Can Pakistanis rise to the occasion?

It’s been a while since I last visited Pakistan; long enough that the kids I knew have now grown up to become functional, responsible adults. The friends I made are descending into the middle-age bracket. Many of the relations I had have either passed or are in the late stages of their lives. In a nutshell, a tremendous amount of transition and transformation has taken place as far as my personal life, as well as those I left behind, is concerned.

I keep a close eye on a regular basis, thanks to the great tools of technology, on how the Pakistani society has evolved and continues to grow rapidly. Those who know me often suggest that I should visit South Asia to witness first-hand the incredible changes and the good stuff that’s happening in the region. I guess I’m too lazy and not young enough anymore to embark upon a journey that might entail and stir up some unwarranted emotional feelings. For some odd reason, although I travel extensively, putting Pakistan on the itinerary has been a tough proposition.

I’ve often been accused of being judgmental and unkind when it comes to Pakistan and its culture. To be honest, that’s not true. Having lived in the country long enough and observed it from outside for eons now, I have, more than often, been overcome with dejection and disappointment and hence, at times, I sound like a jerk when it comes to Pakistan. One is disappointed only when one has hopes and aspirations for certain people or a particular nation. My feelings are similar to a father having dreams of success for his offspring but ends up bitter and devastated when he finds them not doing too well or unable to meet his expectations. Such has been my love-hate story with Pakistan.

Pakistanis are doing wonderfully well in the West, to say the least. I see them everywhere, smart, sharp, successful and industrious. They are blessed with all kinds of skills and contribute productively to the societies they reside in. Needless to say, they are law-abiding, futuristic and well networked. In the backdrop of this phenomenal effectiveness of the community, I cannot but question Pakistan’s steady decline into a sad, unsystematic, scattered polity that is blessed with such great folks who survive and thrive when faced with the toughest of odds and environments elsewhere. Why this dichotomy? Why this inability to raise the bar and make Pakistan a better place when the same exact people are able to make a positive impact outside?

I’ve scratched my head hard but I doubt there are any easy answers. It’s a complicated situation, one that only worsens when we start looking for solutions. I know for sure that Pakistan suffers from a crisis of leadership. Politicians, generals, all seem to have failed to deliver. The current crop of office bearers consists of a bunch of self-aggrandising nincompoops who seem to be running around like headless chickens.

The issue of leadership crisis further deepens when one realises the fact that the people elected the guy who failed twice before for the third time as the prime minister. It goes to show that there’s not many options to play around with; no fresh blood that can inculcate a true spirit of socio-economic development and lead the nation to a certain level of prosperity. Imran Khan, apparently the sole beacon of hope, continues to get rejected so much so that he’s now out on the streets, declaring blatant disobedience and acting like a headless chicken himself.

Pakistan has a religion problem. Back in the day, it wasn’t such a huge deal. In fact, people were secular minded. Now it appears that religion is an ultra-sensitive affair which is not to be discussed and only leads to anger, madness or killing if one dares to speak up. Granted that an overwhelming population of the country is Muslim, the spirit of true Islam is, for the most part, missing in action.

Politics is heavily intertwined into matters of faith and hence India, Kashmir, Israel, the US, our nuclear program, religious minority issues are in essence dealt with combative, superfluous and non-peaceful ways. While Christians and Hindus are relentlessly maimed and murdered by ignorant zealots, starting a conversation regarding the reform of blasphemy laws is a no-go area.

There’s too much of emotional heat found in the system. It seems as if people get worked up when it comes to issues like India. The element of logic makes a convenient exit when one talks about making peace with the ‘archenemy’. Peace is not a bad thing and pretty much a gettable concept. So then why is it so impossible to initiate a realistically prudent dialogue with India? Why is it considered an act of cowardice to intermingle with our neighbours across the border? Why this hatred when Indians and Pakistanis are intrinsically one people who lived together for centuries until only about seven decades or so ago? A groundswell of economic opportunities can appear on the horizon if Pakistan and India make peace with each other.

Other than the Palestine connection, does Pakistan have any points of friction with Israel? How much do the Arabs care about Pakistan? Thinking outside the box, if an olive branch is offered to Israel, such an act can pay rich dividends in terms of business opportunities and foreign investment. Radical, yes, but something worth pondering over.

Lately, I’ve come across grand stories of corrupt officials, bureaucrats and politicians being ‘disciplined’ by the public at large. This is a wonderful development, one that must carry on without hindrance. However, the irony is that the government is not pushed to check the problem. Unless the cancer of corruption is removed from the national arterial system, Pakistan and its citizens cannot be expected to make any economic headway. The growth of social and electronic media has had an overpowering influence in creating awareness but the bottom line is that people power must necessarily be backed by government authority to get things done.

Here’s another question that I, for the life of me, can’t find an answer to – why this disgust for Malala Yousafzai? The girl is the darling of the West. Does it bother folks that she’s a globally active and popular figure? Would it not be great if she’s appointed as a goodwill ambassador for enhancing Pakistan’s image? Doesn’t Pakistan need all the Malalas of the world to bolster its image internationally? Granted that the public believes that she did not deserve the Nobel Prize, but the reality is that she got it and no one can deny that. Now let’s move on, think about making the best use of an invaluable resource who can help put in a good word across the globe. Use Malala as an asset and stop condemning her. Is that too much to ask?

Sooner rather than later, Pakistanis will have to make hard choices. The days of mediocrity are over. Nations that have fire in their bellies, the ambition to progress and better the lives of the common lot are the ones that excel in modern times. All this militancy, war mongering, macho-istic statements of bravado don’t mean much. What matters in today’s world is how strong a country’s infrastructure is, how resilient its systems are, how much trade and commerce is carried out, volume of exports, flexibility of attitudes and, of course, committed leadership. All this counts toward an A or an A+ rating, and that is what the ultimate goal should be. It’s only a matter of shifting priorities.

There is absolutely no dearth of talent, energy and vitality in Pakistan. People, in fact, are yearning to make a positive impact. Young folks are clamouring to step up to the plate. They are suppressed because of the few influential people who think Pakistan is their dad’s personal ranch. One is sure that there are leaders waiting in the wings to introduce fresh thinking into the mix. We can’t see them since the waderas (feudals) and the jagirdars (feudal lords) like to keep the general populace in the background. There are plenty who want to make sensible choices with respect to India, Islam and all things extremist. The gladiators of change and moderation must get together and fight the existing disorderly state of affairs.

No hurdle is insurmountable. If Pakistanis can work wonders all over the world, they can turn their own country into a rock solid example of progressive thinking and modernisation. Let’s not think too hard about issues that no longer have much relevance. Let’s just focus about what’s important to build a strong Pakistan and focus on creating a contemporary society. With courage and a sense of initiative and integrity, Pakistanis can certainly rise to the occasion.

In the meantime, while I remember the gorgeous Karachi seafront, miss the sweet smell of the Lahore spring and long for hiking in the Margalla Hills, I’ll sit back and plan a trip once the good times roll in.

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