On awards


States need heroes. They serve the state in more ways than the acts that made them heroes in the first place. Since they are human beings, they manifest in physical form the abstract, but oft repeated concepts of what the state wants from its citizens. The state will also simply create a hero if there isnt one around. In our meandering path as a nation, many undeserving individuals have been given the hero treatment, deified even. And many who have contributed vastly have been labelled as treasonous. Examples abound, from politics to academia.

The granting of awards is also a form of hero worship. Various state forces seek to determine the common narrative through the useful tool that awards have become. Political governments will want a particular profile of recipients for the awards and the establishment, whether there is a military government in place or not, will want a different profile for theirs. Even within political governments, there are different cabals and factions competing for this sort of patronage. The recent awards ceremony on the 23rd of March would be viewed, as usual, by many detractors of the government as self-congratulatory. Similarly many democracy activists would, as usual, be dismayed by the presence of many from the Dark Side.

Truth be told, there are many glaring omissions. If Raza Rabbani got, deservedly, an award for the 18th amendment, then, perhaps the consensus on the NFC award could have gotten one for former finance minister Shaukat Tarin as well. The best balance of trade in recent times that we currently have, similarly, could have yielded the mandarins at the finance and commerce ministries more awards. Granted, there have been many well-deserved awards, like the ANPs Mian Iftikhar Hussain and the family of Shahbaz Bhatti. But the absence of an award for slain Governor Salmaan Taseer was conspicuous. Instead, awards were given to former cabinet members whose performance left much to be desired. Similarly, it would appear that certain military awards come with the mere elevation to a particular rank. Perhaps in the future, there could be a formal set of criteria that determines these awards. Even though many of the right people are not getting them, there is an inflation of awards. For them to continue to be important, and for the state to be able to illustrate what behaviour is to be rewarded, continuing the current course of action would be detrimental.