starts exhibiting Learned Helplessness: a condition where people behave helplessly to the extent that when an opportunity is provided to escape the oppression to which they have been subjected, they fail to seize it.

The root cause of cynicism in Pakistan has been the inability of people to take their destiny in their own hands. For most of Pakistan’s history, the reins of power have alternated between military rulers and two political clans. These players are still looming large on the horizon and to call them a juggernaut would not be an overstatement. Such entrenched power structures are notorious for being tough to dislodge.

Case in point: The US of A.

In 1961, US President Eisenhower warned his countrymen to beware the “military industrial complex”. His warning fell on deaf ears and today America lies securely in the stranglehold of this behemoth, with next to no hope of breaking free.

According to US Presidential candidate Ron Paul, the “military industrial complex” has effectively reduced the US political spectrum to a 1-party system. Much like Pakistani political bouts, American political rivalries are also Noora Kushti; only better choreographed. Devoid of any hope, the cynical American peers across the horizon, but all he sees is pitch darkness. Owing to the circumstances he finds himself in, his cynicism is incurable.

With the emergence of Imran Khan as a viable national leader, the prognosis for the Pakistani cynic is much better. Imran Khan has openly challenged the powers-that-be. He has not shied away from confronting the political clans that have presided over Pakistan’s descent into despair and neither has he towed the army line.

Accusations of being in cahoots with the military establishment have been levelled against him, but his policy positions on many issues belie those accusations. His long-standing opposition to military operations in the tribal areas, his conciliatory approach to quelling the Balochistan insurgency and above all his proposed guarantee of preventing any militants from slipping into Indian-occupied Kashmir put him diametrically opposed to perceived military policy on all these issues . What’s more, he has vowed to bring the army under civilian control and has said that he would resign if he failed to do so. He has gone as far as to say that if he comes to power he will be General Kayani’s boss.

I stated this before, but it warrants repetition that dislodging well-entrenched power structures is no cake walk. Imran Khan has set out to do exactly that and with the wind in his sails, he actually has a shot at success. If you are a cynic peering across the horizon in search of a twinkling light, squint your eyes and you may just spot a flicker of hope streaking across the sky. Hope is the only anti-dote to cynicism, and in the shape of Imran Khan we have just that.

Cynicism can be fun. It furnishes many enjoyable “I-told-you-so” moments to revel and gloat in. But cynicism can not be an end in of itself. There comes a point when you have to look at things through the eyes of a wide-eyed freshman and risk being proven wrong. A positive and constructive attitude demands that we dig deep within ourselves and find the courage to overcome the inertia that has plagued us for ages. We need to take stock of realities as they stand and act not on the basis of what has been, but on the basis of what can be. We also need to latch on to any straws of hope that present themselves, and that’s where Imran Khan comes in.

In all likelihood, you didn’t become a cynic just for the fun of it. If things take a turn for the better and it is within your power to right the wrong that triggered your cynicism, then you are duty-bound to take action. So come forth! If it works out, you will have been part of something great; something for which the word ‘revolution’ is an under-statement.

If it doesn’t, you can shrink back into your shell in the cynics’ colony. I’ll be there waiting for you.


Irfan Waheed is an engineer working in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.