Oh you who guides the chosen few, I am okay to be led by you,
But do let me go astray, when the destination is but a step away…
Aey Jazba e dil, Behzad Lucknawi
He stands on the cricket pitch in his oversized pair of glasses with a totally clueless expression. In the background, his mother’s voice-over goes on: “What’s wrong with my son? He is not good in studies,” she wonders out loud, “he is not good in sports”. Then we are told that the little protagonist in the television commercial is suffering from iodine deficiency. And that was how the campaign for iodised salt was launched, or at least that’s how I remember it.
In case you are wondering what that has got to do with Pakistani nationalism, then the answer is: everything. Pakistan is not just a geographical entity, it is home to 180 million people. People who just refuse to die. Like Douglas Adam’s Vogons, these simple-minded, thick-willed, slug-brained creatures just refuse to perish despite evolution’s clear verdict against them. Their vessel, this country, too, like a Vogon’s ship, looks as if it has been not so much designed as congealed. But sadly bureaucratic as they are, there is nothing they — we — are good at. Sports we play to lose. Serious economics we rarely bother about. Imagination, what’s that exactly? And education? Surely, you are joking. So is the Pakistani nation, too, suffering from iodine deficiency of some rare sort? The answer to that will come a bit later. Let me explain why I am asking these questions.
After the Peshawar attack, we were expecting something concrete, something definitive. After week-long deliberations, our Treebeard and other political Ents came up with a 20-point to-do list. Sure, we hanged a few bad guys while doing so but that’s the extent of it. And in this 20-point National Action Plan (NAP), most are a bit too vague or abstract and may require a lifetime to implement. Compare it with how the US reacted in the aftermath of 9/11, or for that matter, India after the Mumbai attacks. But of the 20 points, one is easily doable. That of setting up military courts.
Terrorists threaten and kill judges and witnesses alike and then get away. Some run their crime syndicates from within prisons and break out of them whenever they want. So this is the simplest method possible. Task an officer to try them, because he can take the pressure. Then, if proven guilty, put them in a state in which they will not be able to kill more unarmed civilians and state functionaries. Troubling as it may sound, you will agree it is simple and realistic. But no wait. The civil society and our moderate politician friends who could not protect my civil liberties from terrorists for over a decade, remember the candlelight vigil for Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti and how many were there to attend them? But here is the problem. The ground I concede to the state can be recaptured. We know how to do it; we have done it all our lives. But the ground lost to the terrorists, to the TTP, to the IS or al Qaeda cannot be regained, ever. So why all this hesitation today?
Is it too much to ask to behave like a nation for once? I know you will say we are not a nation. Wake up, sir. I have travelled extensively throughout the length and breadth of this country. I have the seen expression on the faces of our Sindhi, Pakhtun, Baloch, Seraiki, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Muhajir and countless friends from other ethnicities when Pakistan loses a cricket match to India. I know what is in their hearts as it shows in their eyes. We are one bloody nation, one hell of a bloody nation, but a nation nevertheless. It is time to come out of denial and start acting like one.
Francis Fukuyama says social contract is not the only way to create nations and states. Wars do that too. Our generation has seen a fair share of them. So mothers, what this kid, this Pakistan, lacks, is not iodine, but the ability to come out of denial about its nationhood and nationalism. Nationalism is not the jingoism of Zaid Hamid et al but faith in a common purpose; in this case, survival.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2015.