WASHINGTON DC, July 30, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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From Bottled Milk to Defence, We Need New Priorities

By Ayaz Amir

ISLAMABAD, July 30: Beset by problems, harried by our own confusion, we can’t go on like this forever, lurching from one uncertainty to another, internationally criticized for every sin under the sun. The time has come to cut through the nonsense and reach for the substance of things.

Small things first. Why after 57 years of uncertain statehood are we still obsessed with sect, caste and creed? Enough of Maliks, Choudhries, Rais, Raos, Sardars, etc: enough of castehood or tribal denominationalism. No country sports more useless honorific titles than we do. Being a Pakistani should be good enough for all of us.

Hence time to send notions of caste/creed swimming down the waters of the five rivers. From all official documents the requirement of having to fix your faith, sect, sub-sect or caste should at once be erased. On pain of punishment and disqualification, no government servant, military person or public representative should draw attention to these primitive distinctions.

While we are at small things, an immediate and total ban on that most hideous symbol of the modern age: the plastic shopping bag. No ifs and buts, this should be done at once considering how all things plastic are blighting the national landscape and clogging the republic’s water channels, big and small.

Mineral water in plastic bottles is fast becoming a national affliction too. Hydrogenated cooking oil (manufactured ghee) is a bad enough thing in itself. If its use is allowed to go on unchecked we’ll soon have the highest rate of heart disease in the world. But to think that some ghee manufacturers market this pestilence in plastic buckets. Henceforth this should be a non-bailable offence.

Even milk and fruit juices should come in glass bottles. Mountaineering expeditions should face the strictest penalties if they spread litter on the mountains. On flights to Pakistan it should be mandatory to announce that drugs and plastic bottles are forbidden items in Pakistan. If we can’t make Pakistan a land of milk and honey, we can at least do our bit to keep it clean.

On to other things. Reform of education, an end to the cocktail of education systems we have in Pakistan, must be the first priority of the republic.

If we are seeking to forge a single nationhood — although given the stupidity of some of our actions serious doubts must be entertained on this score — then it follows that from the Himalayas to the Arabian Sea, from the hills of Balochistan and Pakhtoonkhwa to the plains of Punjab and Sindh, there must be one education system for all Pakistani students, one syllabus, a common examination system, and, in the fullness of time, when the Lord of the Worlds smiles on this country and its people, a glass of pure milk at state expense, at eleven in the morning, for every student.

No O and A levels. India did away with O and A levels back in 1965. What blowback effect of retarded colonialism makes us stick to them? For Pakistani nationals no going to American schools in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. No madrassas for they militate not so much against reason — although they do that too — as against the requirements of a single nationhood. It is futile to think of reforming the madrassa system. Some things are unreformable, this being one of them.

The great Abdus Salam, the only Pakistani winner of the Nobel Prize (in physics or any other subject) was a product of the matriculation system. We need more Salams, a whole army of them, in our schools and universities, and not a generation of confused western clones who think that cool is talking with an American twang and sporting a funky hairstyle.

By all means wear what you want and have your hair cut the way you want but remember that to be educated in the real sense is to be cool. To be a top gun mathematician or physicist is to be cool. To hear a Beethoven or Mozart tune and be able to name it is cool.

Classical music, subcontinental and western, should be a part of the national curriculum. There should be a national orchestra for symphonic and operatic music in Islamabad, preferably in the pseudo-Mughal structure on Constitution Avenue which houses the Prime Minister’s secretariat. If there is any accountability at the gates of paradise, Nawaz Sharif should have a hard time getting in if only because he was the prime mover behind the erection of this astonishing structure: neither much Mughal nor anything else, just an enthusiastic celebration of official Pakistani taste gone wild (and vulgar).

And who do you think did the interior decor of this center of Pakistani governance? A Benazir cousin. Some people have all the luck. Judging by the state of the furniture inside you get an idea of the killing this enterprising person must have made. Anyway, handing over this structure to the national orchestra will be some atonement for the architecture. And never mind if the orchestra is out of tune in the beginning. Such things take time to improve.

The supremacy of science and reason, an end to the mumbo-jumbo of superstition, a proper reverence for the arts, excellence in music, achievement in sport, the liberation of Pakistani womanhood (a priority task given the sorry state of Pakistani manhood), an all-round refinement of culture (culture, not F-16s, being destiny): we could make room for these things by taking out all the useless lumber with which our national faculties are clogged.

Pakistani education should be on the lines of Cuban education: free, totally free, for everyone, based on solid foundations and aspiring for the stars. The Cubans are ahead of America in some branches of medical research. That should be our aim, having the best education system throughout the lands of Islam, the best colleges and universities in Asia, and once near this goal, the need to shore up national pride with such symbols of military prowess as expensive tanks, submarines and aircraft will disappear.

No one could have been beaten more thoroughly than the Germans and Japanese in the Second World War. But even when their cities lay in ruins they retained the gift of knowledge and scientific expertise and not so much with money as with their mastery of science and technology did they rebuild their countries.

After education, health care, no shame leaving deeper scars on Pakistani pride than the state of our hospitals. Not fancy state-of-the-art facilities, just enough to provide basic, essential health care to every Pakistani in need.

Where do we get the funds for these massive enterprises, for restructuring education and health are major undertakings? Well, we seem to lack no funds when it comes to defence and stupid luxuries for the ruling classes. We can’t do without defence, not in this world and not in our region, there being too much turbulence and uncertainty around. But we can reorder our priorities, rethink defence strategy in order to rely more on trained manpower and a committed national militia than expensive weaponry, all of which, in any case, we cannot afford. We should not match India item for item for down that road lies fiscal exhaustion.

It is not even certain that with this extravagance we get the kind of defence we need. The ability to fight 17-day wars and then look for international mediation to broker ceasefires doesn’t amount to much value for money.

The Iraqi people are giving the American occupation army a tough time not through the use of armour or air power but grit and valor, and the skill to use low-cost weapons. In weaponry the Viet Cong were no match for the Americans but they gave them the most resounding defeat in American history. We need to think on these lines instead of reinforcing the failures of the past.

Restoring the republic’s mental equilibrium will remain incomplete if General Ziaul Haq’s religious laws — all products of expediency — the changes he brought about in the penal code and the Constitution, are not repealed altogether and in one go. The great dictator brought darkness to this land. If we are to switch on the lights, we must undo his legacy. Or our brave talk will be just that — words floating in a void.- Courtesy Daily Dawn

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