Fear and loathing in Pakistan | Fahd Husain

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If these are growing pains, they are excruciatingly agonising.

Brawling legislators like PML-N’s Javed Latif and PTI’s Murad Saeed are not at fault — they are mere foot soldiers who operate under the looming shadows of their political generalissimos. These minions bask in their leaders’ reflected glory — or lack thereof as the case may be — and draw the legitimacy of their actions from the approval of the top men. This here is a system born, bred and reinforced in and around individuals and not institutions; a system whose standards are a reflection of personalities, not universal values. This system validates its legitimacy through the prism of individuals whose influence dominates organisations, institutions and often the State itself. Javed Latif and Murad Saeed are insignificant flunkies whose actions in of themselves signify nothing unless seen as an outrageous failure of their overlords.

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It is a failure borne of fear and loathing — two intense emotions that should not be defining the contours of national political progression. But they are. If Imran Khan pours scorn on the Pakistan Super League (PSL) final in Lahore, he does so not because he has anything inherently against the tournament but because he sees the Lahore final within the larger context of his battle royale against Nawaz Sharif. In essence then, Khan loathes Sharif more than he loves cricket. His loathing is so visceral that he fears if he lifts his foot off the pedal, Sharif will get a breather. And a breather in a zero sum game — which is what both see it as — is a gift that no person would want to give to his opponent. Khan will willingly trash the game he loves and ridicule foreign players he should be thanking just to stick it to Sharif. Every other thing pales into insignificance including the loutish behavior of his minions like Murad Saeed. The individualisation of politics in a grimly medieval way has started to have devastating repercussions in our society. Institutionalising governance was never a greater challenge.

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And what of those voted in to govern? Javed Latif’s despicable utterances against Murad Saeed’s sisters are a stain not just on this man but on his leadership as well. He vomited those words because he knew he could; because he understood that plunging into the gutter was not just acceptable but actually encouraged; because he recognised that the ritual mild condemnations that he received from his leadership would be drowned out by the accolades he would receive from them behind closed doors. Given the ratio of rebukes versus rewards coming his way from his party, he wasn’t too off the mark.

Like Murad Saeed, Javed Latif is an insignificant minion, but even minions are awash in the loathing of Khan as it gushes down from the high ramparts of the PML-N citadel. Sharif loathes Khan more than he can ever loathe the disgusting behaviour of minion Latif; more than he can loathe the shameless justifications of Latif’s vile words coming from his party colleagues; more than he can loathe the gradual transformation of political discourse into verbal manure. Sharif’s loathing of Khan is borne out of a fear — an existential fear that Khan can breach the walls of his fortress and bring his familial empire crashing down.

As we sink deeper into this political soakage pit, a noxious odour of societal debasement overpowers the senses. Something deeply troubling is bubbling up from underneath the layers of this poisonous magma; something that is silently undercutting the basis of our non-infectious optimism about the future of our country; something that is reigniting dread.

But is dread really dread if it doesn’t trigger fear? When Sharif and Khan loathe each other more than they loathe the absence of the rule of law; when they loathe each other more than the sapping of institutional strength and when their mutual loathing can trample every other thing under its mighty hoofs, then this is not political rivalry — it is a tribal fight between two sardars which has seeped deep into their rank and file. And it plays out naturally because we are after all still in many ways a tribal society in which archaic feudal values are celebrated — values like absolute loyalty to the sardar not to a vague concepts like law and morality.

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How many among us realise that this feudal, tribal system is anathema to a modern progressive society? How many of us actually believe that we must shun these medieval values if we have to mature into a modern post-agrarian society in which citizens are valued not for their personal loyalty to a sardar or a leader, but for their observance of the laws of the land and of basic human morality? How many of us indeed would want our individual whims and fancies to be subsumed within the ambit of laws that regulate our behaviour regardless of our social standing within society?

If we are reinforcing these primitive values — which we do every time minions like Javed Latif and Murad Saeed act up in the name of their political sardars — we are in essence sliding down the evolutionary ladder of actual human development. Such a slide cannot be halted by progress that money can buy but by investing in institutions and the absolute rule of law. If there is little or no progress on this front, no amount of bricks and mortar projects can save us from being relegated to the dustbin of the future.

This dismal theatre of the absurd plays out every day in front of the cameras as we watch and applaud like idiots inebriated by the sheer entertainment value of the farce. There is something rotten in this State of Pakistan and if we do not put a halt to this fear and loathing we should be prepared to lose more than just our sense of direction.

The writer is Executive Director News, Express News, and Editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets @fahdhusain fahd.husain@tribune.com.pk