The Case for a Pluralistic Pakistan: A Pakistani-American Perspective

As Pakistani Americans, we condemn the assassination of Pakistan's federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti. We condemn the attack the day before on a girl's college in Mardan which wounded 35 girls. We condemn these acts because they attack the very heart of what it means to us to be Pakistani.

As Pakistani Americans we took great pride in the fact that not only did Pakistan have a federal minorities minister and that he was a Christian, but also that Pakistan had members of mainstream political parties and members of the majority faith like Punjab Governor Salman Taseer who would stand up for the rights of minority communities and defend a vision of a pluralistic Pakistan.

We know that Pakistan has a blemished track record of protection of its minority communities, so when we saw these rays of light who traced their intellectual lineage back to the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was determined to realize the establishment of an egalitarian Pakistan, our hope was renewed.

In the same way, as Pakistani Americans we take great pride and honor in the success and progress of Pakistani women and girls and see their education as vital to those goals.

As a community, we have established organizations like Developments in Literacy (DIL) dedicated to providing quality education to disadvantaged children in Pakistan, and especially to girls.

When DIL, and other Pakistan-based education initiatives such as the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) and The Citizens Foundation (TCF), would return time and again to the community to fundraise, armed with photographs of schools built and videos of young girls proudly demonstrating their new-found skills and proclaiming their desire to be teachers, doctors, engineers, our pride as Pakistanis overflowed.

Because these were the values -- education for all regardless of gender, protection of minorities and the ability for them to rise to the highest levels of Pakistani society -- that we so cherished and that exemplified the best of what we desired for our Pakistan.

In reading the now-famous Three Cups of Tea, all of us instantly recognized the immense hospitality offered to Greg Mortenson, a tall white American Christian, by his host Haji Ali, an old Muslim villager who would become his teacher and friend, because it was the kind of universal hospitality that was ingrained in all of us as an integral part of Pakistani culture.

Our culture and our faith is not one that denigrates and assassinates people of other faiths and perspectives but one that honors diversity and seeks to share common values of humanity.

In Greg Mortenson's case we see the response of "the other" to such kindness; it is reciprocated many times over in the form of schools and education, and it benefits all who encounter it.

Last month we saw the occasion of the Mawlid, celebrated by many Pakistanis as the Birth of the Prophet, whom Muslims consider "Rahmatul-lil-Alameen," a Mercy to all the worlds.

An examination of his Seerah, his life, is an education in the individual exemplification of the humanitarian principles of justice, mercy, and moderation; lessons completely at odds with any sort of violent campaign of intimidation or extremism.

This idea then, of a Pakistan where so-called blasphemy laws are wielded as tools of oppression against minority faith communities, where those who oppose their unjust application are threatened and assassinated, where violent coercion is used to intimidate girls seeking advancement through education, is one that is repulsive and must be condemned from both secular and religious perspectives.

If there is one thing that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the follow-on movements across the Middle East that they have inspired has taught us, it is the truth of the principle, "The condition of a people does not change until they change what is in themselves."

We know that for every Salman Taseer killed, there will be a daughter of Pakistan like his own daughter, Sherbano Taseer, who will take hold of his torch of tolerance and continue lighting the way, but it is a job that cannot fall to a few.

It is a decision that must be made by every Pakistani, whether in Pakistan or abroad, to rededicate themselves to the vision of the Quaid, a vision of a strong, educated, democratic, pluralistic Pakistan -- a Pakistan we can all be proud of.