It is increasingly common to ask whether Pakistan shall survive its next fifty years. Of course it will, for the land and the people who live on it shall always remain. The real question is: will we survive with or without dignity? Looking back at the last 50 years, it has been the latter. Citizens have grown weary of political leaders who have been heavy on rhetoric while stashing their plunder overseas, of an army that consumes the bulk of the nation's resources while national security becomes ever weaker, of a bloated bureaucracy which administers less as it grows larger, and of shrill proclamations of religiosity while people of all religions are murdered. But growing weary does not mean that change is at hand.
It is not in our tradition to be bold. In a culture as insurrectionary as Pakistan's where governments come and go, this statement may seem to be false. To oppose an Ayub, Bhutto, or Zia may well have been the need of the moment. But it did not, by any means, go far enough. Time after time, expectations for a brighter future have come to nothing because it was merely the symptoms, not the causes which were being attacked. The truth is that we have not thought through ideas about real change, which requires boldness, much less experimented with them, which requires courage of conviction going well beyond boldness. If the future is not to be as bleak as the past or bleaker, then it is time the people of Pakistan summon their intellect and courage to speak, regardless of the consequences, of what must be done to save this country.
What Pakistan lacks is not good people, but a vision and shared ethos that can bring together its diverse social classes, linguistic, regional, and religious groups. Instead, feudalism reigns, religious fanaticism is on the rise, ethnic movements have resorted to brutal savagery, the population doubles every 25 years, the environment has become polluted, education is in shambles, and the rule of law has largely broken down. Blind to all these issues, our school books and the national media continue to preach hatred and divisiveness instead of the virtues of peace and equality.
What we need is a vision of a civilised society. This is necessarily one that is pluralistic and democratic, where each individual is free to believe what he or she chooses and where all are equal before the law, irrespective of status or power. It is only in a free society that the creative potential of individuals can be of benefit to society, and only a free society can breed true loyalty to it. This is the vision which must be propagated if Pakistan is to survive with dignity.
Ultimately, in any society, it is the power of ideas that brings about real change. Every major movement in history bears witness to the fact that once an idea takes firm root in the minds of people, change inevitably ensues. Sadly, given the intellectual bankruptcy of our universities, and the virtual absence of free debate outside the narrow confines of a few English language newspapers and magazines, there is little discussion of substantive issues. This makes it imperative that every opportunity be sought for discussing the urgent problems of Pakistani society clearly and honestly.
It was precisely the search for such an opportunity that resulted in the book that the reader now holds in his or her hands. Mashal Books, a small publishing organisation dedicated to increasing social consciousness, has held a number of discussions in Lahore and Islamabad on issues of peace and conflict in Pakistani society. This particular book is the outcome of a seminar to which thoughtful people of intellect and integrity were invited for a 10-hour-a-day discussion for two days in Islamabad. The book has both English and Urdu versions.
We are grateful to the editors, Iftikhar Ahmed and Zia Mian, for compiling and editing the presentations; to the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung for arrangements for the seminar and partial support for publication of this book; to Khadim Hussain for logistical support; and, most of all, to the speakers and participants who made this seminar worthwhile.