Hope and forgetting in Pakistan

Published: January 7, 2012

The writer is country director for Pakistan of the German Heinrich Boell Foundation based in Lahore

What has always struck me about Pakistan and the Pakistani people is their ability to generate political passion despite so many disappointments. In other places, hope is a marathon runner who drops dead the moment she reaches her goal — although the real test begins much later. In Pakistan, despite the fact that no politician seems to have ever delivered on the promises he or she made, hope refuses to die. It usually takes her a few years of regeneration and up she is again in the race for a better future.

I vividly remember the time after General Musharraf’s coup and how he was welcomed: finally a man at the top of the state who is honest, capable, professional and refreshingly unhypocritical. He violated the constitution but no one seemed to care too much about that and thought him to be a kind of a messiah. He was conveniently supported by the US and all the other powers that claim to be genuinely concerned about Pakistan. We all know the end of that story.

And what an end it was. In came Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, a well-deserved adversary for Musharraf and an appropriate antidote to an unlawful regime. The lawyer’s movement that supported him seemed a promise of justice to the downtrodden masses, but lost momentum when Chaudhry was reinstalled and finally drowned in a sea of the rose petals that were showered on the head of Mumtaz Qadri.

Last, but not least, Benazir Bhutto. Although her two stints as prime minister cannot entirely be deemed as successful (and she entered the country again in 2008 through a dubious deal with a military dictator), people preferred to elect her dead body instead of a living Nawaz Sharif. They ended up with her husband, who — and this might be his true historical achievement — never promised to be more than he was.

And now Imran Khan: a handsome, uncorrupt, philanthropic sportsman, a knight in shining armour. “Unhappy the country that needs heroes” said German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. But one might prefer to look at the phenomenon from another point of view.

The hero is venerated because he makes his admirers forget the dirty preconditions of his success. In history, these were often bloodshed and cruelty. Today, things are murkier. Change is unlikely to be brought about by a single person. American President Barack Obama is a good example. Nobody could live up to the expectations that he created and that was his true irresponsibility. Modern democracy is post-heroic in the sense that the system always stays intact, no matter who is at the top. And that is the reason for its stability and success.

The hero, by comparison succeeds because he manages to convince his followers by virtue of his charisma that he and he alone is the answer to all their problems. This requires a certain command over what Friedrich Nietzsche called “the force of forgetting”. The German philosopher, who was a true expert on “the will to power”, believed that forgetting is necessary to keep up the vitality that is required for life and success. Forgetting, according to Nietzsche does not happen accidentally. It is an active force in the service of life.

Psychoanalysis, a forefather of which Nietzsche was, proves him right. If we want to go on with life and start afresh, we need to get over past disappointments, broken relations, lost friendships and failed businesses. In short: we need to forget them. This (by the way) is quite the contrary of the official post-war German philosophy that has been acting on the assumption that “he who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it”. But we might as well be looking at two sides of the same coin here.

Nietzsche, for sure, would have preferred the vitality of the Pakistani people and their ability to forget their disappointments. If it inevitably leads to a repetition of the past, it’s again well in line with Nietzsche’s historical philosophy — based on the concept of an eternal return of the eternal same (which is also a subcontinental idea).

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2012. 

Reader Comments (13)

  • Ali Tanoli.
    Jan 7, 2012 - 12:34AM

    “A Knight in shining armour’ he is indeed thank u madam.

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  • John B
    Jan 7, 2012 - 12:35AM

    The question is” what is PAK hoping for since 1947?”

    Every nation goes through the internal turmoil but charts her future course based on the past. In PAK history the destination is never clear to any one. Too many navigators with different compasses, all which seem faulty at the end.

    What is pakistan ?: Islamic nation, secular Islamic republic, military centric, or Multiethnic multi linguistic federation based on common law or sharia law? Not sure even Pakistan academics can define the identity of Pakistan.

    Pak gave herself three constitutions but no one seemed to care about it from the beginning.

    A nation that inherited surplus balance of payment during partition and a wealthy geography of the subcontinent is perpetually mismanaged. Not sure of where she wanted to go and where she is now.

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  • Hamza Arshad
    Jan 7, 2012 - 5:52AM

    Rightly said by Bertolt Brecht :“Unhappy the country that needs heroes”. I think this single line can point out our political woes. When any political leader hops in the arena, our expectations architect him/her as demigod, some heavenly exception and then the nation is divided: some to adore him, some to call for his blood. When will we be a normal nation?

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  • Feroz
    Jan 7, 2012 - 10:55AM

    Those wielding the levers of Power and enjoying its benefits are resistant to change. The people want the easy way out failing to recognize that only they can bring change. Who wants to look history in the face and question which policies brought the nation to its current status. So cause of misery and failure is always attributed to others machinations, never to our own perfidy. Looking for a messiah reflects desperation if not outright escapism.

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  • NA
    Jan 7, 2012 - 11:28AM

    Every one in this world who has nothing to do with Pakistan is a Researcher on Pakistan…

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  • wonderer
    Jan 7, 2012 - 12:38PM

    @ Hamza Arshad

    “When will we be a normal nation?”

    The answer to your question is very simple, Sir.

    When Pakistani people become like people in “normal” nations. Agreed?

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  • Pure
    Jan 7, 2012 - 2:15PM

    Pity a people who:
    ~ deny everything and believe anything
    ~ offer no apology for the genocide in the East
    ~ believe in the supremacy of only their way
    ~ think they can move on without taking responsibility for the indulgences of their leaders whom they egged on
    ~ blame others

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  • Shehzad
    Jan 7, 2012 - 2:16PM

    Awesome. We look forward few more insights from learned lady. Kindly, write about Bertolt Brecht and Heinrich Boll and their literary shades so as to relate them with social movements of their times. What about Guenter Grass? Boll Foundation should work for giving them currency to awaken the down-trodden people of pakistan. We love these literary geniuses of interesting times.

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  • Logic
    Jan 7, 2012 - 6:37PM

    What is new madam

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  • fahad
    Jan 8, 2012 - 12:08AM

    Difference between Obama and IK – Imran Khan delivered before he came into power, Barak Obama only made promises that he will deliver, Obama came to power out of the blue without ever proving himself worthy of office, where as Imran Khan has spent years in leadership roles in sports, he then did something that was considered impossible by everyone and built a state of the art cancer hospital, and then as an MNA went on to deliver substantial benefits to his constituency, the highlight being NUML University which is specifically offering foreign degrees to poor students free of cost…..and the highlight being that he struggled for 16 yrs to build a party from scratch…..Barak Obama is just a bona bacha compared to IK

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  • Chulbul Pandey
    Jan 8, 2012 - 3:02AM

    @NA: Every one in this world who has nothing to do with Pakistan is a Researcher on Pakistan…

    Mr. NA, sometimes it takes a 3rd person’s perspective to look at things from outside.
    I find lady Petersen’s views absolutely fitting. But then, I am an outsider too :D

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  • Arshid kamal
    Jan 9, 2012 - 6:29PM

    Dear madam u have wrote some thing special for pakistani people,i am agree with your point of view but for your kind concern i wish to add some thing new for you. current situations in pakistan compel us for new step and the world will noticed it very soon. i am also follower and well wisher of IMRAN KHAN because he let us know to identify our destination…anyhow hoping for good…!!Recommend

  • shahid afsar
    Feb 29, 2012 - 7:12PM

    Dear madam..
    Yup you are right

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