Saturday, October 24, 2009

Thoughts on the Present Discontent

By Khurram Ali Shafique, Iqbal Sciences (Blog)

What should we do? This is a question which many people in Pakistan are asking today. One possible answer is that we should develop a habit of looking at things from our perspective too, like any self-respecting human being and like most other nations. I shall try to offer a few observations in this regard.

I am not sending this series to any newspaper right now because I want to try out this “new media” first – the outreach of the Internet and desktop printing. Be your own publisher: if you like this article, please take a print-out (perhaps two sides of a single A4 sheet), and pass it on. Please do not remove the names of author and blog.

Let’s begin by understanding that continuity in national life can be seen only if we desire to see it. Otherwise it is possible to discard even the structure of a Shakespearean play as random incidents (some modern critics have tried that). Without saying whether it is true or false, I want to share an insight from Muhammad Ali Jauhar (1878-1931), our hero who fought for freedom of press, orchestrated mass movements and defied colonialism. In 1927 he wrote:

The average span of a generation is usually considered to be thirty years although marriages happen in India much before that age and life expectancy among Indians is also comparatively lower. Yet, just as the Indian National Congress came into being thirty years after the establishment of the universities of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay, precisely in that same manner a new educated generation of Muslims came up to become the founder of [All India] Muslim League in 1906, thirty years after the foundation of the Aligarh College, and Muslims entered politics as a nation.

Jauhar is trying to tell us that when any type of formal education is introduced in a society, it bears inevitable results in thirty years. Those results cannot be avoided because nobody has been able to identify conclusively the chords that control the collective behavior of a society (who could have known that the Americans were going to elect George W. Bush twice)!

Hence, the results of education are inevitable in a society, and they bear fruit approximately thirty year later. If we also include informal education which affects the hearts and souls of the masses on a much larger scale, then we can say that some political events that touch the feelings of everyone can also have similar effects thirty year later. Perhaps this is because people who are in their early twenties at the time of an event are the ones who react most strongly, and hence they are most receptive. Thirty year later, they are in their fifties, and that is the age group to which most decision-makers belong.

If we look at our history of the last 120 years, we find at least the following seven events whose impact seems to have been stronger than any kind of formal education. Perhaps this was because these events were of such a nature that they could not have been engineered by an individual leader unless several strands of collective thinking converged at that point. I call these the “peak moments” of our history. Just as should be the case in the light of Jauhar’s theory, each “peak moment” seems to have born fruit approximately thirty year later:

1886: Foundation of Mohammedan Educational Congress (later Conference). Thirty year later: Lucknow Pact secures approval of Muslim nationhood in 1916

1906: Birth of All-India Muslim League. Thirty year later: Revival of All-India Muslim League by M. A. Jinnah

1926: First elections on the basis of separate electorates but limited franchise. Thirty year later: Pakistan’s first constitution in 1956, which could be called “elitist” in many ways, followed by an era of “basic democracy” which demoted the franchise to something similar to thirty years ago

1946-47: Elections and direct action for the making of Pakistan, “Pakistan ka matlab kya…?” Thirty year later: Mass movement demanding Islamization in 1977

1967: Birth of progressive movements in West Pakistan and East Pakistan. Thirty year later: Reversion of weekly holiday to Sunday in 1997, beginning the process which would eventually mature into “enlightened moderation”

1987: Demand for elections on party basis and dissatisfaction with the conservative concept of Islamization pervades even among those segments of society which had been impartial or supportive earlier. Thirty year later will be 2017, a year which hasn’t arrived yet, but can we make a guess now?

2007: Lawyers’ Movement. Thirty year later will be 2037, so how should we plan?

This pattern makes some sense, and more sense can be added as we go along. We can see that the last “peak moment” was the unrest of 2007. Whether somebody sympathized with the Lawyers’ Movement or not (I was indifferent until much, much later), everyone felt an urge for creating a fresh mandate for the future. The true effects of this peak moment (along with the resulting Long March of 2009) may not be clearly visible until thirty years later but what are likely to witness much before that is the turning point of 2017, listed here as the inevitable effect of 1987.

Therefore we can say that one possible undercurrent of the present unrest is that Pakistan is moving from the peak moment of 2007 to the turning point of 2017 – from the birth of a spectacular mass movement to an unknown point awaiting us seven years ahead like an unseen rock in an ocean on a dark night.

