The Chinese knew in advance. Come 2013, they said, and the Year of the Snake would be upon us. But where the People’s Republic sees this slithery, scaly thing as a force for wisdom, the Islamic Republic (and most others) know it to be a hissy, malicious little killer lying in the grass.
Yes, such was 2013. That very first of January, while the privileged partied, seven NGO workers were shot dead in Swabi, doctors and educators working on child mortality. Six were women. It was murder that ushered the year in, and as sectarian hits mount across the country, it’s fitting that murder bleeds the year out.
It seems strange now to think of our enthusiasm going in. Optimists — or idiots, as we’re all thought of today — saw 2013 as the year that could have been, instead of just the year that was. A new parliament, a new president, a new PM, a new chief, a new chief justice, a New Deal for everyone — Roshan Pakistans and Naya Pakistans and Transition Pakistans. Maybe, we thought, safety and security — and kinder laws and better policy and sound economics weren’t far off?
We were right in a way: they’d have to be much closer to be considered ‘far off’. Polio made a comeback, so we made it an export. Drones murdered children, terrorists massacred churches. The Hazaras were attacked and attacked again. They showed us the meaning of human dignity, we showed far less. The rupee hit the roof, Karachi fell through the floor. Sectarian thugs made it mainstream, Malala made to leave, and Nabila never let in. General Musharraf was hit with Article 6; General Beg continued picking daisies a free man.
The crowd clapped politely when the judges flung YRG out the window, it then wept when Raja Pervaiz took up the job in his stead, a glossy-haired scam artist that left a grease mark on the white and green. The PPP may be right when they say Mr Ashraf will go down in history. They are wrong if they think it’ll be for anything besides banning YouTube.
But in a word, 2013 was about terror. Barring the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, a kind of local PATRIOT Act that’d make Paul Wolfowitz delirious with joy, no reform came to pass. The PML-N prefers its municipal works to what Sarah Palin calls “that hopey-changey thing”. The PTI meanwhile lost three MPAs to terrorism, and left them there.
Yet, it was a terrific time for acquittals. As with militants in the north and mafias in the south, the attempt to free Shahrukh Jatoi broke our faith in the system. Make no mistake, whatever the ‘don’t-call-it-feudalism’ gents say, Mr Jatoi is every inch the card-carrying cancer that feudalism is: violent, vulgar, and stupid. His crime was as much a call to starve the feudal fever as much as the forgiveness so that he would be freed was to misunderstand these laws.
Having let off many a Raymond Davis, it’s time we better understand Qisas and Diyat. Most especially the fisad fil-arz test, which allows the court to convict regardless of parties compromising. That the law itself makes room for crimes against the state, as opposed to crimes against the individual, begs need for learned interpretation.
And only solid laws can set right lawless lands — because 2013 was also the year the BLA stole the show from all our other three-initial maniacs, and set one very famous house alight. However far metaphors go, the house was the Quaid-i-Azam’s. Since murdering the non-Baloch was greeted with sheer boredom, the BLA went the symbolic route, sending rockets and grenades hurtling into the home Muhammad Ali Jinnah spent his life’s flickering last lights. As the Ziarat Residency burned, the BLA men ran off without a scratch.
They left behind the body of policeman Muhammad Tahir, its lone guardian. God bless him, and God bless the families of the missing persons our judges try their best to save from the dark. Between what the state is doing to the Baloch, and what the BLA’s killers are doing to Balochistan, one can only hope the next headline won’t be coming from Quetta. Whatever else on the agenda, 2014 must be the year Balochistan was reached out to.
2013 no doubt will be laid to rest alongside the’03s and ’79s and ’68s of our time, years known the world-over for breaking the spirit. George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “A healthy nation is as unconscious of its nationality as a healthy man of his bones. But if you break a nation’s nationality, it will think of nothing else but getting it set again.” 2013 so easily could have been the year of that surgery, fading into a 2014 of intensive care. Instead, it became the year of the riptide, tearing apart its people across race and sect and creed and class. We now pray that 2014, if nothing else, be the year of the emergency stretcher.
But these next 12 months still have all the potential of the last, and it’s hoped against hope that fresh ’14 be the watershed, that shining moment we turned the page. When we called our soldiers shuhada. When the Pakistani life mattered.
And so it is with heavy hearts and even heavier fatalism that we run headlong into the New Year, aged 66. Says the hero of one of Henry James’s novels, “Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.” Make whatever one does of it, The Ambassadors, the novel in question, was pitch black comedy.
But another gentleman felt the exact same way, with not a tinge of irony. “I am, fundamentally, an optimist. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun … There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
Wracked for role models, it may suit us to take the departed Mandela’s words for what they were: Olympian truths. We’ll make it yet.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 10th, 2013.