“Pakistan is on the brink of collapse.”
“The country is about to be swallowed up by internal strife.”
“The rest of the world is running out of patience.”
“Lo I beheld a pale horse and it’s name was Death.”
Oddly, none of these proclamations create even the slightest sense of panic in the average Pakistani anymore. Instead, what you will get is a glazed over look of boredom. We’ve been here before, too many times and we will be here again. In fact, one might argue, we Pakistanis are so comfortable on the brink of chaos that we have built our house there. Laid down our roots. Every morning we battle the forces of uncertainty with an almost mundane sense of routine.
Wake up. Make unsuccessful attempt at seduction towards spouse. Crawl out of bed while struggling with sense of self-loathing. Battle the forces of chaos that threaten to swallow the country whole. Read the newspaper. Choose between salmon or pale blue shirt. Rail against outside forces that are influencing the future of the nation. Wear pants. Rail against internal forces that are affecting the future of the nation. Go to work.
That’s the greatest tragedy and the greatest strength of Pakistan. That despite its mismanagement and endemic corruption, it somehow continues to exist. I’ve been hearing stories about how in 10 years time the country will be no more, since I was ten years old. How one approaches those stories is what reveals oneself as either an optimist or a pessimist. The pessimist sees the continued existence of this doomed narrative as a sign that something in our collective psyche is utterly broken. The optimist sees it as proof of our exemplary resilience. I, myself, vacillate between the two states like a manic schizophrenic. Some days I am proud of the fact that despite the waves of extremism and suicide bombings and drone attacks, we have a surviving arts and culture scene. That I can still find the spaces to go on stage and perform standup comedy — about topics ranging from politics to pornography — fills me with joy. Other days, though, I feel like Nero running around in search of a fiddle.
So what is the future of Pakistan? I see a continued battle between two ideologies: The conservative elements who see Pakistan as a state built for their violent, intolerant and aggressively oppressive form of Islam. And the liberal elements who see Pakistan as a state built for their open, understanding, passive and accepting form of Islam. Unfortunately, the former group expresses its ideas in the form of combustible humans and the latter in the form of art, poetry and literature. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but it takes a beating when put up against the exploding jacket. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on which side you have sympathies for), both sides are actually quite small. Their battle, then, is for the immense, undecided moderates. These are the people who cheered the death of Salmaan Taseer, but also want time to go on Facebook and look at pictures of the girl sitting two cubicles behind, while scouring YouTube for Mathira’s videos. Their opinions are formed as much by the hard realities they experience as by personalities like Meher Bokhari and Zaid Hamid, with their outrageous, attention-grabbing opinions that they have every show, to a deadline. Almost as if they weren’t real opinions. These masses are misinformed and over-opinionated. They are also not as dangerous as they look, but much more frightening than they should be. What’s worse is that they will never pick sides.
So things will continue as is. Ten years from now, we will still be talking about how Pakistan is on the brink of collapse and things are falling apart because the centre cannot hold. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or bad.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2011.
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