By Zubeida Mustafa
THE fifth edition of the Karachi Literature Festival was like a gust of fresh air in the environment of despair and gloom that now engulfs the country. It came, it thrilled us and it left. All the sessions were food for the soul and did serve to drive away — even if momentarily — the depressing thoughts that seem to have come to stay permanently.
Of course, laughter is said to be the best medicine and there was plenty of it around. The halls were packed where satire, humour and comedy ruled. But what was more healing were the words of wisdom we received from sages such as Prof Rajmohan Gandhi each day of the festival.
As a keynote speaker at the inaugural session he exhorted India and Pakistan to put their own house in order and to get together to create a South Asian force that could join hands with the Arabs to resolve their own problems. “We will then not need the Western powers to act as mediators and they will be grateful for that,” he observed
What sensible advice! But what appealed to me most was what Rajmohan said while recalling his grandfather’s approach to life and politics.
- Fight against oppression but in such a way that you do not surrender the moral high ground by adopting the oppressive ways of the oppressor.
- Be inclusive and do not let gender, caste, economic class, ethnicity or religion divide you. Let all be treated equally and with love and justice.
- It is the duty and responsibility of the economically empowered elites to uplift the underprivileged.
These words were accompanied with the offer: accept what you want to and reject what you don’t like.
This package comes at a time when we need it most. The discourse today should not centre round the debate on whether Pakistan is a failed state or not. That is just indulging in semantics. We know the pattern of international politics has changed drastically. Pakistan may not die in the near future as we have known states to die in history when they disappear from the globe geographically, politically, in the legalistic/constitutional sense, and as independent economic entities. Rest assured that Pakistan will continue to exist in its present shape.
The question to be pondered is whether we want Pakistan to continue in its present condition. Do we want a country at war with itself, where the rich are becoming richer and the poor poorer, where bombs and guns have robbed the people of their security and no life is safe? Where the majority are denied the basic necessities of life such as food, healthcare, shelter, education and employment? These are the questions we need to ask and answer.
In this context, Rajmohan’s message of peace is not a whit out of place since it points to the road that can lead us to hope and salvation. Although Rajmohan allowed the audience to exercise its choices, the crisis we face is so deep that we cannot afford this luxury.
All the strategies must be adopted concurrently.
Pakistan can no longer continue to shape its foreign and defence policy round its perceived security threat from India. The need is to identify the enemy of the state which is a Frankenstein of our own creation. The intelligence agencies created the Taliban (used generically for all militants) to gain strategic depth vis-à-vis India and now they have emerged as our enemy no. 1. We have to identify this enemy very categorically and shape our strategy accordingly.
Once we do this the other pieces will fall in place. By now there is no doubt that the militants are fighting for power and are using religion as a tool. This is basically a power struggle and those challenging the Taliban are in a dilemma because they are also oppressors though of another kind.
The problem is that oppression in Pakistan is a multi-layered phenomenon. With oppressors on both sides of the divide, who are now negotiating, what can the oppressed really hope for? If they are not killed by a suicide bomber, they die of malnutrition and disease.
At stake is not so much what brand of Sharia we need to impose but whether we can ease the burden of the vast majority by adopting the three-pronged strategy proposed by Gandhi.
But did Rajmohan’s message reach the people? The KLF needs to be made a “people’s” event. True the attendance has been growing phenomenally. Yet it needs to grow horizontally as well. The popular media — television and the local language press — did not give it the same kind of coverage as the English language papers that do not reach the masses.