Fatalism is a Pakistani characteristic. Allah maalik, God decides, is a popular refrain, particularly amongst the poor when confronted with the reality of life, and Inshallah — if God wills it — rolls off all our tongues with the greatest ease and with a sense of piety we pass the buck to God. If He wills it, we will do it. And there lies the disconnect. God gave us the resources, physical and mental and every natural and geographical resource and is probably wondering why we aren’t getting on with what we need to do.
The paralysis is not limited to any one group or institution; it is endemic and seems to have infected us all. If we go top down, we see it’s a general malaise. As no one does what’s supposed to be done, we find ourselves spiralling into anarchy.
Does anyone stop for a moment to think of how things could be different? What do we need to do to lift ourselves out of the mess we have landed in? But no one is thinking, we’re locked down in basic survival mode and not looking to tomorrow, which will come despite our refusal to take our heads out of the sand. We don’t grow because we don’t think about how we just leave it to a higher force and hope that matters will take care of themselves. Well, most inconveniently they don’t, and things don’t pan out the way we would like them to.
If we hope to get out of the box we have backed into, it’s going to take a lot of thinking and a lot of work. Two things we seem to have forgotten how to do. Let’s start with the government, we expect a great deal and yet we know not much is forthcoming. Rather than demand what they can’t do — default, stop the drones, resolve the electricity crisis as of yesterday, run PIA as a profitable business, the list is endless — let’s focus on what they can do. Dr Nadeemul Haque of the Planning Commission has a clever plan, he’s put it up on the internet, tried to engage everyone he knows with a brain cell and get them to drum up support. But his clever plan involves a functional state and therein lies the real problem. He knows that unless the government is propelled into action, the new growth framework will just be lots of nice sounding words.
It comes back to leadership. Apart from Dr Haque, there are some 180 million people who need a lot of things from their elected government, starting with leadership. People want leaders who are not afraid to stop playing games and make serious decisions instead. But those leaders will only come the day we decide to truly become citizens and take responsibility for our actions and accept the consequences of our omissions.
Ordinary people who follow the law, who refuse to promote or fall victim to sycophancy, who do not nurture a work ethic based on corruption and nepotism and more are the real heroes of Pakistan. Each one of us has a role to play. We all have our own demons to slay. What we should be doing is looking at what it is that we want our leaders to do, and then do that ourselves. To start with, we need to respect the rule of law and do small things like stopping at traffic lights, to big things like paying our taxes. Translating ideals into action will bring about a change in the societal mindset. We may eventually stop looking at SUVs filled with gun- toting private militia as if it’s something to aspire to. The day we think is the day our aspirations will evolve. Until then, our anthem is not about lofty ideals like quwwat-e-awam, its more like its my country and I’ll cry if I want to.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2011.
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