I remember watching “George ka Pakistan” and enjoying it. Obviously, as a foreigner residing in Pakistan, I could empathise with much of his experience and I liked the fact that his Urdu (at that stage) was worse than mine.
So it was with some sadness and, to be honest, a little anger, that I read George’s farewell to a country that had granted him citizenship for no other reason than that he came across as a decent guy (I believe he probably is). Deluded Pakistan might be, but I think George’s delusions are a bigger factor here. Or maybe mine are.
I must be the only person in this country who doesn’t believe Pakistan is on the brink of collapse; civil war; destruction; uncivil war; or total annihilation (pick your preferred noun). I don’t have the requisite ethos to expect people to believe me. I am neither a journalist nor a professional analyst; neither an Ivy League nor an Oxbridge graduate.
However, I have been following international news for a while now and I continue to find it both concerning and reassuring that the news has not changed much in that time. Gradual movements have occurred but the drama and upheaval predicted by headlines each day rarely has.
Take five minutes to go to Google archives, select any year from 1960–2011, and search Pakistan. The pages start looking like carbon copies of each other. “Oh my, Pakistan and India are threatening war again.” “Did you know that women in Pakistan are dreadfully treated — says here, this woman was buried alive.”
I am not intending to undermine the seriousness of Pakistan’s problems. Many suffer unnecessarily; corruption is rife and many of the movers and shakers of the place seem childishly selfish and short-sighted. Welcome to development in the 21st century — it’s a bummer.
However, the overall history of Pakistan suggests an ability to survive the difficulties of nation building and a slow and steady improvement of these problems. Furthermore, this country has 180 million people, most of whom are completely occupied with ensuring they earn enough income to cover their monthly expenses. These people get up every morning and go into fields, factories, houses, offices, hospitals and schools because it is the most certain option they have of getting that income. Each year, a greater percentage of people manage on that income, justifying that loyalty. Is it perfect? — hell no. Is it better than anarchy? — hell yes!
As regards the state of the state and civil institutions, I can understand the dismay and concern. There appear to be few politicians and political parties that do not swing for immediate gain, and ethics seem to exist only as a word. But creating functioning and independent civil institutions, and a populace that knows how to use them, is the longest and hardest part of creating a nation.
I live as part of Pakistan’s least vulnerable social class and am untouched by a majority of Pakistan’s fundamental problems. However, if I listen to my neighbour and read English papers, I am at a high risk of being taken out by a terrorist and/or political violence. (Statistically, and from personal experience, I am far more likely to be taken out by a Pakistani driver.) Without too much discipline required on my behalf, I stay away from military/police institutions and structures; I don’t participate in religious processions; and, aside from the tourist trail, I don’t visit mosques. Maybe I could write the US government a survivor’s guide for Pakistan.
Some days I hate this country. I mutter prejudicial comments and decide that the problems of Pakistan can be summed up in the stupidity of its drivers; I glare at shop assistants and make sarcastic comments I know they can’t understand. Some days I’m not a good person. But I never go so far as to claim I want to leave.
While I realise my situation differs dramatically from most Pakistanis, it does not, so much, from George’s. Even after reading his farewell, parts 1 and 2, I couldn’t understand what it was George expected from a nation — any nation. Complete security? Zero poverty? Political maturity? Constant affirmation of personal importance? Change countries if you need to, I used to regularly, but realise you do it for personal reasons and not because the country has failed you.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 15th, 2011.