Pakistan in 2007: A Year of Anger and Angst

Posted on December 31, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, >Owais Mughal, About ATP, Society
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Adil Najam and Owais Mughal

It is appropriate, at many levels, to start our New Year Post with the same verse we used at this time last year. The sentiment of the sheyr is even more true now than it was a year ago.

Har saal yeh samajh keh guzara hai aye _Saba_
Yeh ishq ki saddi meiN adaawat ka saal hai

As we look back at the events and people and news of 2007, two thoughts immediately strike us. First, there is relief that this year – which has been so sad and tragic in so many ways – is coming to a close. Maybe, just maybe, what follows will be better. Second, if there was any one and only one thing that defined the year 2007, that thing was the manifest anger and angst that defines Pakistani society today.

Anger was the face of Pakistan in 2007.

The one that that defined Pakistan in 2007 more than all others – more than Benazir Bhutto and her tragic end, more than Pervez Musharraf and all his political machinations, more than the lathi-waving vigilantes of Lal Masjid, more than Iftikhar Chaudhry and his judicial assertiveness, more than Aitizaz Ahsan and his legal struggles, more than civil society‘s struggles for democracy, more than the media and its battles for independence, more than anything else that one can think of – that one thing was the latent anger in society.

For Pakistan and Pakistanis, 2007 was the story of this anger erupting ever so violently, at every possible opportunity, in every which way, and in all its many possible manifestations.

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This anger has been spilling all year long on the streets of Pakistan in the form of slogans, batons, bricks, sticks and – all too often – blood. As we look back at our year of blogging we find that we have written about this anger more often than just about anything else. And each time we have written about the anger people have become more angry at us for even questioning their anger. The anger with which people have justified their own anger is probably the most disturbing of all.

The violent death of Benazir Bhutto and the even more violent reactions to that on the streets of Pakistan have been the most recent, most dramatic and most poignant representations of this national sense of outrage and angst. But the anger has been a constant theme throughout the year. More than that, our own angst comes from the repeated justification of this anger and a societal acceptance of violence (physical, verbal, emotional) as a legitimate tool of political action and of social expression.

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What has disturbed us consistently and increasingly through the year is how many good people are willing to justify violence and anger as the means of achieving what they consider to be valid social goals. What is also clear is that this justification of anger is not restricted to any group or ideology. Some religious activists justify violence because they seek to purify Pakistan, but so do some liberals who are rooting for democracy and rule of law. Government is ready to express their authority through violence but so is civil society. This, of course, is not a case of moral equivalence and the violence of those who have power is different from the violence of those who do not. But at the end of the day blood spilled on a street is blood spilled on a street. It is the sanctity of that blood – no matter whose blood it is – that has been totally thrashed this year.

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If you have the time, go and follow any of the heated discussions on our posts relating to anger this year. Focus, if you will, on how different groups will justify their own or someone else’s anger. It is this acceptance of the legitimacy of anger, and therefore of violence, that defined 2007 for Pakistan and which made this such a tragic year for all of. Look for example, at this story we did very year in the year (Feb. 21) on the murder of a woman Minister in the Punjab by a religious fanatic. We wrote then:

What killed Zille Huma Usman? Not religion. Not madness. But anger. Uncontrolled anger.

Note the comments of some of our friends who seemed less concerned about the woman who had been brutally murdered than about our questioning the anger in society. But the anger was around us all year round, everywhere.

The above were all not direct manifestations of anger, but they were all contributors to or reactions to anger and violence of various forms. We realize that anger and violence is not unique to Pakistan. We live in a world where violence is increasingly used and justified everywhere, including by the biggest powers of the world. But this post or this blog is not about them. This is about Pakistan. The anger and the violence of others cannot be a justification of our own anger and violence. If we are to have any credibility in speaking out against the violence of others, then we must first restrict our own.

Here at ATP we see a manifestation of this anger every day in our comments (and these from the more literate and affluent Pakistanis, many living abroad). In recent months especially, these comments have been simply a chronicle of national angst and anger with less and less substance to them. Even after having to moderate out 20% or more of the comments from people on all sides of all issues, what remains is a testimony to the sad conclusion that as a society we may now be incapable of disagreeing without being disagreeable. It seems that some of us cannot even discuss Rooh Afza without questioning someone else’s patriotism or religious piety!

All of this is, of course, an incomplete picture. It is meant to be incomplete. As our posts all across the year have also shown, there is much in Pakistan – much more than this – which is good and positive and very worth being proud of. We highlight the anger today in this end-year post, not because this is the only thing that represents Pakistan today, but that this has grown to alarming proportions in this year and we, as Pakistanis, must rise against this anger and this violence. Indeed, as we noted above, there are some in the civil society who have chosen to reject the protest of violence and choose the protest of principle. We must stand with them and against violence.

For the sake of our future and for the hope of the future we must confront this anger of ours and resisit all and any justifications for violence. The first step in solving any problem has to be to recognize and name the problem. That is what we are trying to do today. Please join us in doing so!

51 responses to “Pakistan in 2007: A Year of Anger and Angst”

  1. Hussain Usmani says:

    In Pakistan, every year is the year of anger. So sad.

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