It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
Some moons ago, during perhaps the best of times, I fell in love with a country called Pakistan -- and not only because I was born there. From biking on its streets under the shade of the mulberry trees to running out in the welcomed monsoon rain, from eating in its dhabbas (the roadside restaurants) with your legs crossed on the charpai, to sitting at a roof top restaurant looking at the bright lights of the city in the deep nights, from its dusty roads to pristine gardens, its mud houses to palatial mansions, its colors, its smells -- quite simply, I loved it all. But love, after a certain few teen heady years, ceases to be blind and -- I can see her now, my country -- with its current mistakes and mayhem. Is it, now, the worst of times? Perhaps, not yet.
Pakistan has unfortunately seen mostly self-serving rulers who had eyes only for their own benefits. One does not have to go back too far in Pakistan's short history to see the downward spiral -- from the autocracy and corruption to the extremism and fanaticism; the state meddling in personal liberties and declaring and defining who can be a Muslim; the rapid expansion and promotion of madrassas; the promulgation of the blasphemy laws; the quiet, and at times blatant, support of extremist groups and ideas, all by various governments for their personal and political gains. But Pakistan has always been more than its government -- it has always been the people. It is the people of all sects who migrated there in 1947 in one of the world's largest mass migration. It is the minorities who stayed there. It is because of them, because of their sweat and tears that a country was made, progressed and at one time was considered to be the one of Asian Tigers because of its economic development.
The best in Pakistan is brought on by the people -- just as the worst. Even though each Pakistani government, which either ignored or overtly promoted and supported the extremist elements seeping in the society, enjoyed Western support (not to mention millions of dollars they received) and even though Pakistan has been used and abused by other governments, ultimately, it is the citizens themselves who are responsible for enabling or disabling any country. It astounds me whenever I see these people who I cannot relate to -- the ones with the death of innocent people on their hands or the ones who can watch quietly as spectators while a woman is stoned. Like any great love affair, the disappointment is great when the object of your affection fails to live up to its image.
It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness...
But then Pakistan, is a tale of two countries. It is the tale of a country where people can sit outside in the shivering cold with dead bodies of their loved ones, refusing to bury them till they get justice for the innocent lives. It is a county where people can be killed, their houses burned, their places looted, their graves dug up; it makes no difference whether they are doctors or brick-kiln workers, their fault is that they belong to a minority sect. It is a country where thousands will protest Israel's injustices against Palestinians but will remain quiet about the killings of Shias, Ahmadis or Christians. It is a country where hundreds will take on social media to complain about the West and its unjust policies, while failing to notice the discrimination taking place around them and the justice that is never provided.
It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity
It is also the tale of a country where after a suicide bombing at a military ceremony more people show up the next day at the same event despite threats of another attack, people who are determined terrorists cannot break their resolve. It is also a country where people are fighting for minorities and petitioning to repeal the blasphemy law. It is a country where some can denounce Malala, but most will fight for their daughters to go to school. It is a country where after a suicide bombing thousands will show up to hospitals to donate blood and help. It is a country where a teenage boy will tackle a suicide bomber and die to save his fellow students lives. It is a country that can boast of incredibly hard-working and creative people. It is a country of people like the simple fruit-seller, babaji, at our college -- an ageless, wrinkled man who even with half his teeth and his sight gone, would stand happily next to his fruit cart making platters that we would all clamor for. Nobody asked him what faith he belonged to, what he believed in, and even when he put in too much salt, no one complained. After all, he was just our babji trying to do the best he could with hope and good cheer. This, for me, is Pakistan.
HG Wells once wrote about a blind village where a sighted man tried to rule. After all, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. The king soon realized that in a land of blind people, he has to learn to live with his own disability -- vision -- and ultimately after failing to make a change, decided to have his own eyes taken out. Simply put, circumstances alone define disability -- not the actual disability itself. The circumstances in Pakistan are disabling it. But these circumstances, brought on by the extremism in religion and thought, can only be changed by the people themselves. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, a great liberal and progressive leader said once that the story of Pakistan, its struggle and its achievement, is the very story of great human ideals, struggling to survive in the face of great odds and difficulties. For it to survive, it is the people who can make it the spring of hope and not the winter of despair. They have to rise up against the odds and fight for its ideals, and when they flounder, it hurts and disappoints. My heart can be in terrible doubt at times but for now my complicated love affair with Pakistan continues .