The beautiful and majestic lake Saif ul Mulook , nestled in the Naran, Pakistan, is considered one of the most picturesque in the world. And the lake deserves this reputation. The pristine lake perfectly reflects the blue sky above and green mountaintops around. The sight simply takes your breath away. This is the stuff of legends (literally). The famous epic poem by the same name (Saif ul Mulook: The Journey of Love) by the Sufi poet Mian Mohammad Baksh is placed here.
A visit to Saif ul Mulook, however is bittersweet. The lake is pristine, its shores are not. The lakeside is strewn from debris from the last rock slide, of which they are many. You cant spend much time there because you cant sit. There is no place to sit. A few boulders are too few for many to sit upon. But that is not the most tragic of things there.
The main business around the lake is begging. There is little commercial activity. Some tuckshops and a solitary restaurant. The rooms in the only hotel were all unoccupied (this is Ramzan). There isnt much locals can do to survive. Its heartrending to see 4-5 y/o children, grown men and elderly all begging to survive. There are no local women visible.
Part of the problem is getting there. There is no road. Just a mountain path carved into the side of a mountain, strewn with 2-3 feet boulders and ditches. It passes through a mini glacier and sometimes narrows down to allow only a single vehicle. The road from Naran is around 10 km but takes around an hour and you feel lucky to be there. No mere cars can make the journey and only a few ruggedized jeeps operate.
But then getting to Naran is not that fun either. You can either come via Islamabad-Murree-Abbottabad-Naran way, or Islamabad-Hasanabdal-Abbottabad-Naran way. The third Muzzaffarabad-Mansehra-Naran is too horrendous (a single dirt road cut in the side of a tall mountain) to consider. Either way, what is around 100 km as the crow flies and 17-230km by actual road actually takes around 6 hours. You often go through cities and single lanes at that for tens of km at a time. One part of this route includes the euphemistically named Karakoram Highway. This is essentially a single lane village road that stretches for at least 50-60km of the way we took. This is how we trade with our biggest trading partner: China.
The point is. There is so much scope here. Natural beauty abounds. There is scope for normal tourism, eco-tourism and more. The locals don’t need to starve or wait for handouts. There is plenty possible. But first the government needs to decide. Either contribute with better roads and infrastructure (phones don’t reach most locations and many locals have not even heard of internet). Or get out of the way with arbitrary rule changes and the license raj that is holding private investment back. One or the other would work. But why is it not being allowed to.
Hannah Arendt in her magnificent “Eichmann in Jerusalem” pointed out that you don’t have to be a monster to do horrible things. Even “normal” and even “decent” people do monstrous and evil things in the right set of circumstances.
Adolf Eichmann was the civil servant responsible for ensuring that his concentration camp ran “efficiently” and that the trains transporting Jews to the camp ran smoothly. He was of course aware that Jews came here to be executed, but to him the job assigned to him held precedence over any personal feelings (and he did show extreme remorse on occasion). The prosecutors during his trial tried to paint him to be a monster but he was not even remotely in that zone. To him it was a job to be done and to be done well. Even when during the fall of the Nazi regime, he was told to stop the trains, he ensured that they still ran; because that was what his state had demanded of him and that surely his superiors were wrong in countermanding that process. When asked why he countermanded his orders to keep the trains running his response was simply: “oh but the trains must run”. Not out of spite or hate for Jews (which he apparently did not have), but merely to do what the society of his time deemed correct and right. No personal feelings in the matter.
In covering Eichmann’s trial in Israel for her newspaper, Arendt correctly identified something more sinister than an evil monster. She identified that in a society where right is wrong and wrong is right, ordinary citizens do monstrous things while not recognizing this atrocity. They even feel that they are doing the right thing. In this way the evil that they do becomes “banal” or commonplace. She called this the “banality of evil”.
I am reminded of this in the light of the events of the past month. Mumtaz Qadri murdered Salman Taseer for what Qadri thought was an insult to the Holy Prophet. A month ago Qadri – who had appealed for mercy but not shown remorse over his act – was hanged after the last of his appeals was turned down. In his funeral and later tens of thousands mourners poured onto streets and much ink was shed his heroics. Some who did not agree with his killing still felt that he was justified. Some of the street protests turned violent and Islamabad was held hostage by these protesters for days. They even demanded that all Ahmedis be exiled from Pakistan. The overwhelming feeling was that use of extreme violence was justified to enforce the will of people over their dissenters. And of course there was that often repeated under current that Salman Taseer had brought this upon himself. So killing over dissent is justified and that dialogue is to be met with force.
The easy thing would be to declare that our moral compass is flipped and that we too are experiencing “banality of evil”, but that would be too easy. The more difficult questions would be why did we get this way, what should we be thinking through at this point and where would our paths – current or the alternative where shrink back from abyss – lead us. But think about ourselves and do it honestly we must.