Pakistan first

!! “Dawn”: “*Ardeshir Cowasjee*”:

Of late, following the line set, our politicians have echoed the slogan, ‘Pakistan first’. However, in their case, we can but take this to mean ‘Me first.’

Closer to the ground, and within the space of three days last week, at Lahore and then at Peshawar, President General Pervez Musharraf fulminated, with absolute justification, against the actions and attitudes of the gentlemen graduates of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal.

By enforcing their own extremist retrogressive brand of Islam on what to the western world is a crucially sensitive province of Pakistan – the NWFP with its porous border with Afghanistan – they have done this nation, particularly at this point in time, a gross disservice. To answer the questions posed by Musharraf : no, we do not need a Talibanized Pakistan; no, we cannot afford a Talibanized Pakistan; no, we must not send the wrong signals abroad, signals that dub Pakistan as intolerant, extremist and terrorist-ridden.

Rather than enforcing law and order, which is the first and foremost duty of any government, the MMA government in Peshawar has incited citizens to totally disregard the law and go on a rampage as they did with the billboards and posters – setting a fine example to the rest of the country as their destruction spree was picked up and copied by the extremist elements of Multan and Lahore.

Within the realms of governance, burqas and beards are indeed non-issues, as said the General. Forcing people to adhere to a particular dress code, to abstain from listening to music, to veil themselves, or to grow beards, has nothing to do with welfare or progress. Why do not the learned graduates of the MMA (whose educational qualifications are now being challenged in the Supreme Court) concentrate on improving the lot of their people, rather than making their lives more miserable, by giving them law and order, education for their children, health facilities for all, basic utilities such as potable water, sanitation, electricity? Is it that they are incapable of thinking in terms other than male facial hair and female coverings?

The timing of the introduction of Shariat in the Frontier may be a stroke of luck for us. Musharraf is about to leave for a trip to Europe and to the US, where he can at least present himself as the tolerant, forward-looking, progressive face of Pakistan and try to explain to the western statesmen the mindset of a minority of one per cent of Pakistanis which have brought about these aberrations in one province of the country.His statements on the question of his uniform should finally put to rest the ‘demands’ of the parliamentary opposition that he either shed his uniform or surrender the office of president. Now, we all know he cannot stay for ever, that the day will come when he will go. For the present, he is keeping his uniform on, come what may, and vows he will take it off when he feels the time is appropriate – when willed by providence in the shape of Bush & Co, or in the event he is forsaken by his own constituency.

It now seems that his thought process is the same as that of Mohammad Ali Jinnah in so far as the path Pakistan should follow. Forward, always forward, never looking back, progressive in tune with the times and with the world at large, building rather than destroying, respecting human rights and freedoms rather than stamping on them, winning the respect of the rest of the world for its policies of tolerance, sanity and care of its people, rather than being classed as a pariah at odds with the times and a world on the move.

If he believes what he tells us he believes, it is for him to somehow, battling against the odds, ensure that before he does depart from the political scene, he steers us on the right path. This he can start to do by enforcing in the country a system of law and order which so far, in three years, the military has dismally failed to do – though it has managed a slight improvement from the chaos and mayhem of the twin governments of the 1990s. Then, looking firmly towards the future, he must see that not only are the nation’s children educated, but rightly educated so that they may not merely survive but be enabled to participate in the 21st century.

Just over 90 years ago, in 1912, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, during an address to the Imperial Legislative Council, reproached the British for their neglect of elementary education. For the 150 years they had ruled, he said, they had dealt with education at a ‘jog trot pace’. If it so continued, it would take a further 175 years to get all school-going age children to school and 600 years to get all the girls to school. There could be no salvation for the masses unless the principle of compulsory education was introduced. This had already been proven time and time again, for in no country had elementary education become universal without compulsion.

Opposing members reminded Jinnah that there were not sufficient school buildings, nor sufficient teachers, and that without money schools could not be built, nor teachers trained and paid. The money was not there, they told him. Jinnah’s answer: “All I can say is this, find money! Find money! Find money! I appeal to the president, not as president but as the finance minister. I say, find money. If you say you have not got enough money, discover and tap new sources…..”The government of Pakistan will have not only to find money to build an education system, but it will also have to seriously revamp the entire education curricula now operative in the country. The national curriculum objectives as set forth by the federal ministry of education in 1995 remain unchanged, eight years on. By completion of Class V, according to this curriculum in force, children are required, inter alia, to understand Hindu-Muslim differences, identify the forces working against Pakistan and India’s evil designs, and make speeches on jihad and shahadat.

They are also expected to promote an awareness of the Kashmir issue, to observe their fellow pupils and note their reaction to the wars with India, judge their spirit while they make speeches on jihad, and note their keenness and willingness to recite tarana at school functions. As commented Sami Mustafa in this newspaper on May 18 in his article on the subject:

“So much for teaching tolerance, objectivity and scholarship to the future generations of this country … Sadly, it appears that the national curriculum is anything but about education. It is primarily a hopeless attempt to control young minds and compensate for the incompetence and inability of our policymakers to come to terms with the demands of a new world, which is the individual development of each child, not the mass development of children so that they fit into a political system that is inefficient, retrogressive and unenlightened.”

This being so, may one ask the general: what then is the difference between the ministry of education and the MMA government in Peshawar? Both are abhorring, but at least the general should find it easy to deal with the gentlemen of the education ministry and stop them from doing just as much – if not more – damage to the national ethos, to the progress of the country, to the foreign perception of Pakistan, and, most importantly, to the minds of generations to come.

The present generation is doomed, as is amply illustrated by the sick happenings at the University of Punjab, overseen by an army general and an army colonel, where a professor of the Department of English is proving himself to be as intolerant, as Talibanized, and as dangerous as is the government of the NWFP. General Musharraf needs to act swiftly and decisively on this front.

Under the circumstances, the best we can do is to hope we can sustain our rating as a Third World country.

1 thought on “Pakistan first”

  1. I was very happy to read your comments. I have been going to Iraqi and Iranian blogs and just discovered yours today after doing a search for Pakistani blogs. I live in Israel.

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