Let’s use our radar and try to see what that rock is. The way to find out is by looking back at 1987 and understanding things which were shaping the hearts and souls at that time. Those were the things which formed an inevitable “turning point” in the as-yet-unborn year of 2017. Knowingly or unknowingly, we are moving towards it.


  1. Shafique Sahib

    I think, that period belongs to the people who worked hard to bring DEMOCRACY in country. But still we are striving for it.

    People of Pakistan are still working on taking out their voices from their heart.

    Does this means that by 2017, Pakistan would actually become a democratic country?


  2. Another 30 years Saga
    1979 PPP Chairman Former Priemer ZAB Hanged.
    2009 PPP Chairman AAZ Widower of ZAB daughter Crowned.

  3. Your sweep and understanding of the deep in history again amazes...along with your desire and living out of your values of teaching those who are not nearly as scholarly, including me.

    I see the necessity for your nation to understand this history and even the predictions based on actual happenings and study.

    There is also the need for us in the US to understand the part of this which will communicate to our masses...since there is universal information's a great beginning. Yet we have few who will take the time for the non-universal

    All too few I speak with - even among the most educated and progressives - understand anything of the history and beauty of Pakistan and Pakistanis - your struggles and your amazing breakthroughs and the current fears even.

    Although my voice is nearly invisible, I want to make a few waves - especially in regards to that which we share in common - US and your beloved nation and how we treat one another.

    Any chance you could somehow someday in the not too distant future rewrite this sort of piece for those who want to turn from current and recent American tendencies and need to know from a Pakistani scholar and historian how we must do so? (forgive the long Comment but I am most serious to be sure to get this across!)

  4. Dear Connie,

    Let's start by revisiting the year 1987 in relation with our own societies. What was happening in our countries as well as in relation with its role in the world? What were our views about those things AT THAT TIME (which are very likely to be DIFFERENT from now). Why did we feel how we felt? So on.

    Especially with regards to outstanding events of the previous year. How did you feel about that tension with Libya? How did I feel about it?

    Things closer to home: how did I feel about the Orangi massacres that occured in Karachi in November 1986 (for several hours, law enforcement agencies left an entire segment of urban population at the mercy of armed invaders apparently associated with drug mafia)? Frequently forced closure of shops, schools, etc, throughout the year 1986. Events that were in the background when the year 1987 dawned on the horizon of Time.

    I think it would be interesting to read such personal narratives.

  5. Not only would this be interesting to read - this would be interesting to research and to write from the more or less personal views...I've been considering these kind of narratives in a similar vein...

    what were our views AT THAT TIME...why did we FEEL how we felt...etc. from our various vantage points...

    YES, this will add a new dimensions to the "clutter" that abounds even within such scholarly and news-worthy material today...

    Thanks for bringing up this suggestion.

  6. We should not act upon 'wait and see' policy rather we should struggle to devise a consolidated plan of action. In the first week of October, I was in Singapore and admiring their system, discipline, cleanliness etc. I came to know about their Leade Lee Kuang who wrote an autobiography 'Third World into First World'. To my surprise, Singapore is dependent on Malaysia even for its drinking water. In 1965, when Lee Kuand decided to be seperated from Malaysia, Malees thought that Singapore will perish soon as it does not have sufficient resources. But with a vision and a teamwork Lee Kuang materialized his dreams and transformed that third world country into first world country. He stepped down from the rule after materializing his ideas and now runs a bakery. He is 85 years old and enjoys his living dream.

    Can we learn something from him? Are we ready to read his book in which he tells his success story in details. He explains various aspects that facilitaed to materialized his dream

  7. YES, please let's do read such and if we can't find them, write them or put them into an anthology...anyone welcome...

    AS LONG AS...there is a willingness for a deeply honest while nonviolent communication, sharp on facts while including feelings and personal reactions with the respect they deserve for ALL involved...

  8. Eijaz Sahib, do tell me more about your suggestion. Shall we try to find this book? Or each a similar book? Or what is recommended by Shafique Sahib? I am needing some more understanding and guidance here. Thanks for your patience!

  9. Peace and greetings to all!
    I am a student. Just wanted to ask something from Khurram Brother.
    "1987: Demand for elections on party basis and dissatisfaction with the conservative concept of Islamization pervades even among those segments of society which had been impartial or supportive earlier. Thirty year later will be 2017, a year which hasn’t arrived yet, but can we make a guess now?"

    Are you suggesting that in 2017, Islam will no longer remain a priority for any one in the country? Are we never going to experience a true Islamic revolution giving peace to all?

    Please, any one clarify. I am too dumb to figure out the puzzle.