As Karachi goes up in flames, the army doctor-turned-militant behind the 2009 GHQ bombings is arrested and the banned Jaish-e-Mohammed begins to resurface in Pakistan, the question persists in my mind: have Pakistan’s politicians as well as civil society activists ever thought of using the hunger-strike as a weapon of non-violence to cleanse their own society?
Now, in a country in which the majority thinks nothing of fasting from dawn to dusk for several weeks at a time — of which proof, if it were needed, is offered at the present moment — the idea of the hunger-strike may be an odd one.
Other people may record the hours and minutes of self-abnegation with a certain amount of pride, but seriously, we know that the hours of bodily deprivation during Ramazan is meant to concentrate the mind on a certain higher calling.
So consider the following: whether or not the fratricide in Lyari or other parts of Karachi are a result of ethnic gang wars or political vendetta, imagine if a group of people were to sit down somewhere in the city and undertake a relay hunger strike to call attention to the unnecessary killings.
You could fast for six or eight or twelve or however many hours at a time as you wanted. Imagine if the hunger-strikers stated they would not give up their fast until all the parties concerned sat down to broker a solution. Imagine if the mass hunger-strike were to be totally peaceful and disciplined.
Meaning, if the police came charging at you with their lathis and water cannons, and accused you of breaking up the peace, well, you would just take the blows on your chest and carry on. If several hundred or thousand people demonstrating peacefully were injured, imagine the reaction.
Now, some of you may argue that Pakistanis are a proud, red-blooded people who will never tolerate being pushed around, and this turn-the-other-cheek business is really a Gandhian idea that India is more than welcome to keep.
First of all, this would not be completely true. Gandhi is as much part of Pakistan’s history, as it is India’s, in fact, we had him only for a few more months. Secondly, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s legacy is alive and well in the ANP, and you can hardly challenge the patriotic credentials of his grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan.
Admittedly, the idea of a hunger strike in Pakistan has been provoked by the ongoing agitation in Delhi and elsewhere in India by a 73-year-old man called Anna Hazare, who professes to be a Gandhian, and whose protests against corruption and black money has certainly gripped India’s imagination.
Gandhi and his colleagues sowed the seed of non-violent agitation in the freedom struggle against the British, and also showed that peaceful protest is integral to any self-respecting democracy.
It is Hazare’s tactics of blackmail (“if you don’t accept my version of the Bill against corruption, I will go on a fast-unto-death”), that I think the Mahatma and the rest of South Asia finds abhorrent.
This is not the time or place to go into Gandhi’s faults or weaknesses or the mutual betrayal of the Congress and the Muslim League. The question is whether or not we can learn from our common histories and use some of those tools to our current advantage.
So think about it: does the idea of fasting for peace in Karachi appeal to Pakistan?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2011.