Pakistanis Need the Courage to Question

By: Moazzam Husain

It’s sometimes tempting to think of the power crisis as a simplified model of the national crisis today. A large part of the role behind Japan’s success was played by its corporations. Companies like Mitsubishi, Nissan and Sumitomo excelled by teaching their managers to ask questions.

For example, they would ask why we didn’t meet our sales target last month. To the answer our production was slow, the follow-up question would be why it was slow. We’re short of spare parts; machines kept breaking down, would come the answer. Why were we short of …. And in this way Japan probed its way to the bottom of its problems and very soon became a rich country.

Getting rich by asking questions? Why, sounds absurd? Not to the US Navy which then sported an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude. In 1984 it adopted the technique and — after adding additional content — branded it Total Quality Management. TQM became a buzzword and spread like wildfire to just about every US corporation and onwards to Europe and Asia.

A few days ago, as the lights and air-conditioning suddenly died on me and I put down Dr (Justice) Javid Iqbal’s book, Islam and Pakistan’s Identity, the last words to stick in my mind were: ‘Pakistan is not a failed state; it is in the hands of a ‘failed generation’.’ Iqbal envisioned a homeland for Muslims, Maudoodi, counter-intuitively, resisted on two counts: one, a separate Muslim state would limit Islam which had not fully done its work in India. Two, that the Musalmans of India were not ‘pure’ enough (read not fundamentalist enough) to be deserving of an all-Muslim state. Iqbal retorted that ‘Muslim state and society were always in a process of becoming and never became a finished product.’

Nevertheless there were problems with Iqbal’s approach, as he too maintained that the religious ideal could not be separated from the social order. Was he implying an Islamic state (or republic)? Because once you’re on that turf aren’t you left with little room for debate about implementing Sharia? Isn’t it setting you up as a target for a fundamentalist onslaught that an unfulfilled promise of an ‘Islamic republic’ brings on?

Unlike his predecessors Zia ul Haq not only gave way to this onslaught, he harnessed it. Then again in the summer of 1998 came another close call. That year, with his intended 15th Amendment, Nawaz Sharif brought Pakistan within inches of becoming a theocratic state. By 1998 weren’t Iqbal, Maudoodi, Zia and Nawaz Sharif all on the same page? True, Jinnah hadn’t wanted an Islamic state; just a state for Muslims but then, doesn’t the basis for Pakistan boil down to Muslims being only able to live with other Muslims?

The lights flickered back on, the AC started to hiss and the reassuring hum of appliances could be heard again. Then they dimmed and finally died again. Is there a power shortage? Apparently not. By some accounts, installed capacity is enough to meet all except peak demand. So why the blackouts? Circular debt … Mangla tripped … Lesco’s transformer at the Kot Lakhpat grid gave way. In the end we may find that there was less a shortage of capacity, and more a shortage of intelligent questions; and an inability to clear a cobweb of stupidity.

So if Dr (Justice) Javid Iqbal’s lament is that Pakistan is in the hands of a failed generation Aitzaz Ahsan, in his book, The Indus Saga, explains why. ‘Pakistanis have spent almost half a century of their existence without asking any questions.’ Indeed bold, courageous and informed questions are anathema in Pakistan. The book raises the question of whether Pakistan is the result of a ‘two-nation theory’ hastily put together and announced in 1940 as the Lahore Resolution, or has there been a historical separatist urge in the territory we know as the Indus Basin.

Recently, Pakistan lost its most distinguished historian. K.K Aziz believed that like governments, a people get the historians they deserve. In a country of 160 million people, only five or six historians actually wrote and published. And soon this ‘failed generation’ gets set to pass the state into the hands of an even more hopeless generation. This one opened its eyes under the dreadful rule of Ziaul Haq; when textbooks were mangled to portray Pakistan as a ‘besieged state’ under threat from a Hindu India, a godless Soviet Union and an anti-Islamic West. The result is now all around us.

Some time back prominent educator Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy had explained: ‘Most students have not learnt how to think; they cannot speak or write any language well, rarely read newspapers and cannot formulate a coherent argument or manage any significant creative expression. This generation of Pakistanis is intellectually handicapped.’

If inquiry and analysis were forbidden for the earlier generation, then the present one may not even have learnt how to construct a question. In such a culture isn’t it natural that obscurantist explanations and fundamentalist dogma will take over, conspiracy theories will flourish?

Against this the Jamaat has kept its fundamentalist narrative evergreen and intact, when it says that it is not religion’s fault the state of Pakistan hasn’t succeeded, it’s the fault of the people who never became ‘pure Muslims’. Within these wheels are the recruitment networks of the various jihadi outfits — in an environment of multiple social anomalies and economic deprivation — and we are facing a very real spectre of a radicalisation of many of the 93 million Pakistanis who are today under the age of 24. Out of curiosity: how many will turn to radicalism to chase the promise of untold pleasures in paradise and how many will actually be seeking to improve their lot in this world?

According to Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch, ‘Pakistan is indeed a failed state. A state that does not have enough self-confidence to take criticism…. A state that feels constrained to legalise bigotry and exclusion, extremism and prejudice, coercion and oppression in order to survive … [Pakistan] is certainly not presiding over a vibrant, successful and self assured society.’ If Ali was to travel to the past and meet Jinnah, with this message from the future, what would Jinnah’s response be to him? Perhaps more importantly, what would Jinnah’s questions be to him? Might one of the questions be ‘when did you people stop asking questions?’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *