Silent. Decaying. Smouldering. Hurting without much noise. That is how most South Asians spend their mortal lives. When it becomes too much, their heads explode with a tiny pop. Reason? Grinding poverty. Answer? The ultimate opiates — politics, communalism, conspiracy theories, paranoia, appeal to emotions. Result? More human suffering. Exacerbating crises. Premium on crime and corruption. Violence. A vitiating downward spiral.
This is the portrait of the human condition in South Asia. And the states ruling them? Heartless. State formation in South Asia was largely an imperial process. Institutions were and still are mostly extractive and exploitative. When you are told day in and day out, for centuries, that you are evil, you do manage to inhale the propaganda and try staying in character. The truth is that South Asian states abandoned their constituents eons ago. Now the state does not work for you. You work for the state. There is only one exception — a small rent-seeking class that was in Bulban’s corps of 40, with Babar when he invaded India, with the East India Company when it silently took over the region. And now it is with your respective states.
If any foolish person still wants to own these states, he/she does so because it is in his/her nature to love. It is like being the child of a really mean parent. If you gotta love your parents, you gotta love them anyways. I know this because I am just this kind of a fool. I love my state not for what it is but for what it can be. I see great, in fact, infinite potential in it. Like a stubborn child, I refuse to believe that the good in people and things will not eventually prevail. But there are other, different, examples too. India, for instance. The state is big, powerful and it could not be truly bothered about the wellbeing of its citizens. Yes, it is rich. Yes, the economy is growing. And yes, officially it is a democracy. But what good is all this to the farmers of Punjab who commit suicide regularly to escape the ever-growing debt burden? Or the untouchables who can be killed for getting water out of the wells meant for the higher caste? Good parents do not divide their children into categories based on their skin colour or beliefs or time of birth. So, how do you control them and command their respect? Make them emotional, make them violent, turn a blind eye when they kill one another. And give them political ambition about things that do not change their lives. For instance, make them dream that their father could be the king of the world. But hey, without a serious change of heart, the father would remain just as mean and as abusive, even with a crown on his head. India still hasn’t faced its moment of truth. We have. Twice.
The first wake-up call for Pakistan was in 1971 when half the country fought to escape the toxic relationship with the other half. The second moment of truth came in September 2001 when the state tried to correct its course and there was a massive blowback. Since then, even non-state actors, who were once patronised by the state and are now barely tolerated, are no fans of the state. They are waiting, silently biding their time before they strike and bring the entire house down. The state has seen an unending stream of violent blowbacks. It is bound to be cautious. The Mumbai attacks clearly did not take place to strengthen the Pakistani state. Au contraire. It lost all leverage that it had.
But something is now changing in Pakistan. The appetite and tolerance for such violence both at home and abroad is declining. Even the conspiracy theorists who believe India engineers attacks on its own soil to put pressure on Pakistan, do so because they cannot justify such acts of barbarism and don’t know how else to react. In this atonement of sins lies Pakistan’s salvation. That’s why you see the state conducting operation after operation. It is a reconstructive surgery and will take time. As a nation, our focus is now on rebuilding lives and the economy, and rooting out extremism. The Indian side will do itself a favour if it restrains its own hatemongers. We tried to counter hate with hate and the hatemongers are trying to bite our heads off today. Somebody, meanwhile, needs to show the Indian Dorian Gray his picture to effect the same change of heart that we are going through.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 9th, 2016.