Across Pakistan’s history a number of politicians, lawyers, journalists, student leaders and party workers have bravely wrestled with the establishment’s civil, military and economic arms. These arms have played every dirty trick in the book of destructive Machiavellian politics set into motion against democrats so the ‘establishment’ can retain a stagnant and largely reactionary political and economic status-quo; a status-quo that fears the pluralistic and levelling qualities of democracy. Many from the higher echelons of society have prospered from this status-quo. They are always ready to ward off democracy through a synthetic brand of ‘patriotism’ concocted from overt displays of nationalistic chauvinism and politicised Islam.
Though they are quick to blame the masses for falling so easily for democratic parties’ ‘empty’ promises, the truth is, the same masses have been more susceptible to whatever hate-spewing gibberish and mythical brew these magicians have been feeding the people for decades in the name of history, Islam and patriotism. This brew, present in the history books our children are taught, has been gradually turning the average Pakistani into a paranoid and pessimistic android who, as if instinctively, lets out his frustrations by pounding the democrats with cynical blows, also swinging wildly at Pakistan’s many enemies he is told are lurking within and outside its borders. In this mangled discourse, the documented horrors of the long military dictatorships that this republic has suffered are conveniently forgotten; sometimes even by those in the political and journalistic circles who had struggled hard for a democratic setup; they suddenly seem to lose all their painfully cultivated tolerance and patience, once that democratic setup is revived.
No wonder, in this day and age, we are still debating whether democracy is right for Pakistan, and/or is it compatible with Islam. It is not surprising that such debates crop up in a nation constantly injected with a heavy dose of dubious history which begins not five thousand years ago with the Indus Valley Civilisation, but many centuries later with Muhammad Bin Qasim’s conquest of Sindh. In fact, some textbooks have had no qualms of completely bypassing logic by claiming that Qasim was actually the first Pakistani!
This history then cleverly ignores the many terrible intrigues and murders that were committed by a series of Muslim rulers against their own comrades and kin, sometimes in a fit of jealously and sometimes owing to pure power play. This historical narrative goes to work right away when we are quick to present ourselves as noble people who are incapable of murder, genocide and intrigue, and assert that it is actually other races and religions who have been targeting us. We forget West Pakistan’s controversial role and the bloodbath that followed in the former East Pakistan. We forget how the founder of Pakistan was treated while on his death bed, as he lay lamenting how some of his closest colleagues couldn’t wait to see him die. We forget how a wily general calling himself a pious Muslim sent a popularly elected prime minister to the gallows on the feeblest of evidences.
We forget how an Islamic party being led by a renowned Islamic scholar was behind two of the most shameful acts of mass rioting against the Ahmadiya community. We forget how, long before Hindu fanatics tore down the Barbri Masjid in India, varied Islamic sects and sub-sects were busy going to war against one another in the streets of Lucknow (Muharram processions are banned in that city for over a decade now owing to Sunni-Shia and not Hindu-Muslim rivalry). We forget the terrible sounds of the army’s tanks rolling into Balochistan (1962, 1973); and then in Sindh (1983), slaughtering a number of young Baloch and Sindhis, accusing them of treason, when all they wanted were their democratic rights. We forget the terrible decade-long armed action by the state against ‘Muhajirs’ in Karachi, in which whole families were wiped out.
We forget how our intelligence agencies schemed the downfall of one democratic government after another in the 1990s, all the while fattening scores of holy monsters many of whom are now blowing up our markets and mosques. There are many more of these horrid episodes in which Pakistanis killed Pakistanis and Muslims slaughtered Muslims. Why is it so difficult then for us to understand that the mayhem rained on us today is by monsters like the home-grown Taliban? ‘It can’t be us. It can’t be Muslims,’ we say.
Back in 1971, very few Pakistanis were willing to advise Yahya Khan to get into a dialogue with rebelling Bengalis. But today, after years of unprecedented violence perpetrated by the Taliban, we have many politicians, TV hosts, and journalists suggesting a dialogue with men who one can’t even be described as human. These people’s minds and those of their followers have been influenced by all the concocted and mythical moments of glory, and of justified hatred in the name of religion and patriotism present in our historical discourse and the false memories that it has created in us.
Unfortunately such demagogic claptrap still manages to pass as being Pakistan and Muslim history in the textbooks and on popular TV.