"Pack-istan? Never heard of the place, ma'am," the muscled, tattooed, slightly inebriated, impassive marine drawled when I answered his query about my country-of-origin, in the overcrowded, smoke-filled, cosy little pub, Hunter's in Manama, Bahrain. The year was 1997, and the marine was from the US of A. An eternity of 17-years of al-Qaeda-Taliban-WOT-TTP-drones-suicide attacks later, here I am, staring at the screen trying a compilation of my thoughts, in September 2014, in Lahore, Pakistan -- yes, Pakistan, whom many of you reading this post term as "one of the most dangerous places" in the world. And as I ponder how it all got so convoluted, so ugly, so terrifying in so brief a time (a nano-second in the big game of time), there is just one thing I want to do: to write (in shouty caps) that, no, Pakistan is NOT the WTH (yep, what the hell) headline that many view it as. Well, not entirely.
To write or not to write for an international publication is the six-worded moral dilemma of my tiny literary life. In a superfluous attempt to divest my writing of the jaded, clichéd and just-what-the-readers-expect themes of persecution, poverty, lack of education (read enlightenment), xenophobia, political instability, corruption, human rights violations, and terrorism -- hallmark of a writing from Pakistan in a foreign publication -- I'm, literally, subject-less. So to speak. I mean to grumble about how Pakistanis are expected to highlight not much but the abysmal situation in Pakistan is also a subject many Pakistanis believe would strike a chord with the discerning reader, enabling the hitting of share/tweet button at the end of the article/op-ed/blog/rant/pontification/elegy. What is it that I strive to achieve here? Attain readership? Get my point -- or the lack there of -- across? Do my bit to dispel the mistrust the word "Pakistan" evokes? Break the tedium of writing for a Pakistani newspaper what a big mess things are in Pakistan by writing for a foreign publication what a big mess things are in Pakistan? Elucidate the POV of an independent, emancipated (the double-edged-ness of language; I mean no truly liberated woman would have to term herself as emancipated. Gosh, the issues, us, women from the Third World, have) Pakistani woman? Or is it simply to be relevant in the journalistic world - guess-where-my-latest-piece-was-printed? It could be all of the above, one or two, or none. Perhaps, I'm simply writing because I love to...write. Ah, the sheer facetiousness of that is exasperating (I introspect, every once in a while), as I rush word-long into the next paragraph.
As my then 10-year-old son wondered, more than once, during our summer 2010 trip to New York why New Yorkers were so nice to us when we told them where we were from (notwithstanding the tiny fact that most of our interactions were with smiling Manhattan-dwellers of the Upper East Side), I could not help but think about the Pakistan-US dynamic. And four years later, I still think about it. I think about it when I hear the US State Department mention Pakistan as that undesirable in-law that came with the gorgeous sweetheart one married...to regret. For geostrategic expansion. I think about it when the 180-million plus Pakistanis are thought of as that one very dangerous, very wanted Osama bin Laden (of all the hidden compounds, in all nondescript towns, of all "dangerous" countries, in all the world, he had to be found hiding in mine), or that much-feared Mullah Omar, whose one-eyed hatred of the white people is matched by his mistrust of the neighboring Pakistanis. I think about it when teenaged, school-going girls from backward areas fade into that one symbolization of the Pakistani girl: one of the many victims of the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), Malala Yousafzai. I think about it when young, stubble-d Pakistanis face relentless questioning at the JFK if their name is Shehzad or Faisal. I think about it when the fragile democratic dynamic is described as being shaken to its core (with the sly nudge of, of course, the overreaching army/ISI) in Washington dailies when a few thousand protesters gather in Islamabad with demands for social-electoral reform (the demand for the Prime Minister's resignation is just the icing on the what-a-mess-Pakistan-is for the Pakistani correspondents of American media). I think about it as the Zarb-e-Azb raze TTP/Haqqani sanctuaries in North Waziristan, terminating the militants' infiltration into Afghanistan to attack the American/NATO soldiers. I think about it when I see Pakistan (filmed somewhere else) in Homeland where the terror is much, and the credibility low. I think about it when I view the paradigm of that unhealthy, non-performing, enigmatic status quo that goes as the Pak-US relationship.
And...damn, I gotta stop. I just realized the folly of overthinking it all. There it is. The disjointed ramblings of another Pakistani scribe who bemoans how misunderstood Pakistan is. How unfair the West is. How misinformed narratives rule the media perceptions. And how to write a blog that shows all of that in a limited number of words. (This curse of word-limit will be the end of my dream to follow in the footsteps of Frances Fitzgerald and Katherine Graham.)