In the late nineties, I would avidly recommend ‘Sophie’s World’ to college students. This novel on the history of philosophy begins with its protagonist, a Norwegian teenager, receiving an anonymous letter with just three words and a big question mark: “Who are you?” And thus begins an exploration into the mysteries of life and its meaning.
At this time, when the year of the pandemic is about to expire, we seem to be stuck in a pensive mood, searching for the meaning of what is happening to us – in a personal as well as a collective sense. The year is ending but Covid-19 is rising in its second wave. It is hard to be excited and cheerful about the immediate future. The New Year hope of the vaccine is not so valid for poor and deprived countries like Pakistan.
What is traditionally a festive season is this year laden with grief, anxiety and uncertainty. During these last days of December, you ritualistically tend to look back and sift through happy memories of the past twelve months to bolster your hopes and expectations for the coming year. But the score of 2020 is universally dismal. A wild, chaotic and crazy year is leaving many of us in a state of bereavement and bewilderment.
All of us have our separate stories to tell. A year can be a long time in one’s life, depending on what it was meant to be if the pandemic had not intervened. In some cases, it may have been auspicious. Its gift – or burden – of solitude and physical isolation would have different uses for different people. There surely are lessons to learn in these dark times.
Like Sophie of the novel, we should stand in front of the mirror and stare into our own eyes to try, in Omar Khayyam’s translated words, “to grasp this sorry scheme of things entire” and “remould it nearer to the heart’s desire”. However, any reflection on rebuilding our individual lives is bound to drift into the larger domain of public affairs.
And concern about the unfolding political crisis is particularly intruding on our personal lives at this time. In fact, it is this linkage that has totally distracted my thoughts. Consider the coincidence that this column is being published on the twenty-seventh of December. It is a date that is etched in blood on the nation’s heart.
So, how does one contend with the anniversary of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in the last week of 2020? We have been observing this anniversary since 2008. But this occasion is now overlapping the protest of the Pakistan Democratic Movement and a big rally is being staged this evening in Larkana.
The PDM campaign against the PTI government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, with its vicissitudes, is entering what in the movies is known as the chase sequence. After today’s rally in Larkana, the focus will shift to the proposed resignations of the opposition members of the national and provincial assemblies and the long march to Islamabad.
But a shade of uncertainty has crept over these matters against the backdrop of the forthcoming Senate elections. Meanwhile, some twists in the tale are beginning to emerge. Enter Mohammad Ali Durrani, for example. He is a leader of another faction of Pakistan Muslim League, labeled as Functional and led by the Pir of Pagaro. This group is a part of the ruling arrangement and its strings are seen to be attached to higher ranks.
In a surprising development on Thursday, Durrani was allowed access to Shahbaz Sharif, president of the PML-N and the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, lodged in Kot Lakhpat jail. Ostensibly, a move is being made to bring the temperature down and initiate a dialogue between political adversaries. Another hint of what may be in the works was provided by the MQM, angry about the approval of the controversial National Census 2017. It is supposed to be rethinking its alliance with the PTI.
Anyone seeking some respite for these dreary political squabbles had the option of invoking memories of the Quaid on the day of Christmas on Friday. His birth anniversary has remained an important date on Pakistan’s national calendar, though the country has drifted far away from the Quaid’s vision. Incidentally, December 25 is also Nawaz Sharif’s birthday.
Eventually, history has handed down for us three other events in the month of December that we just cannot put out of our minds. Last week, we had the sixteenth of December, marking two of our greatest tragedies. Today, it is the anniversary of Benazir Bhutto. We do not yet have the courage of objectively examining and understanding these traumatic experiences.
For that matter, we continue to sidestep incidents and issues that have a bearing on Pakistan’s national sense of direction. In this respect, I would like to mention the disappearance and death in mysterious circumstances of a Baloch rights activist in Canada and invite you to make your own assessment of what this incident signifies in light of the rulers’ professed commitment to democracy and fundamental human rights.
The Guardian reported the incident on Tuesday. I am borrowing these words from the respected British daily: “A dissident Pakistani human rights activist living in exile in Canada has been found dead in Toronto after going missing. Karima Baloch, 37, was granted asylum in Canada in 2016 after her work as a human rights activist in the troubled Pakistan state of Balochistan….”
The Guardian added: “She was listed by the BBC in its 100 most inspirational and influential women of 2016 for her work in human rights”. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan noted that “this is the second such incident after the disappearance and death of journalist Sajid Hussain in Sweden”.
It so happens that this incident was not reported in detail by Pakistani media. Our reporters and talk show panelists are too preoccupied with political skirmishes – and it is only in this arena that they are emboldened to take sides. Other issues are not within their reach.
The writer is a senior journalist.
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