We have failed our forefathers

Published: December 18, 2013
The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

Let’s cut the crap and call it like it is: Pakistan has failed spectacularly — not just as a state but also as a nation — when you compare our performance versus the vision our founding fathers had set for our country. Whenever a foreigner or a foreign publication declares Pakistan a ‘failed’ state, we erupt with outrage (perhaps, rightly so) at the audacity of someone from the outside calling us a failure without understanding the magnitude of challenges we really face. However, for a moment, if we tear away from our existential angst against the ‘messenger’ and just look at the message, it’s difficult to objectively deny that Pakistan hasn’t failed as a society to deliver on its economic promise or as a potentially positive contributor to humanity in the international community.

This is Pakistan’s original sin. We prefer playing victim rather than taking ownership of our problems. Our knee-jerk reaction to condemnation is to condemn those who condemn us. The result is that we’re isolated today in the international community with few countries that we can really count on as friends. Perhaps it’s time, if we can’t take criticism from the outside, to start taking constructive criticism from within. Why doesn’t anyone step up and call it like it is? That’s because anyone who puts their neck on the line by calling Pakistan a failure is immediately branded as being unpatriotic and accused of undermining national morale (or even worse, of being a ‘sensational’ journalist with a lust for ratings). Last month, I wrote a hypothetical obituary for Pakistan to raise alarm bells for an imminent (albeit satirical) defeat of the Pakistani state by extremists. Nothing in my journalism training had prepared me for the stinging public rebuke that came next. Instead of run-of-the-mill hate mail, I woke up one morning to see my column ripped apart on a public forum with a line-by-line dissection that didn’t just question my arguments but also my right to make arguments that could ‘dishearten’ the nation as well as those who lay down their lives for the country.

“Did it not strike the author even the tiniest bit that his article would not only demoralise the people but also cut right through their sentiments, pierce their hearts and render wounds that would probably never be healed?” The critic questioned. “The article is fancy oratory that is better suited to a speech in a ‘defame-Pakistan’ campaign.”

It’s really unfair to throw someone on the ‘defame Pakistan’ bus if they choose to question long held beliefs about our beloved country. No one likes to criticise their own but sometimes it’s the only way to rescue them from more pain. In response to my arguments about a failing Pakistan, the critic compared our country to the phase Europe was passing through before the Renaissance. “History is replete with examples where nations learned from experiences and transformed to add value to this world. So, let us not be too swift to render an obituary for a country that has already proven its resilience in the face of the worst crises to have plagued this world since probably World War II.”

I actually agree: history is replete with examples where nations and individuals have learned from their experiences and transformed themselves. The problem is that Pakistan is refusing to learn from its failures because it doesn’t accept them as its own flaws. Instead, Pakistan is too quick to deflect its failures onto others. This is the real problem; this is Pakistan’s original sin.

How should one overcome the sticky stigma of their original sin? There’s only one real option: changing our behaviour. It’s only when we maturely accept criticism from outside and from within that we’ll begin to make a real difference in reshaping our destiny. We need not be afraid of our failures; we should only be afraid of not accepting them as our own. In short, Pakistan can only rise from the ashes when it accepts that something has gone horribly wrong. Until then, we are firmly set on the course to self-destruction.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Vish
    Dec 18, 2013 - 11:43PM

    Seriously does anybody even know what the vision of the founders/forefathers was, besides being nothing more then an obsession with a particular religious group/religion. Pakistan’s present state is a natural progression, based on the vision of its founding fathers. Don’t be disappointed. Pakistan has not failed its forefathers but more then fulfilled their vision and will continue to do so. Recommend

  • BnalgaBabu
    Dec 19, 2013 - 12:40AM

    Bottom line, Jinnah and Muslim League doomed the sub continent.


  • csmann
    Dec 19, 2013 - 1:38AM

    People take affront when they don’t understand the concept of satire.So they take the easy way out-be abusive to the author.Some people just need it in black and white.


  • Actually
    Dec 19, 2013 - 2:12AM

    You got it wrong.
    Your forefathers failed YOU.


  • zog
    Dec 19, 2013 - 4:28AM

    It is so interesting to see so many Indian’s following Pakistani papers.
    I do not blame them, this type of open and free debate would be unheard of in the self censored Indian media.


  • X
    Dec 19, 2013 - 5:21AM

    For all Indian haters, please stop criticising our creation or our forefathers. At least we don’t grudge India it’s independence or abuse your founders in order to feel better. Dear Author, judging by he comments of most Indians here, this original sin is applicable to Indians as well. Perhaps this is a south Asian cultural problem. ET please publish. I fail to understand why all my comments are being censored lately.


