OPINION: How we lost Swat

Daily News, Pakistan
March 9 2009

OPINION: How we lost Swat

‘Nasir Abbas Mirza

The loss of Swat is not the end of it. It is just another battle lost
by us. This battle, and the many more to come, can only be won with
more liberties, more freedom and more rights. And a state with a will
to protect these at all costs. That’s the real battlefront of this war
against terror and extremism

We have worked long and hard at losing Swat. We lost it in hundreds of
little battles fought over the last 35 years.

Since the mid-seventies, religious extremists have been chipping away
at our liberties, our rights and our freedom. Bit by bit they have
demolished, and continue to, all attempts to create a modern civil
society.

We lost Swat the day we made discriminatory laws based on sectarian
and religious divisions. I am reminded of a Jewish parable. An old
Jewish man was on his deathbed and his entire family stood around
him. The old man kept saying, `Take care of the Armenians; take care
of the Armenians.’ His son asked, `But we are Jewish; why do you keep
saying take care of the Armenians?’ The old man replied, `Because if
they get to the Armenians, you will be next.’

We let them get one sect and now they are in the process of getting
the Shias (non-protesting spectators include Mr Nawaz Sharif and Qazi
Hussain Ahmad); next would be other sects and religions ‘ Ismailis,
Parsis, Barelvis and so on until, as Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy calls it, the
Saudi-isation of Pakistan is complete.

We lost Swat when we banned alcohol. It’s banned but readily
available. Anyone can have it and everyone has it. Smugglers and
bootleggers laugh their way to the bank and the imbibers take it as a
cocktail of sin, guilt and crime.

We lost Swat when the state abdicated its right to educate its people,
leaving it to the private sector. For every modern school, the private
sector gave us a thousand madrassas.

We lost Swat when we let the movie industry die and banned theatre,
singing and dancing; when we banned Basant and everything else that
can be termed entertainment (including cricket). Soon we will have the
same fond memories of cricket as we have of kite flying.

There is as much drinking, gambling and fornication going on in this
country as in any other country. But hypocrisy triumphs every day. We
have been living a lie for the last 35 years. Google would tell you
the largest number of visitors to porn sites are from Pakistan and
Saudi Arabia.

We lost Swat when we permitted the Islami Jamiat-e Tulaba to terrorise
our universities; when we inserted the religion column in our
passports; when shalwar-qameez became our national dress; when we
created women’s police stations.

It was a sad day when traders of Hall Road, Lahore, burned CDs after
receiving an anonymous letter threatening to bomb them for selling
adult CDs. Nobody is there to protect them. That’s how it started in
Swat. Next in line are girls’ schools. Is Lahore ready for a bomb at
any of the girls’ schools? Is there a plan?

We lost our way when we set up parallel systems with all kinds of
Islamic councils and courts. Our society today is dominated by
mullahs, pirs and bazurgs. A man today is known by the pir he
keeps. The merit of a man is not his education and ability but the
façade of religiosity. A man with beard is better than a man
without one; a man who fasts is good, a man who drinks is bad. Rich
man, bad; poor man, good. Can anything be more tribal than this?

It was at the peak of General Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation that writers
like Ashfaq Ahmad made an industry out of it. Glorifying the pir and
the faqir, he promoted ruhaniat and praised otherworldliness. At prime
time, on the state-owned television channel, Mr Ahmad vilified the
rich and the successful while equating poverty with piety. How
simplistic and fateful can one get?

The brilliant physicist Richard Feynman used to make fun of such
philosophies, joking about a posteriori conclusions ‘ reasoning from
known facts back to possible causes. `You know, the most amazing thing
happened to me tonight,’ he would say. `I saw a car with the licence
plate ARW 257. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of licence plates
in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one
tonight? Amazing!’

His point, of course, is that it is easy to make any banal situation
seem extraordinary if you treat it as fateful. Read it again; this is
taken as serious philosophy in Pakistan and such `miracles’ are the
favourite topic of discussion among the educated.

The industry based on fatalism and extremism is the only one thriving
in Pakistan today. From Zia-ul Haq to Mian Nawaz Sharif to Dr Aamir
Liaqat to Inzamam-ul Haq to Farhat Hashmi, the list of the captains of
this industry is too long to reproduce here. Those who spent their
youth during Zia’s days have come of age and are at the helm of
affairs in this country. After 35 years of mass duplicity, we have at
hand a completely distorted society.

We lost Swat when someone in this country decided that our cultural
and religious sentiments would be irreparably hurt if a man were to
kiss a woman on screen. On the other hand, that same someone decided
that repulsive violence was all right to be screened to audiences of
all ages.

The rot started in the seventies because it took us nearly 30 years
after independence to completely distort, dismantle and destroy
whatever the British had given us. In tatters you would find the
education system, the justice system, the irrigation system, the
railway system, good governance, law and order, a military that
cannot, or refuses to, fight subversive tribesmen, the merit system
and everything else that could remotely be called civil or
modern. Mind you, at the time, each one of the listed systems was the
best in the world.

If it weren’t for British rule, how different would we have been from
Afghanistan? We would still be facing marauding hordes of barbarians
from the north who used to come down regularly to loot, rape and
plunder. That’s our history, at its most concise. Six decades after
1947 we are once again facing those hordes. Swat they have pillaged
and conquered. How far away are we from Swat?

The sad part is that while doing all of the above, we felt good about
it. Now we know that we took a wrong turn in the mid-seventies. Every
day we hear about `going back to the 1973 constitution’. What we don’t
hear is `we need to go back to 1973′.

The loss of Swat is not the end of it. It is just another battle lost
by us. This battle, and the many more to come, can only be won with
more liberties, more freedom and more rights. And a state with a will
to protect these at all costs. That’s the real battlefront of this war
against terror and extremism.

The writer is a freelance columnist

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