Requiem for a lost country
The earth gods are not mocked lightly. They are slow to anger, but scorn them long enough, defy them long enough, and they will rise up and unleash their fury upon you. This is what they are now doing. This year their baleful gaze has focussed on hapless Pakistan. They could hardly have picked a better target: a country with limitless vulnerability, and no defences. Over-populated, under-resourced, practically bankrupt, no governance to speak of, with a corrupt, bloodsucking ruling class, smothered under the weight of men with guns, some wearing uniforms, others sporting beards.
But it is not this country that I mourn. It will survive, as will its hardy people. Like the lowly of the earth everywhere, survival is about the only skill that their forbears bequeathed to them. They will pick themselves up, bury their dead, and resume their threadbare lives ‒ till the next calamity strikes. For, with Nature up in arms, it will be the drought next year, or the year after, or another flood, or some pestilence. If, at some point, the country begins to totter, one set or other of the hollow men with the guns will take it over. No joy there, for all they think about is war, all they care about is “the enemy”. To them (even the well-intentioned ones) the country is just a base to be used to mount their campaigns.
The country I mourn is the Pakistan that was meant to be, that could have been. The Pakistan that its founder wanted, the country in that vision he held out to the millions who laboured and struggled and sacrificed to help him bring it into being.
A country founded on the ideals and values of Islam, in which all its citizens would be equal whatever their faith, with liberty, social justice and the rule of law. Many forces opposed it, but the bitterest enemies were the self-proclaimed guardians of religion, for they knew their narrow, ossified creeds would have no place to thrive in the country that he wanted to create. He beat them back, as he did all the others arrayed against his mission. Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s spirit was indomitable, but the arduous struggle wore out his frail body, and he did not live long enough to shape the country that he had created.
It is the loss of this country that remained just a dream that I mourn. This dream that is now dead. It survived the depredations of man, but with Nature now joining the assault, its time is finally gone. I mourn its passing as do many others: the dwindling numbers of those whose youth, like mine, was set ablaze by the promise of this vision, the others who came to it later but gave it their allegiance, all of us who kept the dream alive in our hearts and strove to bring it into being.
And, above all, the few, the happy few, who stepped unhesitatingly forward when the dream beckoned that it may need their lives to ensure its survival.
It is necessary for all of us to bear witness to this dream while we are still around. Since, as it has faded, there have crept out of the shadows many who would desecrate its memory: those who claim that creating this country was a mistake, and the many others who falsely claim that it was meant to be a theocratic state.
We owe it to this shining dream of long ago, the Pakistan that could have been, and to ourselves, to step forward and say:
It was not inevitable that things had to be what they are. It could have been different. Our lives are proof that the dream was real, that it could have come about, that it was a goal worth striving for.