I don’t have a great deal to say about Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination. What can one possibly say? That one of the very few public servants in Pakistan who, you know, actually tried to serve the public is dead because he had the temerity to speak out against idiocy and injustice? What’s the point? Does it matter what anyone says about things like this? No, it really doesn’t. No one cares, it doesn’t help anyone, people still get shot eight times while sitting in the back of their car, and average Pakistanis still celebrate murder and deny basic facts. So what’s the point? None.
I do have a question though. We often write and read about Pakistan “being at a crossroads”, implying that if our political and military leadership doesn’t start doing things differently very soon, then we’re all done for. But how are we to know we haven’t already crossed these so-called crossroads? How do we know that we aren’t already done for? Are there certain objective metrics to which we can point to and say “Ah, yes, these are cause for optimism”?
Put differently, is there a plausible set of events — plausible being the key word here — that would preclude Pakistan carrying on the path to self-immolation? If there are, I would like to hear of them, because I’m currently drawing a blank, I must confess. Just step back and ask yourself, rationally speaking, where you see the country in ten years.
Please don’t give me any nonsense about allowing the political system to work, or letting institutions develop, or other claptrap. These are our institutions at work. We need to understand this. Our military spawned these nuts. Our society tolerates them. Our judiciary celebrates them. Our media excuses them. And our political parties are either beholden to extremist forces, or so intimidated and pusillanimous because of them, that they may as well be the same thing. When Rehman Malik says things like “I will shoot a blasphemer myself” and Babar Awan says things like “There will be no change to the blasphemy law” and the Gilani government doesn’t even provide a bullet proof car to its targeted ministers and also withdraws support from Sherry Rehman at a crucial time, that is our political institutions at work. And mind you, this is the “liberal, secular” PPP. Forget the Army or the ISI or the PML(N).
Things like email list servs and small little rallies and “Teach for Pakistan” and nice, liberal blog posts may make us feel better (temporarily), but they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and we all know they don’t matter. Pictures like this, on the other hand? Yeah, they matter.
I’m increasingly reconciling myself to the notion that it may be too late to do anything about the mess that is Pakistan. I don’t mean in a state failure kind of way; I’m sure the state will continue to survive for a long time. Remember Adam Smith’s line about there being “a great deal of ruin in a nation”?
So no, I’m not talking about state collapse. I’m talking about the form state and society take — increasingly ugly — and whether there’s a damn thing any of us can do anything about it.