It is now apparent that Pakistan faces inter linked challenges in the state, society and economy. In responding to these challenges with wisdom and strength, the citizens and the state can chart a better future. There are four main issues in this context. First, armed militant groups have emerged as rival powers to that of the state within its sovereign domain: they have not only established control over significant swathes of territory but have demonstrated the ability to launch with impunity, guerilla attacks against military installations across the country. As the events over the last fortnight have once again shown, they can also attack civilian targets simultaneously in key urban centres in all four provinces of Pakistan. Consequently lawlessness and widespread disorder prevail, which seriously undermine both the authority of the state and the functioning of the economy. The key issue here is to build the political consensus to defend the country, prevent a slide into anarchy and re-establish order.
The second issue is to restore harmony amongst key organs of the state such as the judiciary, the executive, the parliament and the military as a subordinate arm of the elected government. These state organizations are repeatedly vying to enlarge their respective domains of power. This contention is creating instability within the state structure which is weakening the capacity to fulfill its fundamental collective functions of establishing order and protection of the life and property of citizens. Since the legitimacy of the state is drawn from the fulfillment of these basic functions, weakened ability in this sphere fundamentally undermines the state.
The third issue is a rent based economy where the resources and economic surpluses are extracted mainly for the ruling elite who live in luxury in the face of mass poverty. Seventy percent of the population is food insecure; forty percent of children suffer from malnutrition which stunts their physical and mental development. The majority of the population is denied opportunities of quality education, decent health care facilities and access over productive assets through which they could hope for a better life and participate in the process of economic growth. The inherent injustice that is built into the very structure of the economy fuels a seething discontent. It is therefore necessary to change the institutional structure of the economy so that economic opportunities are opened to all citizens rather than a few.
The fourth issue is the penetration of extremist ideology into elements within the state apparatus, the media, and some political parties. Consequently the Pakistan project, as conceived by the founding fathers and which inspired two generations to hope and strive, is faltering. The idea of Pakistan was to build a democratic polity within a pluralist society. A society in which Muslims, who had earlier felt constrained from pursuing their material and spiritual development, would be able to actualize their human potential as much as other religious identities. The flowering of such a society would be fertilized by norms of tolerance and human solidarity.
Deep within the cultural diversity of this new country, breathes the unifying sensibility of an ancient Sufi tradition: the apprehension that adoration, beauty and truth combine to constitute the ligament with God; that these transcendent modes of human consciousness are based on connecting with the human community. This connection with others opens the possibilities of love, freedom and creativity. All this now inhabits the silences of a society bludgeoned by bigotry, hatred and fear. It is these silences and the dormant potential they signify, that the great contemporary Sufi poet Najam Hussain Syed suggests, when he writes: “Somewhere on the slopes of silence, beat the drums of the unsaid”.
Extremists fear freedom. They are essentially divorced from a sense of beauty, wherein glows the being of human kind. Therefore resisting extremism involves reconnecting with the wellsprings of our humanity: love, freedom and beauty. This requires a cultural struggle: art and literature that would revitalize the aesthetic sense. Social scientists too ought to develop a fresh inter disciplinary perspective for the human development of society. Thus artists, poets, and scientists could by creating a counter consciousness to the extremist mindset, initiate Pakistan’s renaissance.