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And pine for what is not

This is that time of the year when endings come together with beginnings. But some prophesied endings have failed to turn up. The Mayan apocalypse was not to be and the world has survived Friday, December 21, 2012. We still have a future to look forward to.

But the Mayan projection did cause a lot of media stir and superstitious souls in a number of countries really became anxious about one more forecast of the end of the world. This has happened before and we know how the idea of qayamat captures the imagination of believers all around.

In Pakistan, however, we have our own, exclusive premonitions of disasters. So dominant are these dark thoughts that the prospect of welcoming a New Year inspires little hope. This is so in spite of the fact that 2013 is the year of the elections and a new beginning that should define the democratic destiny of this nation. Disconcertingly, this expectation is beginning to be tainted with misgivings that are popping up in this historic month of December.

December, in any case, is a month of memories. It marks some anniversaries that arouse difficult and ambivalent reflections about our national sense of direction. What is Christmas for others in the world is the birth anniversary of the founder of Pakistan and I find it ironical that we still celebrate this occasion when Mohammad Ali Jinnah has almost become irrelevant. It may even be possible for some people to look at his photograph and not give much thought to what he actually means to them. That sense of personal bond with the man has surely diminished. That he is to be constantly revered in a prescribed fashion is something else.

There was that other anniversary of the Fall of Dhaka on December 16 and many of us may wish to renounce its heartrending memories. As in the case of Jinnah, we do not seem to have the necessary intellectual capacity to study and investigate history to better understand our existing predicaments. Sadly, history as a discipline is gradually vanishing even from our higher institutes of education.

It is not just that we are not very fond of seriously examining our recent past; we also seem to be unwilling to look closely at our current situation. The meaning of what is happening to us at this time, during this December, gets lost in our largely uncaring and somewhat somnolent way of life. Perhaps our senses are dulled by this constant barrage of atrocities and social derelictions.

For example, five female health workers vaccinating children against polio were shot dead by militants on Tuesday – four in Karachi and one in Peshawar. The horror of this ignominy is hard to describe. That this happened in Pakistan is a matter of shame. Naturally, the news was covered by the international media. Our own media, too, responded with headlines and editorial notes.

But, alas, there was no evidence of a national outrage. This tragedy – and I think it deserves its place in the list of significant events of December – did not shake Pakistan to its roots. No fresh resolve was made to deal with the militants who have opposed polio vaccination because they see it as a sinister western conspiracy to make our children impotent. After this week’s attack, the campaign against polio was suspended in some areas.

It is instructive how militants have repeatedly demonstrated that they have an upper hand in their confrontation with the government. That they are often able to whip up considerable popular support for their bigoted causes is also a comment on the ability of the rulers to mould public opinion to defend human rights and social justice. No wonder Pakistan finds itself in the company of Afghanistan and Niger as countries that are at risk of a polio epidemic.

Equally alarming has been the aftermath of the Malala Yousafzai incident. When a degree college in Saidu Sharif was named after Malala to honour her struggle for girls’ education and her defiance of the Taliban, there were violent protests and Malala herself, now under treatment in a Birmingham hospital, asked the government this week that the name of the college be reverted to what it was. When Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban, many of us saw it as a turning point. The government was readily expected to mount a vigorous operation against the militants and uphold the right of girls to acquire education in a forthright manner.

This did not happen and we were reminded of how the assassination of Salmaan Taseer had actually emboldened the assassin and the government was unwilling to take on the fanatics. Malala has, of course, achieved global recognition. So much so that she was the second choice of the Time magazine, after President Obama, as the person of the year. We should rightly be proud of her. But conservative opinion in the country has created confusion about her stature as a role model for young girls.

Coming back to anniversaries that fall in December, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto on the 27 of the month, five years ago, clearly altered the course of history. Again, the militants were able to demonstrate their capabilities. This traumatic event is being commemorated this month in a big way because elections are just round the corner and the Bhutto charisma remains the sole asset of a party that has failed to inspire its supporters because of its dismal performance. This anniversary of a leader who had vowed to take on the militants, something that the inheritors of her formidable legacy were unable to do, is also significant because of the expected launching of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Against this backdrop, the momentum of electoral politics is likely to rise. Ah, should I also refer to the possibility of Tahir-ul-Qadri staging an impressive show in Lahore today? The point, as I stated at the outset, is that these last days of December are setting the stage for excitement on many different fronts. At the same time that things are continuing to fall apart, expectations about some new formations in the political arena are also rising. There is a focus on the passage of time and how it breeds melancholy and meditation. We are prompted to look back at the year that is departing and imagine what the New Year will be like. I am tempted to quote Shelley: “We look before and after,/And pine for what is not / Our sincerest laughter/With some pain is fraught,/Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought”.

The writer is a staff member. Email: ghazi_salahuddin@hotmail. com

Ghazi Salahuddin, "And pine for what is not," The News. 2012-12-23.