March 28, 2013 11:26 am

Pakistan: A Civilisation Silenced

The people who inhabit Pakistan today are facing paroxysms of violence, brutalisation of culture and economic deprivation of a scale and intensity rarely seen in the history of this ancient land. Almost half the people suffer from food insecurity today in the Indus Valley, which has produced food surpluses for four millennia. There is a hydroelectric power potential of 40,000 megawatts in the main rivers alone, yet the country faces crippling power outages. At the same time, armed groups whether sectarian, religious or ethnic, are engaged in the large-scale slaughter of citizens. The humanity that was nurtured by diverse cultures in creative interaction has been drained from the narrowed persona of the extremist. As polarised singular identities are constructed, Muslims who in the sectarian narrative are considered Shias are being subjected to a systematic extermination that can only be called genocide. This is being done by groups who claim allegiance to Islam, which actually forbids formation of sects and considers the killing of even one human being as tantamount to killing all of humanity. Those who seek to establish a caliphate here think nothing of shooting girls going to school or health workers trying to administer polio drops to infants. Amidst this outrage, the government and its security apparatus have shown a remarkable inability to provide security of life to the citizens. Consequently, a pervasive fear grips Pakistan’s society. Bigotry, intolerance and hate move to centre stage. The voice of love, reason and human solidarity that resonates in our literature, music and folk cultures is being lost in the wilderness of barbarism. A civilisation is being silenced.

British historian Arnold Toynbee, in his monumental work on world history, has argued that the rise and fall of civilisations hinges on the way they deal with existential challenges. If a nation or civilisation can articulate the challenge it confronts and is able to bring out its best in overcoming it, then such a civilisation flowers and prospers. If it fails to do so, the civilisation perishes. Pakistan stands at such a critical juncture today. It is a crisis of state power in that the state has so far not been able to establish order, subdue armed groups that seek to overthrow its constitutional authority and control widespread violence. The crisis of the state, however, is inextricably linked with the economy which, as it is presently structured, is incapable of providing the minimum conditions of dignified life to the majority of the people; it is also linked to society which has become increasingly polarised, subject to false ideological constructs and alienated from the core human values which gave it cohesion and resilience. So, given the depth and multifaceted nature of Pakistan’s crisis, the process of overcoming it will involve drawing upon the wisdom, values and strength of its civilisation.

Bulleh Shah, the great Punjabi Sufi poet (late 17th to mid-18th century), spoke of a turning point in his time: “It was when the epoch turned that I discovered the secrets of the beloved” (translated). The beloved here is the deepest part of the self where the self and the other are part of the same unity. The Punjabi Sufi poets, as indeed the Sufis of Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, articulate that unity underlying the diversity of cultures in this region and the cohering sensibility of a pluralistic society. The wisdom that resonates in the surging waters of the Indus and echoes in the mountains of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as much as in the deserts of Sindh and Balochistan, is that the ligament that connects humans with the transcendent is love. It is woven into the fabric of individual being. Love is manifested in social existence in the form of justice, equity and the pursuit of truth and beauty.

Addressing the current crisis involves uniting state organisations and bringing to bear state power to provide justice to those who massacre innocents. It means building an economy that draws its dynamism from equity and the talents of all citizens rather than a few. It will also require rediscovering the wisdom and the values emanating from the shared civilisational wellsprings of a diverse society.

The writer is Distinguished Professor of Economics at Forman Christian College University and Beaconhouse National University

Source: The Express Tribune

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