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Broken, but not enough yet

February 23, 2013

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MANY have died. Many more will die. And, if things are ever to turn around, many, many more will have to die.

There is a certain kind of grotesqueness in predicting the death of more innocents.

The awfulness of deaths already before is hard enough to contemplate; to state in bald print, in black and white, that more is inevitable seems infused with a callousness that human nature militates against.

But why flinch from it? Deep down we all know it. More will die.

Must they die? Not in an absolute sense, no.

Will they? In the particular configuration that is the state of Pakistan today, tragically, yes.

People are dying, being slaughtered and assassinated and murdered in cold blood and blown to smithereens because no one, not one person, in the system of institutions designed to protect us, you and me, the common person, really cares enough to protect us.

Do they grieve for the dead? Sometimes. Do they pray to their God for forgiveness? Some do. Do they curse their own abject feckless-ness? Maybe.

But none of them will rise to protect the people, the public they have been elected to represent or have sworn to protect.

Not yet.

Not until the rivers actually run red, until enough asphalt has soaked enough blood, until so many funerals have been held in so many cities in such quick succession that survival, the ultimate self-interest, comes into the reckoning.

Cowering inside his bunkered home and bomb-proof vehicle, the politician will ask, what can we do?

The media is complicit, the army has nurtured the evil, society has been compromised, what can we do?

To ask that question is to turn leadership on its head: the elected representative asking the people to lead.

Since no one politician, no one party and no one coalition is strong enough to counter the forces they fear, to snap out of the politics of the past, to dare to dream beyond the parochial, no politician can lead.

It’s not that the system is broken; the system was never designed for this — for a fundamental challenge to the configuration of the state through a campaign of bombs, bullets and intimidation.

Politicians exist for local purposes, not meta-leadership. The house cat cannot become a guard dog.

What about the guardians, the self-appointed arbiters of the national interest?

To see them stumble around helplessly, steeped in a logic that is too difficult to reverse and trapped in their own fears is a terrible — and tragic — sight.

When conversations move towards hard issues, they invariably slip into background discussions or off the record. Many are unremarkable in the larger scheme of things, but there is one in particular that is hard to shake off.

Why do you let your men die like this, let their deaths go unavenged, their loss unmarked by retribution, I asked.

As a commander, there’s nothing worse than losing your men, but …

The voice trailed off.

But. But. But.

But, he and others like him may want to say, theirs is a sacrifice in the greater cause.

Perhaps they daren’t verbalise it because it’s one of those things that when said out loud can haunt forever.

Because the cause is already dead when the living are dying and no one can really explain why anymore.

And society? The public at large, the people?

The average Pakistani isn’t a homicidal maniac, we are told. We hear ad nauseam that the mythical average Pakistani wants the same normal things that normal people all over the world want: a home, a family, a job, a better future for the next generation. There really is a silent majority, we are reminded.

So? What’s the point?

To lose a people you don’t have to lose 51 per cent, the majority. What does that mean anyway? That somehow until 49 per cent all is not lost but then suddenly, hit 51, and all is lost?

Actually, to lose a people you just have to lose a sliver: three, four, five or six per cent. A rabid but disciplined, ferociously committed, ideologically obsessed four, five or six per cent. That’s enough to hold everyone else hostage.

Pushback from the silent majority must surely come at some point, though, no?

Maybe. But we aren’t there yet.

Here’s another blunt truth. The word genocide is bandied around nowadays, a desperate plea to shake the state out of its torpor, but how many have really been killed? A couple of thousand Shias in five years; Shias who are 20 per cent of 200 million?

Enough deaths to shock a nation? Yes. Enough to mobilise it? No.

On and on you can go, cutting through the layers of state and society. Everywhere you will find the same: fear, cowardice, confusion and, above all, narrow self-interest.

We just aren’t there yet, where a people and institutions that were never built to deal with internal threats of the present scope and scale are rattled, hammered and shaken enough to learn how to respond meaningfully.

We’ll get there someday?

Much as we must all hope that we will one day, here’s one last bit of reality: that moment may never come.

The tipping point can swing both ways. Violence may grow until state and society is energised into fighting back.

Or violence may creep upwards and outwards, each successive increase breaking us into accepting the level that came before, until it simply overruns us all.

Dark? Dispiriting? Demoralising?

Look around you. Or better yet, look inside yourself.

Still think it’s so implausible?

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm