A couple of things

First, the brutal killing and torture of Rasool Baksh Mengal, Baloch National Movement (BNM) joint secretary who had been missing since August 23. Of course the federal government has blamed his death on ‘old enmity’ and that the separatist elements are using this death as part of their anti-state conspiracy. Which really brings me to my second point, although you will have to read the next few paragraphs to understand why.

An interesting interview of Cyril Almeida at Rs. 5. One of the questions had this little statement in it:

It’s not a matter of differing opinions. It’s a matter of different facts. Different histories. It’s almost like we were subjected to 170 million different history books in school. Everyone’s in their own world.

This is something about Pakistani history that really perplexes me. Let me give you an example of this — the whole of last year, during the public debate about the TNSM takeover of Swat, we would hear a neatly packaged and self-serving version of Swati history from the right-wing politicians and journalists that went something like this: Swat was a peaceful state as a princely state, they were given Sharia by their ruler, after the annexation their penal system remained in limbo, all that Sufi Muhammad wanted to do was restore the Sharia that was already in existence during the princely state. That’s it. Someone would always show up on one of the talk shows, make this statement, and there would be no further discussion on it.

Is it because no one was willing to debate history? That’s very likely. In Pakistan there is very little debate between the various disparate strains of history. So a small portion of us grow up believing Jinnah was the Jinnah of the August 11 (“You are free..”) speech whereas another section of us grew up on the Jinnah of the letters to the Pir of Manki Sharif promising him Sharia. How do these different schools of thought reconcile? There are so many other examples of this. Are the Sharif brothers pro-judiciary because they held the long march for the restoration of the judiciary? Or are they anti-judiciary because they stormed the supreme court of justice Sajjad Ali Shah. Is Iftikhar Chaudhry pro-military because he ratified Musharraf’s coup? Or anti-military for opposing the emergency?

The issue is not that the facts are not out there to be verified. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of research to debunk a claim. The issue is that so much is at stake on the nature of these facts that it’s not possible for anyone to be faithful to the truth. As Pakistanis, we live our political history every single day and that makes honesty — for the time being — impossible.

So back to the death of Rasool Baksh Mengal. We can see that every side of the conflict has a version of history that defines their reaction to a particular event and that neither side could possibly be convinced by the other.

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One response to “A couple of things

  1. Publius

    Great post. The need for separating facts and values is an essential of clear thought.

    The question is what is a person of integrity and conscience to do ? If for instance, in recognizing a historical truth, one ends up promoting a value that one opposes ?( e.g If a secular Pakistani concedes Jinnah’s non secular nature , it strengthens the anti secularists), should one opt for the truth or for the value ?

    I believe that , except in emergencies, one should opt for the truth. If a value is achieved at the cost of truth it is likely to be temporary and fragile. When one chooses the truth in such matters, it shifts the debate from facts to values( e.g from what Jinnah was to what the country ought to be regardless), and in the long term , that is what will be necessary and efficacious.

    But it can be very lonely and frustrating and there is no guarantee for long term success either. The path of truth is hard.

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