The British novelist and essayist and critic of authoritarianism George Orwell opens the second chapter of his book Why I Write with the following quote:
“As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. They do not feel enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me up with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil.”
Orwell understood that “one can not see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism and national loyalty.” He believed no ideology, including religion (Christianity) and international socialism, had a comparison with the power of patriotism. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power because they knew “facts” and how to exploit the national loyalty of their peoples. Orwell was an outspoken supporter of democratic socialism and opposed totalitarianism and British imperialism overseas.
Almost 7 decades after his death, Orwell’s analysis is still relevant to the postmodern world. Today, patriotism and national loyalty are on the rise like never before. From the United States to Hungry in the West to India and Pakistan in South Asia, to mention only a few countries, nationalist jingoism is the popular sentiment not only among the ruling elites but also in the majority of the people in these countries. Americans elected Donald Trump as their president; Hungarians and Indians have elected the xenophobes Orban and Modi respectively, twice, and Pakistanis except for ethnic minorities such as the Baloch and Pashtuns worship the totalitarian army generals as their gods.
Pakistan’s elected totalitarian regime, run by the army, is similar to Orwell’s England of the twentieth century. The generals and their protégés in the civilian government have established their reign of terror and repression on the Pashtun victims of the War on Terror. In February last year, a peaceful civil rights movement, the Pashtun Tahafuz (protection) Movement or PTM, emerged from Pakistan’s erstwhile tribal areas against the alleged war crimes by Pakistan army in the past decade. The PTM has demanded justice for crimes such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances among others war abuses against innocent Pashtuns. The army ignored it first and then tried to negotiate on its own terms with the PTM. When the PTM leadership refused to budge from their original demands, the army has now begun to crack down on the nonviolent movement.
Two weeks ago, the Pakistan army soldiers in the Boyya area of North Waziristan opened fire at peaceful PTM protestors, leaving 13 dead and scores injured. The army’s media wing ISPR blamed PTM leaders for inciting an attack against the soldiers first. But video footage of the incident showed that the protestors did not possess any arms. Prime Minister Imran Khan did not condemn the attack. In a clampdown, the army through its proxies has arrested the top leaders, including elected members of Parliament, of the PTM on terrorism charges. The irony is that the army created and has hosted terrorists while the PTM leaders stood against them for years, but they are still to blame.
In mainland Pakistan, which is the Punjab province, support for rights movements like the PTM from the country’s ethnic minorities is hardly in dozens. Out of 110 million people in Punjab, one can count on fingertips those who have shown solidarity with the PTM. The rest are either afraid of the generals or celebrate them as their own, as loyalty to in-group, no matter how unfounded, is a primordial human characteristic. It is perhaps not their fault since it takes a big heart and cognitive liberation to transcend one’s skin and empathize with a stranger.
Speaking of England’s then political parties such as Conservatives and Anarchists in Politics and the English Language, Orwell said, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In the current political climate of Pakistan, the army is the architect of such political language. Through control of media and use of coercion, it represses the truth. Most political parties except for the PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto, a few leaders of PMLN and Pashtun nationalist parties, such as ANP and PKMAP, are in bed with the generals. Imran’s PTI is complicit in the current crime of repression and murder of the PTM activists.
However, the good news is that the truth does emerge eventually. Power also may shift from oppressors to the oppressed. When the truth emerges and power shifts, then there will be accountability and justice. Until then, there is resistance, even if it is only in the mind.