A generation of Pakistanis has come to age seeing Pakistan at war with itself. To keep repeating that the nation has sacrificed 60,000 lives over ten years in fighting terrorism is now a clichéd, useless exercise. The fact is that Pakistanis have killed Pakistanis in the name of religion. The casualties of this civil war are many times more than in all the wars fought against India. Pakistan suffers from self-inflicted wounds, not some foreign invasion. There can be no hope that the bloodletting will ever stop until this point is fully accepted and understood.
A feeling of citizenship can arise among Pakistanis only if all of them have identical rights and responsibilities. This requires several actions on part of the state including removal of laws that discrimate against religious minorities and promotion of pluralism.
What after that? Simply nodding our heads will do no good unless we actually plan to act. Here’s where the hard part begins because it calls for a change of paradigm. More specifically it will require changing our current self-perception of being a nation under siege; educating our children in a very different way; changing public attitudes towards creating a culture of accommodation; and addressing the issue of Balochistan in an open and constructive way.
Self-Perception: Pakistan sees itself as an embattled nation surrounded by enemies. Western nations are assumed to be antagonistic towards Islam, and hence Pakistan. India is considered an enemy in perpetuity, and now is also seen as having persuaded Iran and Afghanistan to close ranks against Pakistan. Bangladesh, although it was once Pakistan, is seen as too filled with grudges to ever be a friend. Such thinking is unhealthy, and leads towards militarism in external affairs. This necessarily impacts the internal situation by justifying the presence of outwardly directed militant groups.
Education: No one doubts that Pakistan’s universities are not free, bigoted, and often violent. Local newspapers have carried many stories of young killers, including several from affluent middle-class families. University graduates have planned and executed murders as well as gruesome massacres such as those at Safoora Goth and Parade Lane mosque. Islamic groups such as Daesh and Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT) successfully recruit young fanatics.
Intolerance and bigotry on Pakistan’s campuses are symptoms of a deeper malaise — disrespect for knowledge, disdain for free thought and inquiry, and authoritarianism. Universities are but a microcosm of society at large. Intolerance on our campuses will decrease only if the rest of society moves towards valuing the intrinsic equality of men and women from all races and religions, abandons the notion of Muslim supremacy, and agrees that political and civil liberties are inviolable rights.
For this to happen, the curriculum, textbooks, and examinations for all public and private schools should emphasise the virtues of democracy, pluralism, and equality of all citizens of Pakistan. All school materials that create hatred and a militant mindset must be banned. Those provisions enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan safeguarding the interests of all peoples of Pakistan, irrespective of religion or ethnicity, must be emphasised from the primary level upwards. Officially banned organisations are presently running their own private schools and polluting the minds of children. This must be stopped.
As for madaris, the government should recognise madaris without acknowledging their particular sect or making special categories; close down those madaris providing military training and possessing weapons; and insist that the madrassa curriculum should include all those subjects that are taught up to the matriculation level be taught by qualified teachers.
National Culture: Every culture can be made to change, albeit slowly, over time. For peace to prevail, using different means, Pakistan’s state and society must be made to recognise that Pakistanis have several different identities that are built upon diverse religions, sects, languages, ethnicities, and regions. All Pakistani languages need promotion through federal and provincial institutions that teach and develop them. A cultural policy reflecting the diversity of Pakistan’s different people’s needs to be formulated and approved on an urgent basis. So far there is none.
A feeling of citizenship can arise only if all Pakistanis have identical rights and responsibilities. This requires several actions on part of the state including removal of religious identification in the matter of issuing passports, national identification cards, and other official documents. The state should be pro-active in promoting religious and cultural pluralism. We have yet to see this happen.
Balochistan: Regionalism exists everywhere in the world. For example many Scots and Irish have wanted to secede from Britain, and still do. It is a fact that feelings of alienation, whether justified or otherwise, occur in sub-dominant regions over distribution of resources and power. These need to be understood and their concerns addressed. The iron fist — as is used presently by the establishment in Balochistan — fans separatist extremism and cannot ever bring peace. Public space should be made available for expression of all views and dialog, not force, should be used.