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.