Can Pakistan afford to remain stuck in its bizarre history?

It goes without saying that time heals everything. However, some things take more time to heal than others. And this time lag becomes what we term anguish and suffering.

Nations which prosper and those which suffer allow the time to travel in different pace, which then determines the extent of inter-national inequality in terms of socio-economic and political stability parameters.

Often, a people’s paranoia with its history is the raison d’etre of the stasis of the present.

Why, for example, between 6th to 2nd centuries BCE, the Jewish nation was lagging far behind Greeks in the fields of science, philosophy and arts? Despite being bestowed with a potent literary base in the form of the then burgeoning Old Testament, the Jews remained paranoid with their wretched history.

Their justified yet exaggerated fear of another imminent exile kept them from joining the mainstream world, which then confined them to a strict dogmatic religious code. They held out all incursions of classic Greek knowledge into the Jewish society, fearing that this would dissipate the “pious” and the “righteous” disciples of Moses, David, Solomon and other Hebrew prophets.

Similarly,post-partition India had been groping for stability and prosperity for some four decades, thanks to its obsession with its colonial past. Indian leaders abhorred their erstwhile colonisers so much so that they cut off their fledgling country from the rest of the world, fearing that foreigners would dupe India into subjugation once again if permitted to enter into any kind of relationship with the newly liberated country.

Indian author and politician Shashi Tharoor, in one of his TEDx talks, lamented that it was only after the end of the Cold War that the insulated India began to open up its borders and trade barriers, a decision that ought to have been taken from the outset. Even though Tharoor happens to be a staunch anti-colonialist, he was of the view that a country’s paranoid strategic culture because of its grim past is not a justifiable outcome, as people’s well-being cannot be sacrificed on the altar of enmity with and repugnance for some.

Pakistan is currently going through the similar dilemma: an ongoing tussle between forces who, by their actions, are causing to impede time’s excursion into the future – the anti-time group – and those who want to break the shackles of the past.

The former group comprises a faction of the political leadership, some media outlets and a paltry yet highly assertive portion of the intelligentsia. They seem adamant to predicate all their arguments on this country’s historical anomalies. This school of thought, quite justifiably, continues to excoriate the military and the judiciary because of these institutions’ historical role in imposing martial laws and providing legal covers to them, respectively.

Today, however, their derision for the so called military establishment is getting out of proportions. Heaping all the blame of country’s failures on judiciary and military has become a norm now. Instead of supporting courts’ attempts to promote transparency and accountability, these people assail courts for transcending “legal and constitutional boundaries”.

And, despite the fact that martial laws have become a thing of the past, and that military’s role in bringing stability to parts of country has been colossal, the stalwarts of the “anti-time” group remain busy in making the armed forces and the intelligence agencies look like demons in the international media.

Thus, the anti-time group’s disdain for the country’s history and the resulting obsession with the military and judiciary is analogous to India’s mistrust of the outside world between 1947 and 1990. They are simply unwilling to choose cooperation over conflict; and this choice of theirs is greatly hampering the country’s progress.

On the other hand, we have a healthy lot of progressive intelligentsia, which includes a large chunk of the political leadership, eminent journalists, retired bureaucrats and generals, and most of the country’s educated middle class.

This group is willing to unleash this country from its tainted history. In their view, Pakistan’s future is brimming with opportunities. Remaining stuck to the past, they say, will cost us myriad promising openings of the coming times.

They know time will steer us to the future only when we curb corruption, improve governance, prioritise health and education over roads and flyovers, and strengthen institutions.

This school of thought is aware of the fact that in this age of social and electronic media, the military will never attempt to stage another coup d’etat; the outcry of the anti-time cohort against institutions, thus, is simply a dogged attempt to divert attention from their own failures, progressives believe.

Principally, however, both groups of thought are correct. It remains to be seen with whom Pakistanis side with in the upcoming elections: those who rub salt on the old wounds or those who want to heal them by virtue of the tested antidote that is time.

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