I still remember the day I wanted to become the prime minister of Pakistan. I was nine years old. My family had recently moved from Karachi to Riyadh so that my father could earn enough to repay our family’s debts. I was angry at my parents for forcing me to move away from my friends in Karachi. In my first year there, August 14 was a punishingly hot, airless day in Riyadh. I didn’t have any friends to go out and play with in the evenings. I began acting up with my parents and kept telling them that I wanted to move back to Pakistan — back to where my friends were.
Even at the age of nine, I understood that my parents wanted to give me a better future by moving to Saudi Arabia. We weren’t escaping a life of poverty but we were escaping a life that wasn’t comfortable. For example, I remember my parents recalling that they couldn’t afford to buy diapers for me. Relatives would accidentally ‘forget’ their children’s diapers at my house so that my mother wouldn’t be embarrassed by my antics when going out for family gatherings. Riyadh, in sharp contrast, was materially comfortable. I never understood why my father — who worked as long in Riyadh as he did in Karachi — couldn’t make ends meet in Karachi. I loved my father too much to blame him so I blamed Pakistan instead.
That evening, on August 14, I thought of all the fun I’d be having with my friends and cousins if I was in Karachi. I felt guilty about not being able to buy a Pakistani flag from Karachi’s Allah wali chowrangi that year. Somehow, all these mixed feelings naively translated into a promise I made to myself that night; I wanted to grow up to become the prime minister of Pakistan. I wanted to solve all the country’s problems so that I could live with all my friends in Pakistan, happily ever after. Fortunately, as I grew older, I distanced myself from the promise of the office of prime minister but not from the premise of being able to help solve Pakistan’s problems in one capacity or another. Unfortunately, that premise appears to be dying in the hours after the attack on Karachi’s airport.
I still can’t put my finger on why the attack on Karachi’s airport physically caused pain I’ve never experienced before. I didn’t feel the same pain at the news of the two dozen Shia pilgrims being bombed at the same time. I struggle to understand why. Is it because I’m not Shia and I can’t feel their pain? Or is it because I’m a ‘burger’ and the airport hit closer to home because I use it often? Does this make me a bad human being and a bad Muslim? Perhaps, it isn’t politically correct to say these things out loud but the attack made me stop wanting to correct my thoughts. Was this Pakistan’s 9/11? Pakistanis die all the time, why can’t I just vent on Facebook and move on with my life? What’s wrong with my country? What’s wrong with me?
There are two telltale signs that signal you’re stuck in an unhealthy emotional relationship. The first is numbness. An emotional relationship with Pakistan causes daily pain and heartache. As a defence mechanism, we become numb to bad news and make ourselves feel better by calling it resilience. This shields us from daily pain. At this point, we’re still committed to the relationship either because we value the relationship itself or the pain of breaking up is higher than the pain of staying in the relationship. This was my relationship with Pakistan before the Karachi attack.
And then suddenly this week, something snapped and I can’t put my finger on what happened. The attack on Karachi’s airport is nothing out of the ordinary for Pakistan but for some reason it’s turning into a breaking point in my relationship with Pakistan. Almost overnight, the numbness has given away to extra-sensitive, intense pain. In the past, whenever my mind used to argue against Pakistan, my heart used to rush to the country’s defence. Today, my heart no longer rushes to defend Pakistan. Instead, my heart wavers. Am I beginning to give up on Pakistan?
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2014.
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