COMMENT: Interminable struggle —Dr Ali Madeeh Hashmi
Colonised, oppressed nations have always struggled with a collective sense of fatal resignation, also called ‘learned helplessness’ in psychology. A core feature of this is apathy and a desire for ‘rescue’ from outside. Realising that if Pakistan is to change for the better, the people of Pakistan taking the lead in transforming it would be a good start
“Bay mojzaa duniyaa main ubhartee nahin qaumain” (Nations do not arise without miracles)
— Allama Iqbal.
Pakistan’s 63rd birthday brings with it the usual litany of bad news: floods, power outages, crime, ‘terrorism’, the list gets longer, it seems, by the day. First, let us remember that Pakistan is not the only land that is hurting. Beginning in the summer of 2008, the worst financial crisis in history exploded on Wall Street and rapidly engulfed the rest of the world. As if to prove that the world is now a global village, the crisis rapidly spread to Europe and the rest of the world. The global financial system currently in place, born at the Bretton Woods conference in New Hampshire towards the end of World War II, was designed to open trade and ensure the free movement of capital all over the world. The US, at the time the ascendant superpower, took the lead role in its design. For close to 70 years, despite significant financial shocks, the system has persisted. However, the financial meltdown of 2008 required massive injections of government cash in all the developed countries. This has resulted in a massive increase in government debt, which must, over time, be paid back with interest if national currencies (and governments) are to be kept solvent. Over the next several years (or decades), this means rising and permanent unemployment (as government jobs are slashed or ‘privatised’), high inflation (as the values of currencies erode and prices rise accordingly), and further cut backs to already threadbare social programmes like education and healthcare (to pay back the debt). To combat the social unrest that this will inevitably engender, governments will increase the size and number of police forces and paramilitaries and those will be used more and more frequently against workers and anyone protesting against unemployment, lack of educational opportunities and the like.
If the social unrest cannot be contained by these means, it is a time-tested strategy in times of crisis to pit the workers of one country against another in a war in defence of ‘their’ government, conveniently ignoring that ‘government’ in a traditional parliamentary democracy always represents the interests of the wealthy and influential. The crisis in the West is only just beginning and will intensify in the years to come. The US, now a terminally hobbled and declining power, is mired down in a ‘war’ of its own doing, unable to extricate itself gracefully or quickly. As the US’s power continues to decline in years to come, its de facto ‘colonies’, including Pakistan, will also be wracked by unrest.
One of the prime concerns of average Pakistanis today is ‘security’ and ‘terrorism’. ‘Security’, meaning protection of life and property, cannot be guaranteed while there is stark social polarisation, i.e. when a tiny segment of the population enjoys all the comforts of life while the rest are deprived of even basic necessities like food and shelter. Poverty and lack of access to food, affordable housing and educational opportunities are perfect breeding grounds for crime as well as radical notions of social change, including apocalyptic religious ‘end times’ types. In these dire circumstances, how can the average Pakistani best contribute to the betterment of society?
There are two aspects to this question. Externally, as Marx said, “Men make history but they do not do so in circumstances of their own choosing.” None of us has a choice about the era or the social conditions that we are born or grow up in. No person, family, community or nation can change the course of history by itself. Pakistan’s misfortune, shared by all third world countries that achieved their independence after the cataclysm of World War II, is that we were born bound, hand and foot, to western powers that had managed to throw off the yoke of colonisation decades or centuries earlier, thus allowing them to develop their own industries and economies indigenously, without outside interference. Post-World War II, China is a prime example of a nation that broke out of western domination (at great cost and millions of lives lost) and is now poised to replace the west as a global power. Not that the people of Pakistan have never tried. The revolution of 1968 toppled Ayub Khan’s government and eventually brought forth our first popularly elected government. More recently, the lawyers’ movement in 2007 toppled the latest military government. However, popular movements do not arise overnight nor last too long. Ordinary people have more pressing day to day concerns of livelihood to tend to. No doubt other upsurges will happen but in the meantime, what can an individual do?
Realising the limited role of any one individual is a good start as is educating others about the history and causes of our predicament. Organising grassroots efforts to support local and community causes is a third. There are a host of individuals and organisations all over Pakistan engaged in struggles for social change. They range from the well known and much admired, including the Edhi foundation, the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), etc, to many lesser known ones.
Perhaps the most important thing to do is to maintain a ‘realistic hope’. Colonised, oppressed nations have always struggled with a collective sense of fatal resignation, also called ‘learned helplessness’ in psychology. A core feature of this is apathy and a desire for ‘rescue’ from outside. Realising that if Pakistan is to change for the better, the people of Pakistan taking the lead in transforming it would be a good start. On this 63rd birthday of Pakistan’s formation, let us again repeat the words of Iqbal:
“Jachtay nahin bakshay huay firdaus nazar main;
Jannat teri pinhan hai teray khoon-e jigar main;
Ae paikar-e-gil! Koshish’e paiham kee jazaa dekh.”
(Gifted paradise suits you not;
Your paradise is hidden in your own blood.
O figure of clay, behold the reward of constant effort!)
The writer is a psychiatrist on staff at King Edward Medical University, Lahore. He can be reached at email@example.com