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Friday, January 23, 2009

Tale of a macabre country

Holiday International
Some of the Pakistani newspapers have quoted a particular news agency stating that according to a recent release by World Health Organisation two hundred sixty-two thousand people were killed in 1971 Bangladesh War of Independence. Although I could not get hold of any such report on the Internet, yet the news item provides an opportunity to do some stocktaking.
The emergence of Bangladesh draws an analogy at least in one aspect with 1857 upheaval. What for the Subcontinent was the war of independence was mutiny to British historians. While to Bangladeshis the 1971 event was the War of Independence, Pakistanis term as "separation of East Pakistan".
Today when we look back, tragic paradoxes dominate the scene. Take for example Muhammad Ali Jinah's speech at Dhaka in which he declared Urdu as the only national language of Pakistan. Whosoever drafted that speech was either unaware of cultural and linguistic history of East Bengal or was not sincere to his boss.
What the then West Pakistanis could not comprehend was the fact that Bengali is a language richer and older than Urdu and was, since centuries, being used, unlike Punjabi, as medium of instruction and communication. That speech sowed the seeds of permanent distrust between two wings.
Adoption of both Urdu and Bengali as national languages was the only logical solution of the issue. In Canada, for example, only one province is French speaking but French is accepted as a national language, besides English, by the entire country. Switzerland has three national languages. The irony is that in the leftover Pakistan, even today, after sixty years, Urdu is yet to occupy its promised seat at Centre as well as Provinces. Bengali, on the other hand, has been treated with far greater reverence in Bangladesh.
Field Marshall Ayub Khan's ten years' dictatorial rule had eroded much of the already decomposed national integration. His successor, General Yahya Khan, drove the last nail in the coffin of united Pakistan.
I remember during my student days at Dhaka University, Bengali class fellows used to ask sarcastically as to when the turn of a Bengali General would come to rule the country from the throne of Islamabad? Not even in a remote future".

Military rule
The never ending military rule diffused a deep, irreparable despondency all over in the eastern part of the country. There was no light at the end of tunnel. This turned the intelligentsia hostile.
I can not forget the taunt with which my hostel-warden at the Mohsin Hall of Dhaka University regretted to accept the cheque for university fee telling me "We are small people - we don't deal with cheque."
Variance in land ownership patterns was another decisive factor. There were no feudal lords in East Pakistan, whereas West Pakistan was a vast green pasture for land Czars including privileged members of the notorious Unionist Party which, one fine morning on the eve of Partition, had found themselves safe in the sanctuary of Muslim League.
The majority province, East Pakistan, ultimately seceded. This was unprecedented in the history. Small chunks always had been bidding farewell to the main lands but here it was a unique case. The biggest province of the then Pakistan, East Pakistan, which had a grand struggle for the achievement of Pakistan to its credit broke away after waging a War of Independence.

No soul-searching
It is a pity that no soul-searching is being carried out in the leftover Pakistan. The million-dollar question which deserves reply is whether the objective for which Pakistan was fought and won has been achieved. There is a complete lack of consensus as far as the objective is concerned. The upper crust maintains that Pakistan was created to provide opportunity for Muslims to live without economic domination of the Hindus. The masses, however, claim that the chunk of land was broken away from the mainland to implement principles of Islam.
Notwithstanding the fact that poet Asghar Sodai -- he breathed his last recently -- who had coined the popular slogan, "Pakistan ka matlab kia?- La-ilaha illallah" [What is the meaning of Pakistan? -- There is no god but God ]was neither a member of the then Muslim League (ML) nor the ML officially owned this catchword.

Whither Islamic State?
We assume, for the sake of argument, that founding fathers, indeed, had intention to make it a state wherein Islam, in letter and spirit would be practised as a way of life at national as well as individual levels. Unfortunately the present-day Pakistan has no compatibility with the cannons of Islamic State. The "Sardari" system of Baluchistan, the fiefdom prevailing in Sindh and South Punjab, the heterogeneous and chaotic education system, based mainly on class-distinction, and the dynasties monopolising the elected bodies are some of the features of present-day Pakistan which can hardly be accepted by any version of Islam.
But the most unfortunate is the sectarian strife which has completely destroyed the fabric of state as well the society. If, at all, Islam is being implemented, it is confined to a particular brand interested only in size of beard, colour of turban, length of shirt, visibility of ankles, burning female education institutes, blasting barbers' shops, destroying video centers and slitting throats of fellow-Muslims. Those who attribute creation of Pakistan to the cause of establishing an Islamic State must do some soul-searching whether the so-called objective has been achieved.

Women humiliated
That Pakistan was created for economic emancipation of the Muslims is a more shattered dream. Pakistan's economy is in a shambles.
Fortified permanently in glasshouses of Planning Commission and Finance Ministry, the well-fed baboos, have been aping Harvard and John Hopkins models and parroting phantasmagoria of per capita income and growth rate.
"Brains" behind the Cotton Policy or Wheat Policy have never seen cotton or wheat crops during their entire careers. What fruit the common man is reaping? A massive load-shedding programme several times every twenty four hours, a virtually non-existent purchasing power, thousands of roofless public sector schools where students bring their own empty sacks of jute or plastic to bottom themselves on hard ground, the lowest literacy rate in South Asia, women forced to march naked in streets every now and then, an anachronistic but free jirga system running parallel to the shackled Judiciary, an ever rising poverty line and teeming millions of youth running from pillar to post to get jobs that are below their academic qualifications.

Huge slaughterhouse
Above all, Pakistan has turned into a huge slaughterhouse. Anybody can be slain any time anywhere on parochial, linguistic or sectarian basis. Car jacking and kidnapping for ransom have been accepted by all concerned as order of the day. A small but all-powerful minority is enjoying a lifestyle known only for despots of Middle East and criminals of Latin American banana republics.
This is one country where your jet set living will never be probed into whether it is offshoot largesse of Commission in Arms purchase or some other crime hidden behind the fortune. So much for emancipation from economic hegemony of Hindus!
Reverting back to emergence of Bangladesh, whether it was outcome of a war of independence or a separation movement , the basic question which every Pakistani must ask himself is:
Have Bengalis missed anything by breaking away?

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