In an era of plummeting optimism for peace and prosperity, the prospects of a better life begin to vanish from the popular memory. This is bound to happen when hopes for betterment are dashed, voices of dissent are muffled, the choices of a decent life are marred and freedom of expression is barred.
All this happens under the pretext of securing an obscure future and we tend to kill our present to create a secure Pakistan in the future. The people of this country have experienced the state of permanent national security without being able to see peace and prosperity. There is an emerging political narrative in Pakistan that gives primacy to national security at the cost of freedom and democracy. The proverbial and oft-repeated statement that Pakistan is undergoing a critical period never comes to an end.
There is an emerging political narrative in Pakistan that gives primacy to national security at the cost of freedom and democracy
We are made to believe that democracy does not work in this country. This proclamation becomes even more farcical when the undemocratic rule is provided justification by the educated class. For the most part, our tumultuous political history has been a saga of undemocratic political control and subjugation as a mode of governance.
This strange logic has been hammered through our education system as well. Our ideologically-induced textbooks of history and literature provide all that material of ignorance and animosity. Our children are being taught to hate other civilisations rather than being provided help to explore the sociological and historical contexts of these civilisations. It doesn’t stop here. History books provide fanciful stories of the bravery, valour and faith of invaders who are presented as our heroes.
What we have been reading as history is ideological, anecdotal and subjective and propagates hatred, war and conflict. It is anathematic to the peaceful coexistence of pluralistic communities. This is not only the case in Pakistan. The same is taking place in India as well. With the rise of right-wing Hindu nationalism, a new narrative of history is being invented to provide ideological legitimacy to Modi’s fascism. The history of hatred serves the political and economic interests of the ruling elite across the divide. We read these concocted stories as history and expect our educated youth to become enlightened and support democracy and peace.
Our civilian rule has not been an ideal model of democratic governance for the educated youth to aspire for. The disillusionment with democratic regimes has invigorated this jingoistic mindset of absolute control as a means of development and progress. Even today, the people refer to the era of Ayub Khan as a golden period of development and progress. Our national psyche has historically and politically been framed to distrust democratic governance. Democracy is bound to fail in this country unless we allow drastic reforms in our education system and our political leadership shows statesmanship to demonstrate that democracy is the best form of governance.
We are not aliens or Martians who live separately on a planet of increasing political consensus about the nexus of democracy, peace and prosperity. Democracy was never put to work in this country right from the day of its independence. Those who propagate this anti-democracy and anti-parliamentary logic of governance present themselves as saviours.
This genesis of political nihilism calls for the advent of a messianic character to rectify our sociopolitical ills. Those who have guts, prescience, vision and wisdom to articulate the roadmap of a better society are pushed to the margins.
This is the summary of an hour-long reflection of a semi-literate, aggrieved man in a remote village situated 180 kilometres in the northeast of Gilgit town. These words of wisdom could easily be used as quotable references had they been uttered by a well-reputed intellectual. We could deduce from such utterances that wisdom is not the preserve of the chosen ones. Instead, it is out there for everyone.
The young man was referring to the moral, political and institutional decay of our society, which breeds pessimism and dejection. The height of moral turpitude lies in our mundane practices and the choice to remain a recipient and to eulogise those we think will change the world for us. The capricious quest for short-term material gains is what we have inculcated in the minds of the youth in this country.
In this remote village of Gilgit-Baltistan, there has been a growth of ill-conceived enterprises across the Karakoram Highway (KKH) with the hope to get rich overnight. The youth are being told that CPEC will bring them the fortunes of the future. This may be true for large contractors of security and construction and other well-placed businesses. But for a small entrepreneur, there is nothing much to cheer about. The Chinese are coming with a complete package of their own – including domestic labour, hospitality services and a whole paraphernalia of goods and services – and will not rely on our underdeveloped institutional structure.
The story of the transformative potential of CPEC has not gone down well with some people. The observations of this young man who lives in a remote village that is situated at the gateway of CPEC represent the dilemma of our society. This man has articulated what I heard repeatedly during my recent visit to Gilgit-Baltistan.
The citizens of Pakistan and those who have yet to be entitled as citizens under the constitution -– the people of Gilgit-Baltistan –- find it difficult to believe in the rhetoric of prosperity
Many people have apprehensions about being excluded from the mainstream political decision-making on CPEC. The more there is talk about CPEC, the less they are convinced about its trickledown benefits for the poor people. The citizens of Pakistan and those who have yet to be entitled as citizens under the constitution -– the people of Gilgit-Baltistan –- find it difficult to believe in the rhetoric of prosperity.
The apprehensions regarding CPEC cannot be equated with anti-state activities either. It is the constitutional right of the people of Pakistan to know their economic and political future.
The families that have been affected by the KKH’s upgradation in Gojal, Upper Hunza, say they have yet to be paid their land compensation. According to a local development worker, the National Highway Authority (NHA) in Gilgit-Baltistan has violated the Land Acquisition Act by reducing the compensation amount without consulting the Land Revenue Department. The NHA has been revising the compensation papers and reducing the compensation amount for the last 10 years without paying even a single penny to the affected families who live along the KKH in Upper Hunza.
There have also been allegations that the NHA has been using delaying tactics. People are reportedly also being threatened with arrest on grounds of being anti-state elements if they do not abstain from demanding compensation. These acts of depriving poor farmers of their land compensation do not go well with the claims of the game-changing prospects of CPEC. The story does not end there in Gilgit-Baltistan. There are similar stories emerging areas along the CPEC route that passes through Balochistan, Sindh, KP and Punjab.
The demands for legitimate economic rights made by poor farmers should not be considered ‘anti-state’ and it is the state that seems to adopt an anti-people stance
CPEC should be about the citizens of Pakistan. If it does not change the fate of our poor, all those tall claims of prosperity are meaningless. The demands for legitimate economic rights made by poor farmers should not be considered ‘anti-state’ and it is the state that seems to adopt an anti-people stance. The apprehensions regarding CPEC cannot be equated with anti-state activities either. It is the constitutional right of the people of Pakistan to know their economic and political future.
It is the responsibility of the political government and security planners to allow an open debate on CPEC’s pros and cons for the people of Pakistan. No state can afford to adopt and sustain an anti-people approach for a long period. Let’s make a pledge to chart out a new social contract so that Pakistan, like other civilised nations, can see democracy, peace and prosperity.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad. he can be reached at: [email protected]