A light unto ourselves

by Zaair Hussain

A passionate cry for educational reform in Pakistan is almost always a welcome voice. Recently, a personality of some stature and prominence put the ‘almost’ in ‘almost always’ and advocated the immediate commencement of classes specifically designed to ensure that our youth takes the inherent enmity of India as an article of faith and never forgets that New Delhi is hell-bent on the destruction of Pakistan.

Contained within this suggestion is a cocktail of two of the most self-defeating traits of our country: an identity that stems from a negative root (“to be a proud Pakistani is to oppose India”), and a xenophobic victimisation complex that strips us of ownership of our own destiny and imagines it inevitably in the malicious hands of another.

Pakistan’s problems are a growing legion; they have encircled us, besieged us, and even now advance upon us with a menacing gait and a grim determination. We have ridden out to meet them in the field, armed not with solutions but with accusations.

We, who must walk every day through the ashes and the flames, would deny our own volcanoes. Every eruption of violence and instability is placed upon the heads of external sources, most commonly RAW, who promptly shrug their shoulders and issue perfunctory denials. We, in turn, heroically nurture our grudges — real or imagined — into a full-blown enmity curriculum for our children. There is little to suggest that RAW is a competent enough agency to destabilise Pakistan single-handedly in the first place, but it is jaw-dropping how many of us have clawed our way atop in the sheer face of credulity and declared that no instability or violence in Pakistan could arise from within.

We have clung, white-knuckled, so long to the notion of a state with ‘barbarians at the gate’ that many of us simply cannot adjust to the new reality: they are inside, these new barbarians, within us, amongst us. Decades of self-conditioning against an external threat have left us woefully ill-equipped, emotionally or mentally, to deal with the home-grown nightmare of the Taliban. Those we considered our faithful pawns against the Soviets have since become, whether through indulgence or neglect, harbingers of a twisted and starkly imagined dark age.

But because their hides resemble our skin, and in their growlings we hear faint echoes of familiar words, we resort to what is familiar and comfortable: blaming India for everything that goes awry, though the average Pakistani has infinitely more in common with the average Indian than with a member of the Taliban, or the RSS. Our frankly bewildering denial that anything could be the fault of our own has created a victimisation complex, rendering us unable to face our problems, let alone address them.

What safety will we sacrifice by teaching our children that Indians are human? We do not rely on a ragtag militia for our defence, that any sag in nationalistic fervour will ensure the immediate storming of our borders. We enjoy the protection of a large, professional army; we have no reason to sabotage from kindergarten any chance of a peaceful coexistence, which will greatly benefit our own country.

I am no single-minded pacifist, content to secure our borders with positive thinking and pixie dust, and that is precisely because I believe Indians are people too. People everywhere can be paranoid, vicious and untrustworthy. But if our identity as a separate people becomes indistinguishable from our frenzied opposition to India, what is there left to protect?

We are drowning in the fallacy that patriotism is nothing more than rejectionism. To believe this is to believe that love and hatred are synonymous — an absurd notion. In some ways, this paradigm was initially inevitable: in the hellfire of partition was forged a gleaming antagonism, stronger than any steel. Our creation left us scarred and we looked to our army rightly for our safety, and mistakenly for our identity.

I do not denigrate our soldiers; they are often the bright line between us and the darkness without. If called upon, they will no doubt hold the line — bravely, heroically — but it is not their function to move us forward. For that, we must look elsewhere, to institutions that have nothing to do with opposition. We must look to our educators, our philosophers, our young men and women naïve enough to envision a better future and stubborn enough to bring it about in the face of all obstacles. We must realise that we consummated our rejection of greater India decades ago, and turn our passion towards blazing a new path, our own path.

For all our endemic problems and our crippling poverty and our moments of shame, we are not a nation with nothing to be proud of. In times of crisis, our people have rallied together with a humbling generosity to lift their stricken countrymen and women back on their feet. We have the largest private ambulance service in the world, a wonder wrought by the hand of an exceptional man and a nation eager to support him. In the midst of drab grey skies, the intense luminance of some of our musicians and artists and poets left the whole world dazzled. Despite the allegedly impermeable chauvinism of ‘the masses’, we were the first Muslim majority country to elect a female head of state. Two years ago, we formed an impossible alliance across deeply divided classes to overthrow — peacefully, bloodlessly — a dictator who had become a tyrant.

Our identity must be anchored to these and all other points of rightful pride to harness the true, full measure of our own brilliance. We must aspire to be more than a rejection of India, a shadow cast by its flame, and create our own light.

Parents teach their children to be wary of strangers; it is a natural reaction to the heart-stopping fear of their offspring’s naiveté and vulnerability and cannot be grudged. But to educate them thus is a different matter entirely; we are not encouraging caution, but hatred. And to consummate this hellish curriculum, we are teaching them to use the unknown, demonised the other to escape personal responsibility. If these are the lessons we value, our only hope as a people is that our children are headstrong enough to ignore us.

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