I watch some channels of Pakistani News to get to know what is happening there and the scary thing is no one really knows. As in the recent case of Pakistani Economist Atif Mian, who is considered one of 25 best in the world. Imran Khan brought him in with much fanfare and when social media and Mullahs objected at first because he is an Ahmadi, and Pakistan does not recognise this sect as Muslim, Imran’s Information minister went on TV with a splendid defence as to how he was the best to help lead the country out of its economic woes and that he would advise on economics, not religion.
But this proved to be not enough for the Mullahs and there was so much outrage and dire threats of anarchy in the country that Atif Mian had to resign and go back to Princeton. Two other Pakistani Economists who were professors abroad, in Harvard and Britain also resigned and left in disgust.
It seems that Pakistan takes a step forward and two steps backwards every time. Conflicted by debates on good Muslim and bad Muslim; good terrorists and bad terrorists; democracy versus martial law; The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being very good for the nation or very bad; mullahs screaming about the plight of Rohingya but strangely silent on the one million Uyghur imprisoned by the Chinese and the brutality they suffer on a daily basis.
When economists and rational anchors on TV question this, the generals say Pakistan can never be defeated as it has the bomb! As if nukes can be turned into dams for the acute shortage of water; or schools for education or medical centres for the poor. It is almost as if a large portion of the society is living in a time warp where they feel that since they follow Islam, Allah will save them but they don’t have to do anything much themselves.
I saw a debate between Mullahs, each one trying to outdo the other on rigidity. The anchor asked them why are you against Ahmadis, aren’t they human beings and Muslims. The Mullahs erupted and said we would rather deal with Hindus and Christians than Ahmadis – they don’t accept Mohammed as the last prophet. Yet one will hardly ever find Christians and Hindus in high positions in Pakistan, whether it be the Armed Forces; the Judiciary; or government. Even in schools, the children get to learn how hated their neighbour is.
Such is the radicalisation that is being taught in mosques; madrassas; schools and believed by generations of Pakistanis that it seems impossible to reverse. On YouTube, I heard Pakistan’s best-known nuclear physicist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy give a speech in the US, and his words seemed to describe the change Pakistan has undergone. He said when he grew up in Karachi in the 1950s they lived in a neighbourhood where there were Christians, Parsees and some Hindus. Now, when he goes there, the diversity is gone; there are only Muslims. When he came back to Pakistan after his PhD in the US and started teaching at a University in Pakistan, the students dressed casually just like anywhere else. But by the 1990s, the girls started wearing niqabs and burkhas and young men became equally religious.
One of the saddest events at this prestigious university was when one night he heard shots and when he rushed out he found the Professor who was his neighbour, an Ahmadi, had been shot in his head and chest. He died while Dr Hoodbhoy was taking him to hospital. This was in the university compound where all the professors lived. The next day at his funeral none of his colleagues came and only Professor Hoodbhoy was there.
I found this sad as well as frightening. If the best educated treat their fellowmen like this in a nation, what hope is there for the average person?
I have seen debates between students of physics who want to know how can they acknowledge the Big Bang Theory and evolution when the Koran does not talk about it. It seems they cannot compartmentalise religious belief and science. Somehow the two have to gel.
We had visited Spain in May and our Pakistani taxi driver was envious when we said we came from India. He told us the Indians here have the best jobs.
They have businesses; work in banks and in IT and are very well off. “We from Pakistan,” he said,“can only be taxi drivers; our education system is poor”.
There seems to be a great frustration building up and the religious right are fighting for the establishment of a pure Islamic state and at the same time the rule of law is disintegrating; water and electricity is in short supply; Pakistani exports cannot compete with other neighbouring countries; they need $12 billion just to pay off debts; madrassas proliferate; and the youth have no skills or jobs. And yet the Military Industrial Empire thrives. It is not accountable to anyone and its terror proxies continue to operate in Afghanistan and India.
It will be interesting to watch if China can change Pakistan or if CPEC will eventually be China’s Waterloo. For the moment the terror proxies are ignoring China’s Human rights abuses in Xinxiang, but for how long can the Army rein them in?
Freelance journalist Ashali Varma has authored the biography of her father late Lt. Gen. PS Bhagat — ‘The Victoria Cross: A Love Story’. She was executive producer with the International Commentary Service Inc, New York in 1990. She was the executive publisher of The Earth Times, New York (1992- 98). She has also worked as the editor of Choices Magazine, United Nations Development Programme. She writes on various issues including human rights, population and sustainable development. This article was first published inthe Times of India blog, ‘No Free Lunch’ of September 22, 2018.