Roaring back at the Dinosaurs – by Fahd Husain


The writer is Director News, Express News. He tweets @fahdhusain

Party workers are picked up in the dead of night, blindfolded, handcuffed, bundled into caged vans and driven to unknown locations. There they are maltreated, harshly interrogated, booked on flimsy charges, produced before magistrates, thrown into waiting buses and rushed to jails.

And for what?

On paper, all this is seemingly legal. The police have laws to quote, the magistrate has sections to cite, and the government has sanctioned powers to justify this wave of arrests. This is how troublesome activists have always been nabbed in Pakistan. This is how nuisance-generating crowds have always been dispersed in our country. This is how power-wielders have always dealt with challengers to their authority. All legal, all official, all permissible.

And all wrong.

Wrong because hidden under the folds of this legalese, is a reservoir of poisonous ill-intent. Such ill-intent strikes at the root of our diseased system. It has seeped into laws that aim to control, not serve. It has polluted the spirit of democracy and infected the norms of governance. Ill-intent makes right seem so wrong; just so unjust; pure so toxic.

Which is why the Science of Stupid reigns supreme in Pakistan. For what else can explain why the most glaring of wrongs cannot be righted? What else can explain the near-absence of common rationality among the rulers? What else can explain why the men and women donning imperial robes cannot see hypocrisy when it comes and slaps them across the face?

Sounds vague? Not really if you stare into the glowering eyes of the Predator State. If the government wants you picked up and thrashed, you will be picked up and thrashed. Legally. If the government wants you in jail, you will end up in jail. Legally. If the government wants to make your life miserable one way or the other, it will. Legally. There is a certain social sickness imbedded in this form of governance; a sickness sanctioned by law and justified by precedence: This is Pakistan, and this is how the system works here.

Baloney. Six decades of pure rot is enough. Six decades of exploitation, manipulation and suppression is enough. Six decades of abusing power and privilege is enough. Something, somewhere has got to change. This something is right here, in front of our eyes, looking straight at us, pleading, and begging. Look at the police beating people mercilessly in thanas; look at the endless line of citizens crying for justice in kachehries; look at the semi-naked children begging for morsels on the roadside; look at the nauseating arrogance of midgets growing fat on taxpayer money; look at the elected aristocrats twirling their moustaches and licking their lips while you grovel for your rights; look at the misery of life you have been served by those entrusted with State power — a life that ravages you in hospitals, lacerates you in courts; whips you in government offices and flays you on the streets. It is a life built around laws that chain; norms that stifle; traditions that crush.

But what do you do when those who should see these ruins of existence, strut around with their eyes wide shut? What do you do when these lords of our destiny refuse to feel the pain of the father who cannot send his child to school; who has to choose between buying food and buying shoes for his daughter? What do you do when these pharaohs cannot internalise the tragedy of a mother who has to bury her infant because she couldn’t afford proper health care? What do you do with these dynastic rulers who just cannot comprehend, imagine or visualize a Pakistan where all would be equal before the law; where they would be accorded a level playing field; where the rulers and the ruled would be equal citizens of the State?

Change has to be internalised before it can be implemented. Before it is internalised, it has to be visualised. Before it is visualised, it has to be imagined. Before it is imagined, it has to be dreamt. Before it is dreamt, it has to be felt. If the feeling gives you goosebumps, the flame has been ignited.

Has the flame been ignited in their hearts? Minus this flame, leaders are nothing more than managers. And managers just manage what they have. In our case, what we have is a rotting status quo strengthened by decades of decadent rule. This system that we suffer, and this governance that we brave, this is not changing because the managers of this system do not have the capability of the capacity to create something new. They are a product of this very system, where power is achieved through a certain well delineated exclusionist process; where who you know is more important than what you know; where kinship trumps merit, and personal agendas dominate institutional ones. Why would they cut the branch they sit on?

So they unleash the police on their opponents because that’s how this system has always worked. They steal elections because that’s how elections have always been won. They stuff government offices with their cronies because that’s the way they believe loyalty is rewarded. They build dynasties in the name of democracy because that’s how state power has always been used to guarantee generational dominance. It’s how their elders ruled. And that’s how they and their off springs will rule.

But if such a system continues, there won’t be much left to rule. It does not take trillions of dollars to change the system. All it takes is will. And intent. All it takes is for one person to stand up and say “Enough. No more”. All it takes is for a refusal to live a life this way. All it takes is for a determined citizenry to stand up and say no to this tragedy that we call life in Pakistan.

The mighty structures on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue today signify nothing more than tall edifices of political vanities. Under the shimmering September sun, they look like concrete dinosaurs, frozen in time. Perhaps the roar of the citizenry will rattle them back to life in a world that has learnt to exist without dinosaurs.