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Opinion: Humanising the ‘other’ | Talat Farooq


By tweaking the socio-cultural and religious values to impose uniformity on the diverse Pakistani society the military and political policy makers have created and intensified cultural and religious divisions since 1947.

Ahmadiyya Times | News Watch | Int’l Desk
Source/Credit: The News International
By Talat Farooq | May 30, 2012

The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) held a national conference on Balochistan in Islamabad on May 26. The participants appropriately recommended the replacement of garrisons with a civilian set-up in the province and strongly supported the immediate release of political prisoners and missing persons in the custody of state agencies. They were equally correct in resolving that political parties should play a positive role in strengthening the democratic process and that free and fair elections be ensured to allow manifestation of public aspirations.

These are sensible recommendations and must be acted upon as part of the first steps towards the resolution of the crisis. However, it must be borne in mind that the problem is complicated because it is multi-dimensional. While the political and economic aspects of the issue are highlighted by our media and intelligentsia, the psychological reasons are often ignored.

Human affairs, whether economic, political, military or civilian, are ultimately conducted through human interaction; this interaction is, in turn, fundamentally shaped by human psychological thinking patterns and perceptions. In order to change a situation it is important to change the thinking on that situation because without a fundamental shift in perspective changes remain cosmetic and transitory. Unless there is an open and honest expression of truth, justice, which is seen to be carried out, and checks and balances, there can be no reconciliation, and hence no closure.

Pakistan’s real problems are constructed with the perennial issue pertaining to the state policy of alienating and marginalising citizens deemed to be a threat to perceived national security. By tweaking the socio-cultural and religious values to impose uniformity on the diverse Pakistani society the military and political policy makers have created and intensified cultural and religious divisions since 1947. For this purpose the school, the mosque, the political arena and the media have been used arbitrarily to protect the personal agendas of the few at the cost of public welfare.

Distortion of history in the textbooks, misinterpretation of religious edicts, dissemination of ideological and blinkered nationalist ideology by select writers and academics and the greed and corruption of the political elite have all contributed to the alienation. Above all, military solutions have been applied to purely political problems, with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto among the pioneers of this approach.

This behaviour pattern has continued to the point where simple disagreements have, over the decades, mutated into a process of dehumanisation. This process has eventually resulted in moral exclusion where the excluded group is considered inferior, criminal or evil, and consequently undeserving of basic human rights and fair treatment. Seen through the black or white logic, the negative actions of the opponent are perceived as reflecting fundamental malevolence, while one’s own negativities or weaknesses are not only discounted or denied but also projected onto “the other.”

In a system that pays lip service to human rights but in fact does little to uphold the rule of law, the most prevalent feature of everyday existence is fear. Fear of abduction, fear of illegal imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of losing dear ones, fear of losing property or means of livelihood, fear of injustice, fear of terrorism, fear of sectarian killings, fear of isolation and the all-encompassing fear of abandonment by the state and society. Such a system is a replica of the Hobbesian state of nature where human life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” In such a system, dehumanisation feeds on protracted confrontation and the accompanied perpetual feelings of insecurity, mistrust and resentment.

According to relevant psychological studies, protracted conflict strains relationships and widens the psychological distance between conflicting parties. The more severe the conflict, the easier it becomes for opponents to ignore their shared humanity and community. That is why it is imperative to resolve potentially explosive disputes well before they develop into festering wounds that refuse to heal. Unfortunately, in Pakistan we seem to have thrived on strategies of exclusion, using politics, religion or misplaced patriotism to further the ulterior agendas of a few vested interests. Successive military and civilian regimes have allowed the psychological gaps between diverse groups to widen for short-term gains. What we see in Balochistan, Karachi and the tribal areas today is the logical conclusion of more than six decades of moral exclusion and dehumanisation in the name of ideology and nationalism.

In Pakistan the process of brain-washing has been adopted by militant networks and religious ideologues patronised by certain state agencies, as well as by mainstream political parties.

It is not surprising that in Balochistan overall fatalities in 2011 increased by 104.89 percent over the preceding year, or that most of these killings were extrajudicial in which political activists were targeted, members of minority group or people opposing the government, or that 2011 alone saw 107 new cases of enforced disappearance with “missing persons” increasingly turning up dead.

Meanwhile, in Karachi, from 2003 to May 2012, nearly 6,000 people have lost their lives to terrorism, target killings, and sectarian violence. The fact that more than 30,000 Pakistani civilians have died in terror attacks all over the country becomes easier to understand when viewed from this angle.

When social groups are gradually indoctrinated by authority figures against a perceived enemy the human ability to empathise with fellow beings is progressively eliminated. Under such circumstances, communication, dialogue or compromise become almost impossible; by dehumanising the adversary we are desensitised to the psychological, social and moral implications of killing and hurting thus making trigger-pulling and torture automatic responses.

This is how the soldiers are trained to kill in the battlefield; this is how the suicide bomber is persuaded to blow himself up; this is how sectarian killings take place; this is how Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar are set ablaze; this is how East Pakistan was lost. And this is how we will lose Balochistan if remedial actions are not taken on a war-footing.

To reverse the trend of dehumanisation Pakistan needs efficient leadership willing to invest time and resources and ready to persevere with justice, truth and reconciliation, and wise federal and provincial economic and educational policies. The problems in Balochistan and elsewhere are domestic with “foreign hands” merely taking advantage of the opportunities that we have provided them.

To resolve internal problems we need to look inwards and seek solutions to the issues of economic and social justice and political participation. Such solutions, however, will be effective only if they derive from a genuine appreciation of the psychological human desire for recognition and dignity.

This is a tall order; the present political setup has neither the ability nor the moral standing to achieve this objective. Whether there will be change for the better remains to be seen. One thing is clear though: we require a great deal more than free and fair elections to salvage the situation in Balochistan. It should start with a genuine process of reconciliation. Nothing can be achieved unless “the other” is humanised.

The writer is a PhD student at Leicester, UK. Email: talatfarooq11@ gmail.com

Read original post here: Opinion: Humanising the ‘other’ | Talat Farooq

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