The thousands that lined the streets of Islamabad last month were not robots; they were not cardboard cutouts; they were real people like you and me. These Pakistanis lined the streets of their capital because they cared. They cared for Pakistan, for employment, education, bread, butter and the future of their children. Far too often, we hear of a silent majority, we see images of a Pakistan that simply does not care. The past month or so has torn that image to pieces.
Granted, bringing the capital to a standstill was not the best way to protest, considering the economic costs of a city-centre coming to a grinding halt. But look beyond the politics of these protestors. The protestors in Islamabad were peaceful, they were mature and they were adamant in wanting to change the fortunes of their country. Undeniably, this is a start. While there were chants calling for a revolution, these protestors ultimately dispersed following compromise, demonstrating an understanding that it is these bits and pieces that lead to a greater whole. Dreamy longing for overnight change is simply unrealistic. Pakistanis must not lose hope for change, for a better tomorrow; but this hope for tomorrow does not require disregarding our reality today.
This understanding of our reality — and the desire to do something about it — was demonstrated beyond Islamabad, too.
I am not going to pretend words can capture the pain our Hazara brethren would have felt sitting on the cold gravel of Alamdaar Road. Their sacrifice was insurmountable. But instead of turning the other way, accepting the situation as it was, Pakistanis around the country joined the dozens at Alamdaar — physically in protest and emotionally in passion. On a cold January night, from Karachi to Gilgit, Pakistanis were heard loud and clear: we have a moral compass, we fight for what is right and we do so peacefully. This is the face of my country. This is its future.
And yet, there is still no food on thousands of tables, no school for thousands of diligent students. There are thousands of sick Pakistanis who have no doctors, thousands of able workers who have no jobs. For every thousand peaceful protestors, there are thousands of hungry, uneducated, sick and unemployed Pakistanis. But the brave men and women of Alamdaar Road and all those who came out to support them have shown our detractors that we have the will to change. The actions of the peaceful protestors in Islamabad and the country’s reaction to these protestors have shown our detractors that we have the patience for change. The mindset of change is one that all of Pakistan’s political parties are trying to capture. Last month showed that no matter what the political leaning, as a nation, the mindset of change — realistic and gradual — is the one we have adopted.
Our next big test will arrive with the upcoming parliamentary elections. We must ensure that the electoral process is representative and we must turn out to exercise our rights as citizens of this democracy.
Yes, we have problems. Do not let anybody tell you otherwise. But we will face them and surmount them. There is life in this country still.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 9th, 2013.
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