The question staring at everyone right now is: ‘What next?’
Epithets and laments are being written ruefully for the liberals — mostly by themselves — who feel persecuted and marginalised, as much as the religious minorities. They feel their voice is being increasingly strangulated; freedom of expression and tolerance is fatally on the wane and their existence at the highest peril. The religious right wing has ceased an opportunity to make its presence heard and felt, both by the bullet and by street protests.
The religious and societal fissures that divide and gnaw the country have been portrayed as glaringly indicative of an ominous future of destruction and calamity beyond any redemption or salvation.
But Pakistan would lurch forward, stumbling and crouching at every step, as it has in its history, defying the prophets of gloom and doom, but giving no solace to soothsayers hopeful of any betterment and improvement.
This predictable and uncomfortable equilibrium, where things momentarily shake and boil, burn and simmer and yet cool down to a turgid amalgam, is where the country finds itself every now and then.
This time it is no different.
There are no crossroads, no matter how many times we write — sometimes excitedly and sometimes ominously — of arriving after every couple of years. There are no revolutions, quietly simmering like molten lava, underneath the discontent of those deprived and exploited. There are no messiahs emerging from those who lead and have led, for their own lives are insulated and removed, their slogans as empty and as shallow as the howls and growls of extremist militants.
Pakistani society is neither represented by those few who appear and bemoan at candlelit vigils, holding coffee cups, nor by the bearded, stick-wielding mullahs, who are orchestrated out of their madrassas in such a disciplined and organised manner that their numbers seem magnified, their impact overpowering.
It is the same society that, at first, sought to embrace a former dictator’s ‘enlightened moderation’ and then used the same idea to ridicule and taint the general, as he started to stumble and appeared close to political perish. It is the same society that has welcomed each march of the army boots with feverish anticipation and wished it to be doomed as soon as the clarions of so-called democracy seem audible and decipherable.
The same democracy — the rule by family dynasties and tribal affiliations — is shunned away for its inevitable and insatiable greed for money and affluence. It is the same society where people clamour against foreign influence and meddling, but act ingratiatingly, submissive to the same powers. It is the same society where wrongs of others are to be cursed, but personal foibles and follies are not only trivial, but forgettable and excusable.
Can change come where each and everyone has embarked on a never-ending endeavor of personal aggrandisement — from those lowest in the social stratum to those in the highest?
The military will continue with its scorn and disdain for the civilians, sometimes manoeuvring behind closed doors, sometimes threatening with the baton and the gun. They are the self-anointed custodians of ‘national security’ and they won’t have anyone else come close to this holy position. The ruling political class will continue to plunder and falter, and, as always, the ideological distinctions of the left and right for political parties will be blurred and sacrificed at the altar of expediency and power.
The stench of the rot is nauseating and noxious, but it has settled deep and firm. The national conscience is inebriated with imperturbable delusions. So the march will continue to hobble along till the thump and thunder of the next big storm.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2011.