Nobody has a good opinion of someone who has a low opinion of himself. And this has become so obvious among Pakistanis living abroad today. They are deeply depressed about what the future has in store for Pakistan and are at a loss to explain why Pakistan and its people should have fallen so low in the esteem of their host societies. As a consequence, they seem to have lost their feistiness, their pride and that cockiness that set them apart from other communities such as the Somalis, the Yemenis and Nigerians, whose homelands are/were similarly mired in turmoil. Pakistanis never used to think they were not good enough. In fact, we were sharply offended when people did not respect us because we felt innately that we were as good, if not better, than many others.
Much of that pride and self confidence has gone. For the first time after many years of travel, I could sense hollowness deep down in their hearts. Time and again, I discovered educated and sensitive Pakistanis acting as if they were reluctant, nay ashamed, to admit they were Pakistanis. When asked directly about their country of provenance, for example, in France and Italy, they preferred to avoid or fudge the question and if pushed the lighter-complexioned ones passed themselves off as Sicilians or Latinos and the darker ones as Sri Lankans or from the “subcontinent”. Asked why, one Pakistani replied: “For God’s sake who the hell wants to explain to a civilised individual abroad what is happening in Pakistan and why. It’s simply too shameful. Besides, I have no explanation for the way we are behaving at home.”
This became more obvious when half a dozen of them recounted incidences why they no longer believed that things would improve in Pakistan. Indeed, they were convinced that the situation would continue to go from bad to worse. Nearly each one of them had a story to tell of what they had either personally experienced or knew of a close relative who had suffered at the hands of the system and the people at home who worked it. Some of these are worth relating.
One Pakistani settled in Slovenia spoke of how just the other day the qabza group of one political party had raided his sister’s apartment in Karachi, broke open the lock of her room and declared that as he was at odds with a co-tenant, and that they had come to “teach her a lesson”. This ‘lesson’ involved ensuring she paid them the royal sum of Rs300,000 to vacate her room. Rather than help her recover his property the other residents of the apartment complex begged him to negotiate and make the payment instead of resisting the attackers. “Otherwise they will kill us,” they pleaded. The retired communications engineer living on a meager Slovenian pension managed to reduce the extortion price to Rs200,000 and, in fact, remitted the money to his terrified nephew to make the payment. Luckily a mutual friend stepped in and through yet another friend in the present Sindh set up had the Rangers pay a visit after which the qabza group vacated the premises.
After recalling this incident to his audience, which included some foreigners and myself, a deeply embarrassed former envoy to Slovenia, the old Pakistani expatriate raised his hands in prayer and called upon God to curse a country and a system where such men held sway. I nearly found myself saying “Ameen”.
Another incident involves a Pakistani, now living in Naples, selling Pakistan-made bedsheets and towels in sizeable quantities. He recounted how just the other day he had been contacted by a friend in the Federal Investigation Agency, who asked him to let him know if he knew of anyone making money illegally by, for example, avoiding paying taxes. Greatly impressed that his friend should be such a conscientious officer in an organisation that is considered a by word for corruption, he asked his friend why he was so keen to have such information. “Because that way we can get some money off him too,” his friend replied. “Of course, please tell him that he can carry on avoiding taxes as long as we get a share of the profits he makes.”
Yet another Pakistani living in Venice, where he owns a restaurant, chipped in to say that a friend of his running a textile factory in Karachi had called the other day to say that people who think Pakistan is a bad place to invest are wrong. Why? Because if anyone wanted to be his partner in setting up yet another textile factory, he could ensure that they wouldn’t have to pay any taxes and would even get free electricity. With such exemptions, he continued, there was no question of the venture failing.
Finally, a young married Pakistani woman presently qualifying for a permanent resident visa in a European country, where her husband works, related how her brother-in-law presently settled in America on a visit to Karachi was shot dead by two gunmen while shopping. According to his wife, who was with him, she heard one gunmen tell the other: “Shit, I think we shot the wrong man” as they hurriedly left the shop.
No wonder the view among our communities abroad, what to speak of foreigners, is that a grotesque chaos confronts Pakistan. Dominated by land grabbing, incredibly greedy, inept and corrupt politicians, Pakistan is heading straight for the abyss. Its leaders have nothing to offer but their own confusion and personal agendas. Their failed self perpetuating policies have pitted the country against just about everybody, neighbours, friends, international financiers and even each other. So self-absorbed they live in perpetual adoration of themselves. Hence, if they hear anything to the contrary then the man speaking so is a resolute liar.
Such self-inflicted wounds stemming from moral cowardice and their stubborn indifference are lethal for a nation. Alas, there now seems an inevitability about our fate that nothing can forestall. No wonder then that Pakistanis abroad are hopelessly depressed. Notably the plane, on which I returned only yesterday from London, by PIA flight 788, was by and large empty, while the outbound flights were full as they normally are. It is no wonder why people, like capital, are taking flight.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2011.