  • Ali
    Dec 19, 2013 - 6:45AM

    Actually you have failed your foremothers too. But pray tell me, what is it that you have failed. Did they have any vision when they created Pakistan?


  • vasan
    Dec 19, 2013 - 6:54AM

    And you are failing for your next generation also.


  • F
    Dec 19, 2013 - 7:28AM

    Can a society so deeply rooted in religious superiority change without reform in the roots?


  • failure acceptant
    Dec 19, 2013 - 8:00AM

    @above posts: you guys need to take history classes. The present does not dictate an inevitable course of history. Things always change and aren’t determined by founding father philosophies.

    Your forefathers are dead. They don’t program the course of history you take. So stop thinking any of your success is attributable to Gandhi. He’d be devastated to see where India is going today.Recommend

  • Feroz
    Dec 19, 2013 - 8:17AM

    Nobody likes criticism, least of all religious fanatics. Nothing has aroused passions and provoked murder with the frequency that religion has. Yet history is replete with examples where religion has been used to stoke a fire. There is nothing wrong with Pakistan, it is only ordinary humans who have put religion to the sword.


  • Ramesh Powar
    Dec 19, 2013 - 9:21AM

    While we are calling a spade a spade, let’s admit that these forefathers were no visionaries. They failed to foresee the violence and the misery that would be heaped upon the subcontinent in the immediate aftermath of the partition, let alone envision the shape of the things to come decades thereafter.
    These forefathers had a narrow communal perspectives. They didn’t have a vision. Nelson Mandela had a vision. He chose to unite two people, rather than divide a nation. Now compare the stature of Nelson Mandela and the worldwide respect for him to that of these forefathers.Recommend

  • Zohair
    Dec 19, 2013 - 10:27AM

    I agree with the author that we, Pakistanis, need to put our egos aside, analyze why we are where we are today and correct course by learning from our past mistakes. But I have to say that anyone criticizing Jinnah or the founding founders for their vision (Pointing to you, Mr. Vish and Mr. BnalgaBabu) is just ignorant – for lack of a proper word to use. I would suggest you to do proper research before speaking anything that comes to your mind. It was Jinnah who continuously advocated for a separate homeland for Muslims in the Union of India. It was only due to rigidity of people like Nehru and Pandit Patel that Jinnah was forced to ask for a separate country.

    Even then, this is not the end of the world. Countries have come out of stronger from situations far worse than this. It might not seem so at the moment, but I feel foundations are being laid for a more prosperous and democratic Pakistan. Say what you may but I see our institutions have gotten stronger in the past 10 years or so. Our media – despite all its shortcomings – is beginning to a positive role. We already have the sixth largest population in the world. Our economy is down and out and it is still the 27th economy in the world (in terms of Purchasing Power parity). So say what you may, we shall rise.


  • wonderer
    Dec 19, 2013 - 10:56AM

    Those who agree with the writer of this excellent piece, and others who are worried about the future of Pakistan, would certainly enjoy reading “In search of new life for Pakistan” by Mahboob A Khawaja on the following link:


    Happy reading!


  • Dec 19, 2013 - 11:05AM

    Did both of you gentlemen eat breakfast this morning??? have a nice day. Salams

    A veritable and ‘down to earth article.’
    This article is based on historical facts and not on any classroom subject. The author has spared the readers by not illustrating it with a list of real life instances. Take it as an eye-opener. If we want specifics then look at the presence of quota system, sectarian hatred, jihad doctrine, terrorist groups backed by the mullahs, lack of education, no accountability, martial law, no land reforms, over and above all ‘LACK OF COMMON COURTESY,’ to name a few. SalamsRecommend

  • observer
    Dec 19, 2013 - 11:45AM

    When the vision is wrong the outcome will also be wrong. Pakistan has not been able to define its own vision, with clarity. After sixtysix years people still ask why Pakistan. What has this country achieved. 40,000 to 50,000 innocent people eliminated, during the last few years, thousands more eliminated in inter sectarianism, thousands more eliminated by Jihadists, our neighbours have suffered, we have suffered, the Bangladesh’s have suffered. What for ???. Can anyone answer. We are a pain to ourselves and to others. Officially we wish portray ourselves as the victims, the victimized, in reality is that we are the ones who have started this zealous, fake reliogosity, fake idiology. The answer and the truth is for all to see.


