Pakistan's choice: The story of two men reflects our dilemma

Lahore, Pakistan - 2nd August 2016

Huma Yusaf , South Asia Foundation
 Article by Ms Huma Yusuf,
The writer is a freelance journalist

 TWO young Pakistani men have caught Europe’s eye in recent weeks. The first is 35-year-old Mohamad Usman, who has been charged by French authorities for conspiring with the terrorists who carried out the attacks in Paris in November. He was meant to participate in that carnage but was detained en route to France, possibly from Syria. He is believed to be an explosives expert, and has reportedly worked with Pakistan-based militant groups, including Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The other is 20-something Ghulam Mohammad, the winner of the fourth Jameel Prize, an international award for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic traditions organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Ghulam Mohammad is the first Pakistani artist to win the award.

Both these men are from our country. Both hail from the generation described as ‘the children of Zia’. Both are seeking to engage with issues of religion and identity. Both offer a unique skill and expertise. Between them, they present the options before Pakistan for the kind of country it wants to be.

The story of two men reflects our dilemma.

Little is known about how Mohamad Usman came to be where he is, but we can guess at his trajectory. It began with a sense of injustice, or isolation, or fear. As he sought consolation, or answers to difficult questions, he was exposed to the extremist ideologies that emanate from pulpits, textbooks, madressahs, the public rallies of Hafiz Saeed, the Twitter feeds and chat forums of jihadi groups, even the conspiracy theorising of our mainstream political parties. He was likely recruited online or through what was advertised as a religious retreat. He spent time in training camps. What began as a vulnerability was recast as a strength, fuelled by hate and violence. Unlike most who seek out Kashmir, fight in Afghanistan or join sectarian groups, he discovered the militant Islamic State group and went West.

Jameel Prize winner Ghulam Muhammad talks about using words as visualsGhulam Mohammad grew up in a home with no running water or electricity in a small town in Balochistan. He enjoyed fine art classes in school, and enrolled in classes at the Balochistan Arts Council. He hid his passion for art from his grandfather, who was livid when he heard that his grandson had artistic pretensions. Although his family would rather he became a policeman, he left for Lahore, where he sought out more instruction at the Lahore Arts Council and Alhamra. His teachers there encouraged him to apply to Beaconhouse National University, which he was able to attend thanks to a full scholarship, the Madanjeet Singh Art Scholarship granted by the South Asia Foundation

Mohamad Usman’s experience represents all the failures of contemporary Pakistan: the frustrations of the youth; major gaps in service delivery and social protection; the collapse of law-enforcement; the ongoing ambivalence towards violent extremist groups and their hateful ideology; the resort to violence above all else.

Ghulam Mohammad’s experience represents all of Pakistan’s successes: growing access to quality education; an ancient and incredible cultural heritage; the creative opportunities arising from the country’s ethnic and linguistic diversity; the interconnectedness with South Asia more broadly; the potential for dreams to come true.

Importantly, the trajectories of these young men, however disparate, are reminders that Pakistanis still have hope — the hope that things can be different, the hope that they themselves can make that difference.

It is this hope that Pakistan’s mainstream political parties have not learned to recognise, articulate or address.

Owing to the persistence of patronage politics in Pakistan, political culture is geared toward the shaming and undermining of rival party leaders, to discredit their suitability as future patrons. The only campaign is a smear campaign, targeting individuals rather than debating ideas. This leaves little room for a visionary politics, which crafts national narratives, stirs aspiration and above all inspires hope.

Listening to the spee­ches at the Democratic National Convention, which repeatedly evoked narratives of America as the land of opportunity — despite its many challenges and shortcomings — I found myself wondering whether a new public discourse could be the change we need, helping us better channel our hope and make clearer choices about the kind of Pakistan we’d like to live in.

Ghulam Mohammad speaks five languages, including Seraiki and Balochi. He trawls the bookshops of Anarkali in Lahore to find old books in local languages. He painstakingly cuts out letters in different scripts and meshes them together in beautiful collages to make the point that language — and the ideas it imparts — is constructed and interpreted; it can be a barrier or it can facilitate communication. His art reminds us that there are both prohibitions and possibilities. Perhaps in the run-up to the 2018 elections our politicians can learn from his work, and use language to present us with their vision for Pakistan. The question is, will it be the Pakistan of Mohamad Usman or Ghulam Mohammad?

Website Source :- DAWN