A Fatal Juxtaposition
of Violence and Resignation
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari
A strange air of resignation
and fatalism seems to have pervaded our society
in a most damaging fashion. This is reflected both
in our approach towards our external relations and
events within the country. Take the devastating
terrorist attack on the Eid-i-Milad-un-Nabi congregation
at Nishtar Park, Karachi: It should have shocked
the national polity into serious introspection.
Yet, after the initial shock, the nation went about
with life as usual. We seem to have become immunized
to the growing violence within our society as we
are given a daily account of the killings across
the country. It is not just acts of terrorism but
the domestic violence that leads to the non-stop
media accounts of women being burnt or axed or simply
Militarization of society has become ingrained as
violence is seen as an answer to all disagreements
amongst ourselves - no matter how petty the issue.
Whether it is rival student groups, or siblings,
or spouses or political or religious groups. From
the micro to the macro levels of society, we seem
to revel in the use of violence. Our language for
ourselves is violent; our responses to even the
most minor of provocations is violent and, of course,
no political or religious gathering can be held
without an adequate display of weapons.
The violence is, of course, the means or expression
of a growing intolerance for diversity amongst ourselves.
Be it the religious or secular extremist, a self-righteousness
embodies a lack of tolerance for the other. Our
so-called "Western liberals" are not prepared
to see any good in any form of religious expression
or school, while our "religious" pontiffs
condemn all opponents as "un-Islamic".
The space to coexist is disappearing fast and the
rising tide of intolerant self-righteousness will
sweep us all in its wave of destruction.
What is the reason for this air of resignation and
fatalism? At some level, the ruling elite, of all
varieties, must take responsibility at the macro
level, at least. Over the decades, their unresponsiveness
to the people; their abuse of this wonderful land
and its resources; and, their complete lack of commitment
to a sense of nationalism, while pushing forward
factional and personal interests, has unleashed
a similar "looking out for oneself" mindset
within the nation.
Elections are the only time that at least some lip
service is paid to the wishes of the people but
once the votes have been cast, the people become
irrelevant. Corruption has become endemic and the
"take what you can" mentality is all-pervasive.
The irony is that corruption or percentage-taking
is not unique to Pakistan. Other countries, which
are in the fast lane of development also have these
issues but as one Southeast Asian explained, while
people take their "cut" they also ensure
that the project they are involved in not only gets
completed on time, it is done up to the specifications
-- so that the nation also benefits.
At the micro level, we see our children being short-shrifted
in their education with government schools having
neither the resources invested in them nor the commitment
to produce proper teachers; and private schools
seeing themselves more as purely commercial outfits
rather than as places where future generations must
be nurtured fruitfully. As for the profession of
teaching itself, it lost its luster decades earlier
and a teacher now is more an object of derision
or ridicule rather than respect and awe.
It is assumed people turn to teaching when they
cannot do anything else, or simply to while away
time till other things happen. In our homes also
we have stopped inculcating this sense of respect
for the teaching profession which eventually means
that we have stopped respecting the notion of learning.
We draw many comparisons between ourselves and other
South Asians, but a major difference between Indians,
Sri Lankans and ourselves is the passion for learning
in the two former nations in the true sense of the
Ironically, while intolerance for each other is
becoming a hallmark within our society, our fatalism
and sense of resignation is making us overly tolerant
of abuse from outside. With our larger neighbor
India, we are desperately seeking conflict resolution
even though it is clear they are more interested
in conflict management or the imposition of solutions.
The arrogance of the Indian state has been increasing
as we have become more accommodating and nothing
reflects this more clearly than their offer of the
so-called "peace and friendship treaty"
which they suggest should leave Kashmir out of its
Nor are we taking abuse only from the Indians. Mr.
Bush came here to "check" whether "his
friend", President Musharraf was "still
serious" about his commitment against terrorism!
The sheer cheek! But worse has followed. We had
the US Energy Secretary coming to Islamabad and
berating us and the State Department's Boucher coming
to hold forth on our domestic political situation.
Yes, we have our problems but our political elites
can surely resolve these without external interventions?
In any case, it would have been a little more seemly
if our politicians had met with Boucher outside
of the US embassy, if they had to discuss the domestic
Our sense of resignation has become so pronounced
that we are unable to offer any strong response
to the abuse being heaped on us from external forces.
Even when the government knows what India and others
are up to in Balochistan, we do not become more
assertive -- even in our language. When we do object
to events abroad which impact us, even then we choose
to hurt ourselves through violence against each
other rather than rationally defeating the guilty
on their own turf and with their own legal weapons.
Violent actions against Pakistani business interests
and Pakistani people, to protest the blasphemous
cartoons published abroad, only made our own people
Again, while we hold nothing back in the language
we use against each other, we have become overly
circumspect in responding to external machinations
against our nation. Even Mr. Karzai, who can barely
keep his government's writ in Kabul, has found himself
able to hurl accusations at us and make demands
on us ad nauseam. That Mushahid Hussain actually
broke the circumspect mode on the link between events
in Balochistan and Indian activities in Afghanistan,
his interview to The News was a welcome surprise,
but those directly responsible for foreign and security
policy also need to show more spine in their public
We need to overcome our seeming air of defeatism
in external dealings because we are not as weak
as we seem to be feeling and the problem is in our
elite's psyche. At the same time, we need to break
out of our intolerant and violent mode within the
domestic framework. The earthquake brought out the
best in this wonderful nation but why must we wait
for catastrophes to show the true spirit of nationhood
that still prevails amongst the nation at large.
It would be a self-created tragedy to allow the
humane spirit, caring and commitment of this wonderful
nation, to be buried under the violence of intolerance
and the defeatism of an unwarranted fatalism.
(The writer is director general of the Institute
of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The