Having been born a Pakistani, I have always found it odd how we are — by and large — a people that define ourselves by who we are not rather than who we are. This upside-down trend has had potent consequences for a youth that doesn’t really know what to be proud of but is bombarded with persistent slogans about how Pakistan needs a ‘spirit of nationalism’ to take root from within.
Charles de Gaulle said “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first” and this was proven for me when I went to university in the UK. Interacting with ‘the other’ (read Indian students) brought to the hilt, the fact that few of us would really know who we were as Pakistani’s if India were taken out of the mix. An Indian friend of mine asked me once what being ‘Pakistani’ meant to me and I remember deliberating for about ten minutes before sputtering a string of nonsense that sounded very much like “Free country (okay scratch that) umm…, something, something…Sufi music and uh Faiz Saab’s poetry and umm…spicy food…something…”. At the risk of sounding trite, it wasn’t so much that Pakistan doesn’t have any identity of its own, because it does, it is more the fact that its youth has little idea what that identity is anymore. In an obvious attempt to deflect attention I asked him what nationalism meant to him and he was rather relieved to proclaim that it meant absolutely nothing. We continued with a six-hour-long spat on how Gandhi and Jinnah, if they were symbols for their respective peoples, had been either mythologised or demonised beyond recognition and were no longer relatable for most third and fourth generation Pakistanis.
I remember he told me “You see, we don’t really exhaust that much energy trying to defend our past, we try to focus on our present. You lot seem to spend all your energies defending your past and deflecting your present.” I silently agreed with what he said but I never really admitted it.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 13th, 2010.