‘The most dangerous is to have our dreams die’
“Being robbed of wages is not the most dangerous/Being beaten by the police is not the most dangerous/The most dangerous is to have our dreams die,” wrote Paash in his poem ‘Sab ton Khatarnak’. A revolutionary Punjabi poet, Paash whose real name was Avtar Singh Sandhu, was killed by a Khalistani extremist in 1989. Though long gone, what he wrote has a universal appeal and at times strikes one of how it applies to the people in Pakistan.
Page after page in the newspapers are filled with stories of strife and violence, be it in Karachi, Balochistan or Khyber Pakhtunkhawa. And while millions endure the pain and trauma, our core state seems to be lost in a state of deep slumber, oblivious to the disintegration that is underway in Pakistan.
For the last few years many have argued that since the biggest stake-holder in Pakistan is its ‘core state’, it will start acting rationally due to the sheer fear of being wiped out. Under this rational assumption based on the law of survival, it was believed that the state will abandon ventures that have proven devastating and will start the process of self-correction. There were some optimistic symptoms as well: for example, the restoration of an independent judiciary or the cleansing Swat of religious extremists. Alas, time has shown that these were random undertakings, not supporting the optimistic assumption that core state has been forced to be self correct itself. The reaction to the insurgency in Balochistan,, the freedom granted to religious brigades and the use of moral brigade in media has not diminished, but rather accelerated in influence with more zeal..
As we see the things falling apart in front of our eyes it is intriguing, at the least, to ask that why people running the core states are headed on a path that will eventually annihilate them too. But then one starts thinking as to what was going on in the minds of the ruling elite of British, Mughal, Roman, Persian or American empires? They had all the stakes in sustaining their respective empires and the idea of being thrown in the dust bin of history never occurred to them. History has seen many of those who were riding decorated royal elephants and then leaving bare-feet begging as observed by great Sufi poet Shah Hussain:
ننگے پریں جاندڑے ڈٹھے جن کے لاکھ کروڑ
Nange pairin jandRe dithe jin ke lakh kror
(I have seen some turned to bare feet that had millions).
The historians have pointed out many signs of falling empires or state and here we select three of them that can be read in any order.
1. The groups and personnel running the core of the empire/state become complacent and arrogant: they think that because they are the most powerful, they must know everything better than others. We have not seen the demise of the older empires but one can certainly see this phenomenon in Washington and Islamabad where the people running the core state can’t see beyond their nose.
2. The ruling classes in the falling empires/states become fixated on rigid ideologies that cannot adjust to the changing conditions. For example, in the US, the ruling class is obsessed with the kind of capitalist ideology that has worked for them in the past. Pakistan’s ruling elite is overwhelmed by Pakistan ideology of ‘one religion, one language’ as the basis of their existence. In both cases the states are becoming weaker with each passing day but the masters of affairs fail to realise this. On the contrary, China and India changed their ideological positions—replacing Socialist rigidity with liberalism—and are reaping the economic fruits.
3. The falling empires/states have unaffordable military budgets: their incomes start falling and their military expenditures remain high. Paul Kennedy in his book ‘Rise and Fall of the Great Powers’ has proven with historical data that in each case the military expenditures outpaced the incomes in the falling empires. Furthermore, the expenditures on social services fall, says Dr. Kennedy. Both things—rising military expenditures and falling social services—are hallmarks of the US and Pakistan.
All the symptoms mentioned above show that the US and Pakistan have a common disease–dead tranquility at the core-state that is eating them slowly. Apparently, one can hardly compare a superpower and a poor country, and that is not the purpose here. But at the same time rich and poor can have the similar fatal diseases.
The deep slumber or rather the ‘dead tranquility’ of the core state in Pakistan is not permitting it to identify the real enemies and necessary corrective processes. It is not willing to concede that, maybe, India is not its main enemy, and religious extremism is. It cannot see that if India keeps growing at its present pace, while the Pakistani economy keeps dragging, there will be no comparison in a decade or so. Similarly, it cannot see that sheer military force along with Pakhtun mullahs of Balochistan cannot bring victory against the Baloch nationalists. As matter of fact the core-state is not willing to acknowledge that Pakistan’s biggest problem is Balochistan and not FATA or the US. All this while, as the core state remains in deep slumber, the victims happen to be the people caught in strife and each day they have their dreams shattered.
Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a poet, author, a political commentator and a cultural activist. He is a Doctor of Economics and currently lives in Washington DC.