‘Kabhi apni shakal dekhi hai’ is an Urdu phrase which literally translates as, ‘Have you ever seen your own face?’ Like many such phrases, it is not intended to be taken literally; most people have, of course, seen their own faces. Instead, what the query asks is this: Who are you to ask questions? Are you worthy of the demands you make?
The phrase in question came to my mind last night as I witnessed some earnest discussions between Pakistani and Indian intellectuals at a dinner. One of the topics of discussion was inevitably Kashmir and all around me my fellow citizens were confidently arguing that the people of Kashmir should be allowed to fulfil their natural destiny by joining with Pakistan. But the thought which kept going through my head was: Kabhi apni shakal dekhi hai?
The purpose of this column is to ask the members of our intelligentsia, who so confidently assume that the Kashmiris are protesting and dying in order to become Pakistanis, kabhi apni shakal dekhi hai?
Our country is a mess these days: Our economy is poised on the edge of a complete meltdown. Our largest city has just gone through a phase in which more than a hundred people were shot dead at random. Our industries are crippled by a lack of electricity. We are one of the world’s most water-stressed countries and also likely to be one of the worst affected by climate change. We are driven by sectarian hatred and under assault by religious fanatics. And if there is a sensible reason for wanting to be a woman in this benighted land, I have yet to hear it.
Finding things to criticise in Pakistan is like shooting fish in a barrel. The point that I am making here relates to what I saw later on that night of détente, as I drove two first-time visitors from across the Radcliffe Line to the Old City. They were simply stunned by the familiarity of it all. For them, Lahore was a magical reconstruction of Delhi, with the Lutyens bungalows being substituted by GORs, Regal Chowk standing in for Chandni Chowk and the Jama’a Masjid transmuted into the Badshahi Masjid.
At times like these, one is prone to dream of all that could be if relations were to normalise. The Delhi-wallahs kept on babbling about how Indian tourists would love to come to Lahore and all I could think of was, you poor fools, you have no bloody idea. We have built an entire country on our hatred for you. We have dedicated ourselves to enshrining our differences, first the differences with you and now the differences amongst ourselves.
Do you really think that the architecture of otherness can disappear at the drop of a hat?
We need to take a look at ourselves, ask how we have gotten to where we are, and perhaps reconsider our assumptions. Starting from the belief that the Kashmiris want to be Pakistanis and that the ‘loss’ of Kashmir is somehow fatal to our national existence — we have dedicated ourselves to winning back what is ‘rightfully’ ours. In pursuit of that victory, we have developed only one arm of the state: The army. And in order to justify the continued pursuit of militarism, we have distorted our ideology to the point that any and all steps taken towards the larger goal of a Kashmir restored to our anxious arms are deemed to be worthy of any sacrifice by us, irrespective of the consequences. Accordingly, we have supported the forces of hate in Kashmir because they fight our wars even though that same hate then drips back into Pakistan and poisons our own bloodstream. And all of this because the Kashmiris can supposedly conceive of no better future than to be a part of Pakistan. Kabhi apni shakal dekhi hai?
I do not mean to denigrate the struggles of the Kashmiri people. They have suffered much with great courage and dignity. I fully support the right of the Kashmiris to decide their own future, whether it be independence, union with Pakistan or something completely different. But it makes no sense for Pakistan to destroy itself in supposed support of the Kashmiri cause only because it removes any rational incentive for the Kashmiris to join with us. Obviously, whether or not Kashmiris really want to join us is a question only they can answer. Frankly speaking, at this point, I can’t see why they would.
We must, therefore, now turn our efforts to healing ourselves first. After six decades of worrying about others, we need to focus on what’s wrong with us, and leave aside the problems of the world. Perhaps then this will no longer be a country sensible people want to run away from. Perhaps then, if somebody asks, “kabhi apni shakal dekhi hai?” we will be in a position to respond, “Haan, dekhi hai.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2011.