Javed Akhtar’s problematic visit to Pakistan

He turned it into an opportunity to vent his grudges, and we didn't object either but rather applauded it.

Kiran Wali February 28, 2023

Indian screenwriter and poet Javed Akhtar has become the talk of the town since his recent visit to Lahore. The reason was his statement when he was in Lahore attending the Faiz Festival, in which he openly claimed that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks were roaming free in Pakistan.

It goes without saying that as soon as the video of his statement went viral on social media, we saw a backlash in the form of condemnations from not only the Pakistani public but also from several celebrities including Saboor Aly, Resham, Mishi Khan, Aijaz Aslam, Faisal Qureshi and Shaan, to name a few.

It is pertinent to mention that this is not the first time Akhtar has passed degrading remarks against Pakistan. Back in 2009, when he was in Pakistan and was interviewed by a prominent journalist of our country, Wajahat Khan, he shared his views on many topics, including Pakistan, Jinnah and the Two Nation Theory, which faced a lot of criticism. In the same interview, he not only equated Jinnah’s Muslim League with India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Hindi nationalist organisation that openly declared war against Indian minorities, specifically Muslims, and was also involved in the Gujrat massacre. He also said that there was no difference between Jinnah and Bal Thackeray, the person who not only founded the Hindu hardliner group, Shiv Sena, but was known as a Muslim hater and lover of Hitler as well.

Interestingly, even back then, Akhtar did not shy away from blaming Pakistan for sending terrorists into India, but those were the times when social media was not so popular. The views were shared in an interview by a private news channel, hence his statements did not make any noise like this time. Nevertheless, the interview can still be accessed through a simple google search.

The fact that Akhtar’s latest statement came in response to a question from the audience on whether he would take back a message of peace and good memories is in itself very bizarre because he did not only avoid giving a relevant answer but took it as an opportunity to vent out his grudges against the country he was visiting, not to mention getting all the respect as well. We can never imagine a Pakistani celebrity visiting India, passing a statement against the country, and returning home without facing enraged crowds, protests on the roads, and serious threats.

As a matter of fact, our celebrities have faced hate in India for something they were not even responsible, such as when Mahira Khan was not allowed to take part in her first ever Bollywood film, Raees’s promotions in India. Fawad Khan had to face similar circumstances as well. Let’s also not forget how Karan Johar had to apologise to his nation for casting Pakistani actors in his film, and only when he promised never to do it again was his film then allowed to be released. All this happened without any of the Pakistani celebrities passing any sort of political statement against India.

Now imagine what could have happened had they attempted to do something similar to what Akhtar did. It’s not that Pakistan does not have its fair share of complaints and issues with India. Even if we keep the Kashmir issue aside (which, by the way, remains the core of contention between the two countries), Pakistanis can also question India on its spies caught inside Pakistan, be it Sarabjit Singh or Kulbhushan Jadhav; or even the many terrorist attacks that took place in Pakistan and were eventually traced back to India.

Akhtar should have been more mindful of his words before complaining that Pakistan does not give respect to India’s superstars as much as India does to Pakistanis. Whoever knows the reality would only laugh at such a naïve claim. Pakistan is a country that even takes pride in the fact that many Indian stars have their ancestral links in Pakistan, including Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Rishi Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, and Shahrukh Khan, to name a few.

It was also astonishing to see that when Akhtar passed that controversial statement during Faiz Festival, the audience appreciated him with a huge round of applause. To be honest, it only gave an impression of us being self-loathing people because no one could make him realise what he said was quite objectionable. There was no one in the audience who could counter-question his response, which is why the message Akhtar took back to India was that the Pakistani public also agreed to what he said, mentioning that to Indian media after returning.

Akhtar has a history of anti-Pak sentiments which is evident from his statements of the past as well. Not only that, even back home, he is often condemned by common Muslim citizens of India for never raising his voice against persecution of Muslims in his own country. It’s unfortunate that Akhtar showed no regard for the fact that Pakistan gave him respect by inviting him to be part of a celebration of one of Pakistan’s most prominent poets. Instead, he chose to put forth the negativity in him by bringing in politics which was totally uncalled for.

Perhaps Pakistan should first do proper homework before inviting a celebrity from across the border to grace our events. But how can we expect that mindfulness from those who were eventually seen on their knees in front of Akhtar at a gathering held even after Akhtar had passed those controversial remarks? It was a very problematic gesture because the message it gave out to the world was that we as a nation have no self-respect at all. It does not in any way mean that we should reciprocate in the same harsh manner. One must never be disrespectful towards their guests, but at least self-dignity must not be forsaken at any cost. Respect should not be confused with idolising someone.

In the words of India’s own spiritual leader and public speaker, Sadhguru:

“Equality means equal opportunity, equal regard, and respect - not sameness in action.”


Kiran Wali

A business graduate, content creator, and a newly turned overseas Pakistani. She tweets @KIRANW_.



The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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