To resolve any problem, it is first necessary to accept that it exists. Pakistan has failed at this numerous times, denying we confront massive development challenges, rarely discussing on any public forum that we have the worst healthcare figures even within South Asia, that malnutrition is a reality for millions even as we build giant metro lines instead of finding ways to prevent starvation and generally playing out a charade that insists all is well within a nation that is in reality being torn apart by intolerance, hatred and violence which takes many forms.
Most recently the Foreign Office demonstrated this by claiming in its weekly briefing to the media that there was no Islamic State presence in the country. The remarks seemed foolish – especially as on the same day a senior intelligence official briefed a Senate committee on how a Daesh network had been broken up in the country while hours later the ISPR spoke of a linkage between groups operating in the country and IS, and of the discovery of an audacious plot to storm Hyderabad Jail and rescue key militant leaders including Omar Sheikh, the suave UK-educated militant leader linked to the 2002 murder of journalist Daniel Pearl as well as other equally dangerous men.
All this, as well as the recent statement from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the growing IS threat should convince us that we stand at risk. But it appears we are simply unwilling to look into the scary eyes of reality. Instead, we allow madressahs to grow in streets across the country, intolerance to be nurtured and pro-militant forces of various kinds to run their operations. Yes, the military has acted against them. But the real challenge of course is to reach into the root of the problem and address this. Otherwise, for every militant killed in the mountains or on the streets of our cities another will be produced in some other place.
So, how do we do this? Of course, it will take time to alter the manner in which people have come to think. But the work of security agencies must be combined with a more wide ranging approach put in place by government and civil society organisations. This does not mean development alone, though that of course is one part of the problem. It means persuading young people to think of things other than guns and violence and to look at life in a different way.
The removal of fun and joy from the lives of people does not help in this. In Punjab, we have snatched away Basant from Lahore, the city that celebrated the colourful festival for generations, allowing people from all class brackets to engage in the same activity and revel in an occasion that brought laughter, competition and true delight all through the winter while also drawing in money from tourism as the occasion grew into a truly global event. The problems associated with it, such as the illegal use of razor-sharp twine should have been solved by enforcing the laws against manufacturing and selling this.
People need to live normal lives and celebration is a part of normalcy. The same applies to other occasions with even traditional ‘melas’ under threat because the alien hard-line religious groups we allow to enter from other parts of the world oppose such occasions and the soft, tolerant Sufi culture associated with many of them.
We appear to find threats to our religion everywhere. Even Valentine’s Day, celebrated in the country as simply a highly commercialised event with red balloons on sale everywhere, has become controversial. Why not allow people to mark this event if they opt to do so? They can of course decide not to – but somewhere, an element of enjoyment needs to be a part of a society that has in so many ways become more and more dour, more and more limited and more and more repressed.
There are some simple answers. One is sports. Football, hockey, squash, volleyball, swimming, athletics, wrestling, kabaddi, weightlifting, martial arts or other pursuits are not trivial things. They have the power to pull young people off the streets, remove from their hands the drugs that have destroyed millions, take away the violent video games that damage other minds and engage people from all income groups in an activity that offers an even playing field.
We must look beyond cricket which seems to have become our only obsession. Pakistan spends the lowest as a percentage of its GDP on sport among South Asian countries. This was reflected recently at the South Asian Games, where the nation struggled to finish in third place on the medals table, losing out to India as has quite logically happened each time given the mammoth size of that country, but also for the first time to Sri Lanka with a population of a mere 20 million compared to Pakistan’s 180 million people.
Sri Lanka’s decision to invest in sports has rescued many people from poverty and a sense of purposelessness, opening up for them new arenas, new doors. The same has been experienced in Latin America and South Africa where programmes based in slum areas have given people a new lease on life. We need to think along similar lines; we need to listen to the woes of the Pakistan hockey and squash federations which mourn the lack of money to even run camps in sports we once led the world in. We no longer do and the dismal media coverage for the SA Games in Guwahati and Shillong, where all seven members of the Pakistan wrestling team won a medal and other athletes showed the potential they possess, indicates a growing indifference to a field we have the capacity to excel in and which could help solve a number of our most acute problems.
All these issues and many others including those of course of education, curriculums, media content and so on need to be debated more openly and with far more passion. We must find a way to pull our people out of the grey spaces in which they live. Lives must involve more than mere survival and the constant bombardment of news which is either about violent acts or the most trivial issues. This material is churned out by the television channels literally numbing minds.
We need to help people – especially coming generations – open up, think and find areas in which they can prove their worth. We have fallen further and further back in this over the decades. There are almost no music or theatre programmes run at the grassroots level and dance of course, an integral part of our culture, was taken from us long ago. All these elements of life need to be injected back into society.
It is only if we successfully provide the right dose of such medicine that we will be able to cure the curse of extremism, narrow mindedness and the dark ideas that arise from it. We must lift ourselves up above these and think ten years down the line about how we can create a generation different to the present one, from which so many have gravitated towards militancy simply because they were offered too few other choices in life.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgKamila Hyat, "The acceptance factor," The News. 2016-02-18.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political system , Political parties , Political leaders , Terrorist attack , Religious pects , Terrorism-Pakistan , Terrorism , Terrorist , Mass media , Media , Daesh , Politics , Daniel Pearl , Omar Sheikh , Ban Ki-moon , Hyderabad , South Africa , India , GDP , ISPR