A perpetual state of denial by Haris khalique

The writer is a poet and author based in Islamabad.

Straightforward duplicity or covering up of facts to deny and reject what actually happened does not change what actually happened.
Nor could moulding the perceptions of a group of people who live under your influence change what actually happened. But since the rest of the people in large numbers who do not live under your influence will have a different set of ideas to believe in and a different set of facts to draw upon for information, a small set of people under your influence will be continuously at odds with the rest of the world. Owing to the advancement of a particular worldview over the years through school curriculum, news media and the public messages sent out by the state establishment, so many of us, the middleclass Pakistanis, are at odds with the rest of the world.

We live in a perpetual state of denial. Everything that does not fit our idea of the world is either false propaganda or a malicious conspiracy hatched against our country or our society. Individually, we suffer from paranoia, second-guessing and distrust. Collectively, we seek solace in an imagined past, a sense of possessing higher moral values and a hardened self-righteousness. Our rejecting reality and clinging to preconceived notions limit the possibility of our intellectual progress and economic growth. Our social imagination is blurred by the clouds of self-deceit and nurtured ignorance.

Let us begin from some major happenings in our history. Many of us believe that it was only the Muslims of the Subcontinent who were killed by Hindu bigots and Sikh zealots at the time of Partition in 1947. What happened to the Hindus and Sikhs in Muslim-majority areas? Human beings show the most atrocious side of their character once violence is let loose, whatever faith they preach or practise. Those who do not participate in riots, loot, plunder and slaughter, provide legitimacy to them by either staying silent, looking away or justifying these cruel acts by calling them a reaction to the atrocities of the other side, self-defence or natural outburst of emotions. It is not truth that is the first casualty in a war, it is humanity. However, in order for a society to move forward truth must be established before any reconciliation can take place.

Soon after independence and the creation of Pakistan, weren’t the governments and provincial assemblies of the-then NWFP and Sindh undermined by the central government? Did we not annex Kalat state expediently rather than through a process of negotiations? Didn’t Liaquat Ali Khan, the first prime minister, get the Objectives Resolution passed on the one hand and moved us into the American camp on the other?

We are told that the self-proclaimed field marshal, Ayub Khan, came to power when the country was going through massive political instability and then brought about a revolution in our economy. The hero was actually a usurper of power who abrogated the 1956 Constitution of the Republic. His lopsided policies and attitude towards the eastern wing fundamentally caused the creation of Bangladesh and the Islamic Republic of West Pakistan, in which we live. Social justice was denied and civil rights were suspended in his time. Political rallies were fired upon even in the early years, but Hasan Nasir was the first major political prisoner who was tortured to death by the state in Lahore Fort in 1960. I write these lines on the day of his 52nd death anniversary. Few would know that there was little change in Pakistan’s literacy rate over the glorious decade of Ayub Khan. Some say it actually came down.

Fatima Jinnah rallied the opposition against the martial-law ruler but was made to lose the presidential elections. She later died in mysterious circumstances. Neither has there been a proper inquiry conducted into the Quaid-e-Azam’s ambulance running out of fuel on its way from Mauripur airbase to Flagstaff House in Karachi, nor into Fatima Jinnah’s death.

Come 1971. We treated our fellow countrymen shabbily for too long and lost them. We lost the war as well. I was told in my school by the Pakistan Studies teacher that most of the teachers in East Pakistan were Hindu. They poisoned the minds of students against Pakistan and helped create Mukti Bahini. If some of us were not to read other accounts by independent authors, had not become familiar with what was happening in the power corridors, on assembly floors, within the close doors of government and military offices and in the internal meetings of the political parties of the time, if we had not visited Bangladesh, we would still think that our teachers were right.

For the last four decades, we have been finding ways to deny what actually happened in East Pakistan. One of our preferred ways is to find a work by a non-Pakistani, non-Muslim author to prove our point that it was not entirely our fault. I am afraid it was. Does it really matter if Sheikh Mujibur Rahman exaggerated the figure of casualties of Begalis in the 1971 military action and the resultant war? Does it really matter if three million or three hundred thousand did not die, but only thirty thousand? Is thirty thousand a small number by any means? Didn’t the West Pakistanis insist on parity with East Pakistan despite its larger population? Didn’t we ask for, and then obtain, a bigger share in economic resources all along? Didn’t we look down upon our fellow countrymen and -women with contempt? Did we not deny them the right to rule after the Awami League won 160 out of 300 seats in the 1970 elections to the National Assembly, forming a simple majority? Could we deny all this?

Let us now come to the present. So many of us believe that 9/11 was actually a Jewish conspiracy. All Jews were told in advance not to go to their offices in the World Trade Centre. Some even say that Osama bin Laden was an American agent. Well, well, Saudi Arabia is an unrelenting American ally in the world, and particularly in the Middle East. Osama was a Saudi dissident. He wanted to bring the kingdom down, didn’t he? How come some of our rightwing opinion-makers support both Saudi Arabia and Osama at the same time? Saudis did not accept his body for burial. Or was he really killed? My, my! When the whole world asks what Osama was doing in Pakistan for so many years while Pakistan itself is a part of the war waged against him and his outfit, we are more concerned about how the American choppers could enter our airspace and violate our sovereignty. From Liaquat Ali Khan to Ayub Khan, from Ziaul Haq to Pervez Musharraf, all chose for us to side with the Americans. All religious outfits were American allies until the early 1990s. Could we deny all that?

When Malala Yousafzai was shot, the Taliban accepted responsibility and provided a rationale for their action, quoting religious texts. But a group came up and said that the Taliban couldn’t have done that because it is against their values. Rather than our supporting Malala’s cause with one voice, a concerted campaign is launched against her, casting doubts upon the incident, calling her family American agents. The denial of what happened to Malala will lead to denial of education to our girls.

Obituary: Rest in peace, Iqbal Haider. You would have called me from Karachi after reading this piece. You will be missed dearly.

Email: harris.khalique@gmail.com


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