For the past nine years, I have been in a dysfunctional relationship. My liaison started somewhat unexpectedly, quickly becoming an all-consuming passionate love affair. My partner reciprocated strongly, bestowing deep affection and adoration upon me. Blinded by love, I was naive to her failings. Yes, at times she was self-destructive, irrational and grossly irresponsible, but I hoped by appealing to her nature’s better angles she could change. Instead, as the years progressed, and, supported by her ‘friends’ in the media, she corroded, simultaneously displaying signs of megalomania and paranoia. Once the relationship turned abusive and I feared for my life, I decide to call it quits. Today, the divorce comes through. Her name is Pakistan. And today, I am leaving her for good.
This was not a difficult decision to make. In fact, I didn’t make the decision. It was made for me. You do not chart your own destiny in Pakistan; Pakistan charts it for you. It’s emigration by a thousand news stories. I am aware that bemoaning the state of Pakistan as a final shot appears churlish and arrogant. After all, I have the luxury to leave — many others do not. Nor do I want to discredit the tireless work of the thousands who remain to improve the lives of millions of Pakistanis. They are better men and women than I. Pakistan has also given me so much over the years. It was Pakistan who introduced me to the love of my life. And it was upon her manicured lawns that we married, and upon her reclaimed soil that we set up our first home. She brought the love of a new family and new friends into my life. And it was Pakistan that witnessed the birth of my son, Faiz — named after one of her greatest sons.
She embraced me like no other gora post-9/11. I appeared in a documentary/reality series titled “George Ka Pakistan”. It allowed me to explore the country. I ploughed fields in the Punjab, built Kalashnikovs in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (probably couldn’t do that now), and mended fishing boats in Balochistan. The culmination of the series saw the then prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, confer Pakistani citizenship upon me, after the viewing public voted overwhelmingly to make me one of them. I was their George. Fame and affection followed.
But that love was conditional. Conditional upon me playing the role cast — the naïve gora. The moment I abandoned the Uncle Tom persona and questioned the defined establishment narratives — whether through my television work or columns — excommunication began. No longer a Pakistani in the eyes of others, my citizenship evidently was not equitable to others.
So, as I depart, I could go with my reputation tarnished, but still largely intact. Or I could leave you with some final words of honesty. Well, true love values honesty far more than a feel-good legacy. So here goes.
Pakistan, you are on a precipice. A wafer-thin sliver is all that stands between you and becoming a failed state. A state that was the culmination of a search for a ‘Muslim space’ by the wealthy Muslims of Northern India has ended up, as MJ Akbar recently pointed out, becoming “one of the most violent nations on earth, not because Hindus were killing Muslims but because Muslims were killings Muslims”.
The assassination of Salmaan Taseer saw not only the death of a man but also represented for me the death of hope in Pakistan. I did not mourn Taseer’s death. I did not know the man. But I mourned what he represented — the death of liberal Pakistan. The governor’s murder reminded us how far the extremist cancer has spread in our society. A cancer in which I saw colleagues and friends on Facebook celebrate his murder. A man murdered for standing up for the most vulnerable in our society — a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. He committed no crime. Instead, he questioned the validity of a man-made law — a law created by the British — that was being used as a tool of repression.
In death, the governor was shunned, unlike his killer, who was praised, garlanded and lionised for shooting Taseer in the back. Mumtaz Qadri became a hero overnight. But Qadri is not just a man — he’s a mindset, as eloquently put by Fifi Haroon. Fascism with an Islamic face is no longer a political or an economic problem in Pakistan, it’s now become a cultural issue. Extremism permeates all strata and socio-economic groups within society. Violent extremists may still make up a minority but extremism now enjoys popular support. As for the dwindling moderates and liberals, they are scared.
Pakistan does not require a secret police, we are in the process of turning upon ourselves. But then what do you expect when your military/intelligence nexus — and their jihadi proxies — have used religious bigotry as a tool of both foreign and domestic policy. It is ironic that the one institution that was designed to protect the idea of Pakistan is the catalyst for its cannibalisation. Christians, Ahmadis, Shias and Barelvis have all been attacked in the past year. Who will be next? Groups once funded and supported by the state have carried out many of these attacks. And many jihadi groups still remain in cahoots with the agencies.
So as I leave Pakistan, I leave her with a sense of melancholy. Personally, for all my early wide-eyed excitement and love for the country and its people, Pakistan has made me cynical, disillusioned and bitter over time. I came here with high hopes, adopting the country, its people and the language. I did find redemption here — but no longer.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2011.