The people who inhabit Pakistan today are facing paroxysms of violence, brutalization of culture and economic deprivation of a scale and intensity rarely seen in the history of this ancient land. Almost half the people suffer from food insecurity today in the Indus valley which has produced food surpluses for four millennia. There is a hydro electric power potential of 40,000 megawatts in the main rivers alone, yet the country faces crippling power outages. At the same time armed groups whether sectarian, religious or ethnic, are engaged in the large scale slaughter of citizens. The humanity that was nurtured by diverse cultures in creative interaction has been drained from the narrowed persona of the extremist. As polarized singular identities are constructed, Muslims who in the sectarian narrative are considered Shias are being subjected to a systematic extermination that can only be called genocide. This is being done by groups who claim allegiance to Islam which actually forbids formation of sects and considers the killing of even one human being as tantamount to killing the entire humanity. Those who seek to establish a caliphate here think nothing of shooting girls going to school or health workers trying to administer polio drops to infants. Amidst this outrage, the government and its security apparatus have shown a remarkable inability to provide security of life to the citizens. Consequently a pervasive fear grips Pakistan´s society. Bigotry, intolerance and hate moves to centre stage. The voice of love, reason and human solidarity that resonates in our literature, music and folk cultures is being lost in the wilderness of barbarism. A civilization is being silenced.
Arnold Toynbee in his monumental work on world history has argued that the rise and fall of civilizations hinges on the way they deal with existential challenges. If a nation or a civilization can articulate the challenge it confronts, and is able to bring out its best in overcoming it, then such a civilization flowers and prospers. If it fails to do so the civilization perishes. Pakistan stands at such a critical juncture today. It is a crisis of state power in that the state has so far not been able to establish order, subdue armed groups that seek to overthrow its constitutional authority and control widespread violence. The crisis of the state however is inextricably linked with the economy which as it is presently structured is incapable of providing the minimum conditions of dignified life to the majority of the people; it is also linked to society which has become increasingly polarized, subject to false ideological constructs and alienated from the core human values which gave it cohesion and resilience. So given the depth and multi faceted nature of Pakistan’s crisis, the process of overcoming it will involve drawing upon the wisdom, values and strength of its civilization.
Bulleh Shah the great Punjabi Sufi poet (late 17th to mid 18th century) spoke of a turning point in his time: “It was when the epoch turned that I discovered the secrets of the beloved” (translated). The beloved here is the deepest part of the self where the self and the other are part of the same unity. The Punjabi Sufi poets as indeed the Sufis of Baluchistan, Pakhtunkhwa and Sind articulate that unity underlying the diversity of cultures in this region and the cohering sensibility of a pluralistic society. The wisdom that resonates in the surging waters of the Indus and echoes in the mountains of Pakhtunkhwa as much as the deserts of Sind and Baluchistan is that the ligament that connects humans with the transcendent is love. It is woven into the fabric of individual being. Love is manifested in social existence in the form of justice, equity and the pursuit of truth and beauty.
Addressing the current crisis involves uniting state organizations and bringing to bear state power to bring to justice those who massacre the innocents. It means building an economy that draws its dynamism from equity and the talents of all citizens rather than a few. It will also require rediscovering the wisdom and the values emanating from the shared civilizational well springs of a diverse society.