A Pakistan for all seasons: Views of a Pakistani abroad
With each passing summer, I become increasingly weary upon hearing the same tired question,
“But, are you sure you want to go back this year?”
Whether the inquiry is presented by my father, a close friend, or even a concerned relative in Karachi, repetition has made it a mainstay in the uneasy arsenal of those who would oppose my annual visits to Pakistan. Do not misunderstand me – I understand their concern, one grounded in the unpredictable and often hostile socio-political climate of the nation.
With the national and expatriate rumour mills alike saturated with horror stories about riots, home invasions, roadside robberies and so on, it’s no wonder that Pakistanis living abroad are rattled by the very notion of setting foot on their native soil. In spite of this instability, my infrequent visits are undeniably necessary – they allow me to substantiate my intimate connection to the people and culture of Pakistan, all the while keeping me abreast of the prevailing political and socioeconomic injustices obstructing our ability to become a safe, just, and self-sustaining democracy.
Admittedly, I am viewing the political state of Pakistan through a telescopic lens – physical distance inhibits me from honing in on fine details of routine discrimination and atrocities. Aside from the cursory information gathered during my brief trips to my parents’ native land, my understanding of the bigger picture is largely second-hand. I occasionally skim through Pakistani news publications and hear talk to relatives over Skype, but online activism, mostly in the hashtag form, keeps me most informed. From #NayaPakistan to #SayNOtoVIPCulture regularly adorning Facebook walls and Twitter feeds of loved ones living in Pakistan, these informational snippets and political buzzwords serve as my primary connection to the scene. Still, I am globally aware enough that I can pinpoint the hot-button issues – the cries for the ousting of a prime minister potentially elected through unscrupulous means, the immense growth and support of a political party led by a former cricket star who has ventured into politics, an Islamic scholar whose more right-wing ideology still calls for an end to corruption and favouritism. Even armed with this knowledge, however, I feel vulnerable observing national turmoil from the sidelines.
Perhaps my greatest concern closely mirrors that of individuals hesitant upon seeing foreign-born Pakistanis travelling to Pakistan. I constantly ponder over similar questions in relation to my relatives and friends, particularly those on the frontlines. Sure, they are admirable agents for social change, but are they “safe”? What is the guarantee that they will return home, following the dharnas, the protests, and the days covering national affairs from media outlets? How can I, thousands of miles away, sleep easy knowing that they might not wake up the next morning?
The short answer is: there is no guarantee.
I am proud of these individuals, affecting progressive reform in their society, and fearful for their lives. However, this fear is not debilitating nor hindering. Rather, it is a necessary evil, a cogent reminder that success does not come without its risks and inactivity is akin to culpability. If I were in their place, I too would rather be an activist than an idle bystander. While this may seem like a convenient statement to make considering my comfortable distance, as a Pakistani, I still have my hopes for the future of this nation.
Even discounting my memorable visits to the country and other personal considerations, I strongly advocate an equitable and politically sound Pakistan – a nation where regardless of one’s ethnic background, gender or socioeconomic standing, each individual is given certain unalienable rights and the ability to chase their dreams. These luxuries, sadly, cannot be attained until the status quo is overthrown.
Until corruption and nepotism end, until the gap between the poor and the rich is sufficiently bridged, we cannot move forward. It is my hope that once these fundamental issues are addressed, Pakistan can focus on others hanging in the balance. I envision an end to illiteracy and discrimination, a focus on environmental concerns and healthcare equity. I foresee a day when katchi abadis (slums) and load shedding are things of the distant past. I dream of the summer when the resounding response to my yearly excursion is,
“Great! Can I come too?”
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