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Honour in citizens well being not in chauvinistic nationalism

by Naeem Sadiq, 16 December 2008

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Dawn, December 16, 2008

Flawed notions of honour

NICOLAS Chauvin, a soldier in Napoleon’s army, may be dead and gone, but the chauvinist attitude named after him has not only survived, it has also been adopted as a popular pastime to be indulged in by politicians, military men, TV anchors, op-ed writers and religious obscurantists.

Not to be left behind, even supposedly rational scientists like Dr Samar Mubarakmand have joined the jingoistic ranks by calling on the government to show no flexibility in the face of India’s allegations, saying that after all it would take Pakistan only 10 minutes to fire the nuclear missiles.

It may be true that we now have the capability to fire our nuclear missiles in just 10 minutes. Our highest key performance indicator (KPI) for excellence seems to be the speed with which we can annihilate our enemy. Can we also rescue our citizens from a burning building in 10 minutes? Can we come to the rescue of a woman being raped within 10 minutes? Can we recover a child who has fallen into a manhole in 10 minutes? Can we take a sick person to hospital and give him treatment in 10 minutes? Can we stop the burying alive of helpless women in 10 minutes, or can we even register an FIR in 10 minutes? If we can do none of these, and can only annihilate our perceived enemies in 10 minutes, we have a perverted understanding of honour and need to revisit and revise our KPIs.

It is unsafe to have nuclear neighbours like India and Pakistan whose politicians, generals and bureaucrats have an obscurantist mindset, no better than that of feudal villagers who keep family enmities alive because of a conflict over a piece of land or a murder committed many generations ago. We have not been able to grow out of this ancient tribal concept of honour, ego, neechi naak and oonchi pagri. Our honour sleeps peacefully when the chief justice’s daughter’s marks are increased illegally. Our honour is not ruffled when we appoint jirga operators, vani dealers and supporters of women being buried alive as federal ministers. The examples on the other side of the border are no less in intensity or number.

The recent attacks in Mumbai were a great opportunity for Pakistan and India to come together. What if President Zardari had taken off for New Delhi instead of going all the way to Turkey to join neighbour Hamid Karzai for dinner? Why was the Joint Anti Terror Mechanism (JATM), already in place between the two countries, not immediately made to work? Here was a great opportunity for both countries to build mutual trust and clean up their respective backyards.

Pakistan has no business to allow any wanted Indian national to take refuge on its soil. Such persons need to be put on the first available flight to India. How come those imprisoned in India and later exchanged as a result of an aircraft hijacking demand were allowed to roam around as free people in Pakistan? Would Pakistan like India to protect someone who was a prisoner in a Pakistani jail? Such persons should either be sent back or made to stand trial in their own country. If Pakistan were to act in an open manner on these issues, it would also have strong reason to ask India to stop its covert support to militants in Pakistan.

It is time for Pakistan to act like a responsible state and take steps to dismantle the infrastructure operated by non-state militants on its soil. The world looks at all Pakistanis with suspicion, as if no Pakistani can consume his breakfast unless he has fired a few rounds from a rocket launcher. But this perception is not altogether unfounded. The fact is that there is hardly a day which does not see terrorist attacks killing dozens of innocent people in one or the other town or city of Pakistan. Pakistanis feel unsafe in their own country, and are least interested in seeing their neighbours annihilated.

Clearly the same would be the feelings of an average Indian. 60 years of militarisation has made the people of India and Pakistan more unsafe and more vulnerable. If one’s child is killed, it does not matter if the bullet has come from another country or from the barrel of the local terrorist. We have paid a heavy price for our capacity-building to kill others and doing little to protect our own citizens. The oxymoronic ‘arms for peace’ pursuit has made people of both countries poorer in every sense of the term.

From ancient Greece to the present day, notions of honour have had a critical impact on the causes and conduct of wars. It is dangerous for modern nations to cling on to feudal and fake concepts of honour. Ever so often, it pushes us to take refuge in chauvinistic nationalism. We need to revisit and give up this mediaeval sense of honour, even if it calls for serious psychiatric interventions for our leaders. Our honour lies in the well-being of our citizens and in building peace and security for them as well as for our neighbours. Most of all, our honour lies in being honourable people — those who do not tolerate corrupt rulers, PCO judges and militancy in all its forms.