Time is a river that flows from eternity to eternity. Days, months and years are bridges that help us cross that river from one bank to the other. Unlike milestones on a road, these bridges do not mark the length of the river. The finite cannot, after all, measure the infinite. A year is a calendar of a limited number of days, weeks and months. So is a millennium – the sum of a limited number of centuries – even when it seems too big to fit into an individual’s conception of time. Living in time that never starts and never ends is like living in a space that had no boundaries.
Years are easy to conceptualise. They have a beginning, they have an end. They allow us to look at time the same way — as if it started one day and will end some day. They let us take stock of our lives over a certain, infinitesimally small, portion of time. They help us assume that we can take a new start on a certain day of a certain month, making a neat break from whatever we have been before that day. They facilitate us to review the past and make resolutions about the future, without having to worry about whatever existed before the past and whatever there will be after the future. Living in a year – or in a century – is, thus, living in the here and now, with clearly laid out space limits.
And it is this sense of the limits of time that makes us feel whether we have achieved anything in a given number of days, weeks and months. And the moment we realise we have not, we just rush: a government goes into overdrive, opening road building projects, holding meetings on subjects as varied as law and order in Karachi and government change in Balochistan; diplomacy gets into high gear — a prime minister is seen receiving guests and being received as a guest more often than he is seen in the parliament; a chief of army staff is spotted both among troops in far-off battle zones and with foreign dignitaries both inside and outside the country; a ruling party appears to be pushing through legislation on issues ranging from the privatisation of the state-owned airline to the whitening of black money. This past month looked like everyone important in Pakistan was looking at the close of the year as a deadline before which some things have to be accomplished regardless of whether those accomplishments are worth anything.
Look a little beyond and nothing either seems to have changed — or if it has, it has only for the worse. The road projects being launched are leaving disgruntled sections of the society in their wake, impasse over a security operation in Karachi remains unresolved, the formation of the new cabinet in Balochistan seems to be a work in perpetual progress, relationships with other countries are as stagnant as these ever have been (with India and Afghanistan, the ties are in their usual roller-coaster mode, despite some high-level parleys in recent weeks), anti-terrorism efforts have been rocked by two massive strikes in Mardan and Parachinar, both in December 2015, and the new legislative measures are stuck amid partisan fault lines.
All this raises the usual question: has Pakistan moved ahead over the last year and, if yes, then, by how much? Even though there can be multiple ways to find an answer to this question, it is almost certain that all these ways will throw up only one answer: nobody comes, nobody goes, nothing happens, to paraphrase Samuel Beckett. A poet from our own part of the world, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, answered the same question from his characteristic philosophical vantage point: we shall continue stumbling from crisis to crisis (and this may not be the best of the translations of his more mysteriously expressive “Yeh mulk aise hi chalta rahe ga”).
This could well be the pessimist’s resort to the long run in which days, weeks, months and years pass, but time never does. And within that permanence of time can then be placed the permanent human predicament that bad things will continue to happen.
This long-term bleak view, however, is something that the human mind cannot live with and that is why the human civilisation has divided time into much smaller portions that can fit into finite human calculations and can throw up finite accomplishments. It is within these smaller portions of time that we seek to make adjustments and changes that make us feel better about ourselves. And it is within these small portions of time that states and societies take steps that ensure that they are stable, prosperous and peaceful within a given period of time. Pakistan, both as a state and a society, needs to make the most of 2016 – a tiny drop in the limitless ocean of time – to ensure that we are stable, prosperous and peaceful in this new year and in the next year, and in the year after that.
If we can take care of the smaller portion of time, that will be the most advisable way of ensuring that we find happiness – both as individuals and as a community – in small things that we can accomplish in measurable, finite moments on a measurable, finite calendar. That way, we will be able to cross the infinite river of time through yearly bridges, to go from its one bank to the other, to move on from something that we could not achieve to something else that we may.
Living in the moment and making the most of it so that it does not leave behind the regret of not having utilised it well — that is what we ought to be doing. Seeking to live in the long term is certainly not what a young and crisis-riddled country like Pakistan should be seeking to do.
To paraphrase Keynes, another great thinker from the past century, all of us will be dead in the long term. -Herald