“But, why did you come back?” asked our guard as we off-roaded near Golial Bachaband to deliver relief goods to the flood affected people of Thatta district. As a worker of the PPP he was familiar with Harvard, the alma mater of Murtaza Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto. “Wasn't life so much better there?” he asked, and continued “You have an opportunity, go and make your life. Why are you back in Pakistan? Nothing works in Pakistan; everyone is corrupt, incompetent and indifferent.”
I was in the process of replying, “I want to join politics, and do my part...”, when I got interrupted by the MPA from the area sitting in the front seat of his Vigo. “Beta, this is Pakistan” he advised supporting an unwelcoming sneer, “Politics here is dirty. You have no idea how difficult it has been for me to remain clean.”
Of the many villages, cities and camps I have visited over the past month, despair has eclipsed hopes and dreams. In Mingora, my guide told me that he came back to Pakistan because of a love interest. It didn't work out and now he regrets his decision to return from England. “Please help me get out of here” he begged, “You came from America, you can find a way to get me there. Why did you come back? Did you return for a girl too?”
I replied: “I came back for my motherland. I have a few dreams, a few aspirations I want to work towards.” He replied: “The system will kill your dreams” he said, still in disbelief over my answer. “You will soon want out too.”
The 'system' is crippled, as I learned first-hand over the past month, but not beyond mending as is commonly believed. It is slow but work does get done. Overhaul is only possible through structural reforms initiated by those already in power. To facilitate change, one has to join politics or the civil service. The general tendency to not try to fix the 'system' while cursing it and the country in every breath is not helpful. Utopian dreams of massive, overnight structural changes through a “bloody revolution” are counter-productive. Pakistan needs a gradual evolution of the system by active civic engagement. One small step in this regard is to vote responsibly and put pressure on your elected representatives to work in the right direction.
There are many other questions that people keep on asking and answers to which I don't have yet. How will I become politically active? How will I finance my campaign if I run for office? Will I join a political party? What can I realistically do even if I get elected?
Still there is something about our nation that keeps me hoping and dreaming. Most countries would have disappeared from the world had they gone through what Pakistan has been: multiple wars, massive natural disasters, martial laws and failed elected governments, terrorist attacks, huge insurgencies and what not. Yet this country has made it through against all odds. Mere survival is not satisfactory, though. We must work to make this nation, as Jinnah said, “one of the greatest nations of the world.” The only way for that is for honest, educated and competent people to join politics and become involved in addressing the pressing issues plaguing this country. That is exactly why I am back, to do my tiny bit for my country.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2010.