So you guys have the atom bomb eh? Asked me a Palestinian artist standing next to me at the cattle pen like entry to the Israeli Army’s Qalandia check point between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Could you lend us a couple to drop on these bas. . .s (Israelis)? He went on. Somewhat embarrassed, I retorted that having the atom bomb was not much of a point of pride for me as a Pakistani—more a source of shame. How could the ownership of an instrument of mass murder by their government be a source of pride for any normal human being? I asked. But I could see it in his eyes that my response was simply incomprehensible to his angry consciousness cauterized by the daily experience of humiliation and dispossession under the Israeli occupation. I too have been known to contemplate mayhem in moments of anger, but it is not something that I am particularly proud of. But who cares about what pinko radicals like me think here in Pakistan, anyway?
The timing of the victory of PML-N is being hailed by many as propitious. It is after all around the time of the anniversary of our nuclear tests in 1997, that Mr. Nawaz Sharif is preparing to be the 3rd time Prime Minister of Pakistan. PML-N, as it never fails to remind the country, is in fact, responsible for bestowing the ultimate gift of a weapon of mass murder to the country. Surely it is proper and opportune that the grateful nation should welcome it back in power on the anniversary of such an ‘auspicious’ occasion! Perhaps normal people do and should celebrate such occasions and events and it is me who is—well–abnormal.
It is a sign of the times that showing distaste for atom bombs is politically deviant. We Pakistanis have been knocked down on many fronts—collectively and individually. I don’t think the number and sources of the knocks bear repeating here. Take that frustration and couple that with, post-colonial self-doubt, and the unprecedented power of the contemporary states’ and power structures’ to manufacture consent. What you have then is a society that wants to crow about its ability to imitate the (sad?) avatar of our frustrated ambitions—the West—even if it is in the form of mastering the worst of their inventions.
I often respond to people that my opposition to the bomb before and after 1997 has always been on religious grounds. At the time when Pakistan decided to go down the unfortunate path of an overt nuclear posture—not that I approved of the covert one either—I was quite active in the anti-nuclear movement. I recall going to a workshop on the topic addressed by Dr. Eqbal Ahmed. As was usual, he articulated my thoughts much more eloquently than I ever could on the topic. He argued that in the Quran, God’s power is described in terms of how He will turn oceans to steam and make mountains float like the white clouds. To turn mountains to dust is a power of God and in watching the unfortunate mountain in Chaghai, Balochistan turn white from the heat of the explosion, he was reminded of that power. He lamented that the power that is best left to God is now in the hands of people with a very medieval mind set. He was right. We cannot trust the venal politicians and generals with our tax money or our life and property. But somehow we are proud of the fact that they should now have the power of God in their hands. Perhaps Imran Khan would be a safer bet with that power?
I cannot believe that my God would approve of humans to have his power, even if He allows it. God allows many things that we know that He doesn’t want us to do—otherwise we won’t have a human world. I cannot believe that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would approve of it. Everything I know about Islamic ethics, and history tells me that possession and use of a weapon of mass murder is a perversity. A weapon that cannot distinguish between innocent civilians and enemy combatants is illegal from any moral standpoint, above all from an Islamic standpoint. That is why, sometimes I fear that the degrees of separation between the Taliban and our polico-military elites’ understanding of Islam’ is not that great. I recall hearing in the background of the movie of the nuclear test, people shouting “Allah-o-Akbar!” Just as the Taliban perversely do before setting off their suicide belts. A bigger blasphemy I cannot imagine—but somehow everybody is OK with it. I go by the simple adage; he who plans for the mass destruction of humankind is not a follower of God but of the devil.
So given where we are as a society, what should we crow about? I say certainly not about the fact that we are as stupid, arrogant and amoral as the Americans, Russians, British, French, Israelis and least of all Indians who have the bomb. The challenge for us is to celebrate other things and values in life that keep so many of us here, and others to keep coming back.
To echo the words of President Lyndon Johnson—an admittedly very flawed messenger–militaries, F16s, Ghouri missiles and nuclear bombs are not impressive. Healthy children in a school room are impressive. Prosperous farmers in a lush field are impressive. Artists working on great works are impressive. Happy workers engaged in industry are impressive. Tanks, airplanes and battle ships are a symbol of our folly. They are a sign that we have failed in the human project of ushering a just and peaceful world. Some may argue that instruments of war are a necessary symbol. Reasonable people could argue about the necessity of these symbols, but celebrating these symbols is a perversity. Have the phallic missiles if they stand in for some collective inadequacy in some department — but for heaven’s sake don’t make them symbols of national pride. Don’t put up a monstrous replica of the tormented Chaghai mountain on Faizabad interchange, after having violated it.
Underpaid and undervalued health workers in our country brave the natural elements, social sanctions and Taliban bullets to vaccinate our children from polio. Little girls and their parents fight off the Taliban for the right to go to school. Now these fellow citizens’ courage and strength is something to crow about–with pride.
Daanish Mustafa is a Reader in Politics and Environment at the Department of Geography, King’s College, London. He spends his time contesting the despostism of the reader over the message of the Author.