  • powvow
    Dec 19, 2013 - 1:05PM

    Your forefathers were mostly Hindus/Sikhs and few Buddhist. You failed them by refusing to recognize as such and instead trying to falsely claim Arab ancestry.


  • John the Baptist
    Dec 19, 2013 - 4:42PM

    All the lost kids blaming their parents for their own failures. Pathetic!


  • observer
    Dec 19, 2013 - 5:16PM

    As long as Pakistani’s do not wish to confront reality as it is, they will continue to make believe. Why is it that Iranians acknowledge their ancestors from a different faith, why is it that Bangladeshi’s acknowledge their ancestors of different faith, why is it that the Taliban had to blow up Budha’s sculpture in Bamiyan province. Why, because they cannot face the truth, they cannot face reality, that Buddhism was the religion of the area. History is distorted, myths are created, fake narratives are created all in the name of religion. That unfortunately is Pakistan. All this with official approval, so how can this nation progress, it is so steeped in hypocrisy, dogmatism. It will take a lot of foresight, lot of courage to speak, what needs to be said, let the truth prevail.


  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    Dec 19, 2013 - 5:24PM

    As some like like Mr zohair is stating that Nehru and gandhiji were rigid and did not accept jinnahs proposals in the cabinet plan, I would like to comment that even if the plan was accepted, he would have expired due to tuberculosis a year later. Secondly, the plan to let the provinces decide to secede after a referendum was absurd and a suicidal option. A new nation needs a strong central government to enforce it’s writ over the region’s. Thirdly, with all this hulla hulla going on what constitution or legislation would they have done to unite the country which would incite rebellion at a drop of a hat. Cabinet mission plan was a useless piece of paper. Rab rakhaRecommend

  • genesis
    Dec 19, 2013 - 5:43PM

    There was no need to ‘found India’.I t was always there and it was Pakistan with a new name that was ‘founded’


  • vijay
    Dec 19, 2013 - 6:54PM

    @Zohair: Reality is that Jinnah wanted to become PM of India. When he failed he demanded Pakistan. You people are taught to blame Hindus for all of your problems.

    “We already have the sixth largest population in the world.” Is this an achievement?

    “Countries have come out of stronger from situations far worse than this”. What can be worse then this if after 65 years people are still confused about their ideology or its creation. Even people of Ethiopia don’t ask these questions why Ethiopia was created?


  • x
    Dec 19, 2013 - 7:01PM

    All right, then those who worked to give you independence. Happy?Are you seriously arguing over semantics now?


  • Murthy
    Dec 19, 2013 - 8:54PM

    A very good article based on introspection and self-analysis! I really wonder whether the “forefathers” succeeded in ensuring a clear and strong constitution as the new nation’s foundation. It is the Pakistani military that has failed the state of Pakistan by never allowing either real democracy or strong civilian leadership to thrive. This kind of situation has not changed even now, after more than six decades of its creation.


  • Nero
    Dec 19, 2013 - 10:23PM

    Dear Author: I don’t know whether the current Pakistani generation failed its forefathers (mothers?). But I am definitely sure that the Pakistani forefathers failed the future generations. First, by distorting Islamic teachings to gain power. Second, by teaching them white lies as “history”.


  • NotSoCommon
    Dec 20, 2013 - 5:36AM


    Please do some research at your end as well. You may consider the stance of Nehru, Patel and the rest of the congress as rigid, and for good measures too. But the fact is they were rigid against the demands of Jinnah for a preferential treatment of the Muslims of the sub continent and a much weaker central govt. Thankfully congress rejected it. India wanted to have a secular constitution where one man one vote mattered, no religion of state and a strong central govt, Jinnah’s demand were contrary to it. Jinnah got Pakistan to implement his vision and Congress, India. After 65+ years, you have the outcome in front of you.

    It is true that countries have come out of worse situation than what Pakistan is facing today, but they only did it through the strength of each of its citizens. South Africa is a good example where Mandela got whites and blacks on the same footing and got them together. If you discriminate against the minorities you can never expect to be out of the rut you find yourself now. And consider the irony, the country that was formed to safe guard the rights of one of the minorities of the sub continent has become one of the worst countries for its own minorities.


  • its ok
    Dec 20, 2013 - 5:10PM

    @ Vish
    nice comment, but here no buyers for your logic. actually they are not wired to understand and so fall in debate on anything which comes in the way of their religion.


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