Is there a cure for Pakistan’s culture of victimization?

By Saad Hafiz:

While periods of insecurity are common among a nation’s citizenry; the Pakistani culture of victimization has permeated the national discourse and sapped the Nation’s spirit. “They are doing it to us again,” “there’s nothing we can do,” “it’s all their fault” have become part of the political lexicon when discussing the complex issues facing Pakistan.

Contrast the prevailing negativity to Mr. Jinnah’s Eid-ul-Fitr message to the nation on 27th August, 1948. “We can look to the future with robust confidence provided we do not relax and fritter away our energies in internal dissension. There never was greater need for discipline and unity in our ranks. It is only with united effort and faith in our destiny that we shall be able to translate the Pakistan of our dreams into reality.”

The long and depressing list of events and conditions that have caused the loss in national confidence include the 1971 military defeat that led to the fracturing of the country: increasing ethnic sectarian sub-national divide, the ongoing battle against terrorism, intolerance and violence, grinding poverty, institutionalized corruption and progressive decline in leadership since Independence.

What passes for leadership today is mostly incompetent and corrupt politicians and generals who make the big promises when in power, few of which they keep. Instead, leaders encourage and ask the people to find refuge for their misfortunes in misplaced national jingoism. Propaganda based in past on Islamic conquests, glory and pride in nuclear weapons and delivery systems attempt to compensate for deep national insecurities.

This “inspiring” message comes from the armed forces on Independence Day “We must stay committed to the ideals of Pakistan and remain ever ready to protect our motherland. The basis of our existence is the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’. We have a firm belief that by following the golden principles of Islam, we shall progress and win a respectable place in the comity of nations. This great religion is the bond that binds us together and not a force that divides us.”

The truth is that millions of people do not buy into the “Ideology of Pakistan.” They have been complaining for years: about unemployment, the lack of housing, the lack of electricity, clean water and sanitation removal and the sorry state of government hospitals and schools. Most of the country’s poor – and we are talking about majority of the population here – are illiterate or barely literate and are wholly occupied by the battle to just feed themselves and their children every day.

The state of the mind of the dispossessed or the ruled is described by the American author Maya Angelou, “in the holiness of always being the injured party, the historically oppressed can find not only sanctity but safety in the state of victimization. When access to a better life has been denied often enough, and successfully enough, one can use the rejection as an excuse to cease all efforts.”

The destabilizing effect of a prolonged state of insecurity and business as usual could lead to serious consequences including the further fragmentation of the country. While the culture that breeds despondency will not disappear overnight, some measures to bolster national confidence could be considered.

The elected Parliament has to have a monopoly on exercise of force. The State should make an effort to regain absolute control over its territory. Partial control of territory and allowing safe havens to exist which can be used by terrorists and criminals alike cannot be allowed. The personal fiefdoms prospering in Karachi and FATA ought to be eliminated and armed groups created and nurtured by the deep state must be disarmed. These steps should remove a major cause of insecurity felt by many citizens.

Governmental legitimacy should continue to be derived from the ballot box. A silver lining often ignored by pessimists is that Pakistan has legitimate political parties, an increasingly independent judiciary and vibrant media which are prerequisites for preserving and enhancing a democratic society. Pakistanis also have a history of fighting dictatorship and checking obscurantism through democratic means when allowed.

Democratic structures will need to be institutionalized at the federal, provincial and local level to handle governmental tasks, including, but not limited to, agreeing the terms of provincial autonomy or loosely knit federation, formulation and implementation of economic policy, investment in education, collection of taxes, provision for security and access to impartial justice and exercising control over the security apparatus. There are encouraging examples of developing countries with inclusive democratic structures attaining internal cohesiveness and making tangible economic progress as a result.

It remains to be seen whether Pakistanis have ceased all efforts and have succumbed to the culture of victimization or that the nation will eventually find the will to fight and defeat this debilitating disease. Help yourself, and heaven will help you.

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