Pakistan, my homeland, is many things but never still. Encircled by issues big and small, one border wired in a noisy, often bloody hostility, economy a magician’s hat with an endless supply of unpleasant surprises, foreign policy reworded and recalibrated in ways unseen, and many institutional challenges that threaten to come apart at seams unless treated on an emergency footing, there is not a single day off for Pakistan.
After the Friday 30-minute peaceful protest in solidarity of the people of the Indian-administered Kashmir on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call, as people offered their Juma prayer congregated in mosques or in the solitude of their homes, and folded their hands to pray for personal and collective wellbeing, I feel a strange feeling of peace. Pakistan, my homeland, is many things, but no longer lost.
In the recent history of Pakistan, there are countless Fridays that were marked by raucous protests, taken out less for the endorsement of national or individual sentiments of anger or grief but more as an ostentatious outpouring of an agenda of divisiveness and disharmony.
On Friday, August 30, 2019, Pakistanis stood in silence from 12-12.30pm in registration of their solidarity with the people of Kashmir amidst the ongoing lockdown and communication blockade of Kashmir.
On the 26th day of the silence of Kashmiris, surrounded in an ominous murmuring of myriad violations of fundamental human rights, Pakistan, through a silent protest, sent a loud message: Pakistan, under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, will not be violent or disruptive, but will be steadfast in its peaceful diplomatic, emotional and moral support of those it thinks of as its own.
As I look out the window this rain-scented Friday afternoon, many thoughts crisscrossing one another in my always-chaotic mind, some deeply personal, some random, and some about the way Pakistan is moving forward in its ceaseless self-aware, clear-headed, pragmatic positivity, I drift to something I wrote in May 2013 on the day of the general elections in Pakistan.
“...the first government in the history of my country called Pakistan will have its first election on time. While other countries are planning trips to Mars, building faster spaceships, on the verge of curing AIDS, adding more billionaires to their wealthiest-list, trailblazing with scientific, medical and IT breakthroughs, felicitating their Nobel Laureates, and celebrating their sports medals, mostly gold, Pakistan has its first fully democratic election. Oh well.
Cribbing aside, now we get to vote, choose new leaders, fashion a new–not laundered or dry-cleaned–but a brand new Pakistan.
And the future Pakistan will be prosperous, progressive, shinning sans load-shedding, safe sans drones, Taliban, and Shia-Hazara-Christian-Ahmedi-Hindu killing fanatics, and bffs – that’s best friends forever for the uninitiated–with all its neighbours: the suspicious Afghanistan, the belligerent India, the bored-with-our-ineptness China, and the friend-or-foe Iran.
So go out and vote on May 11, one person one vote, that is not counting the bogus votes and those with fake MPD who vote multiple times for the same person.
Think of what you are doing before you stamp the box against a name. Don’t think it is like a late-night paan from a Main Market khokha, or the purchase of an inordinately priced Bunto Kazmi bridal lehenga, or your bored slouch in your Business Class Emirates seat, on one of your weekly trips to Dubai.
Don’t cast your vote like all those things that you do, unblinking, indifferent, without adding any real consideration to your action.
And as a regular Pakistani, one out of the majority, when you stamp an arrow, a kite, a lantern, a bat or a lion–an incongruous entity in this list of inanimate things–what you articulate is that this is the person and this is the party that I choose as my representative in the future government–or opposition, if your heroes do not make it the best side of the aisle in parliament.
That this is the person that I give my endorsement to for the purpose of devising a roadmap for the betterment of the myriad external factors that affect my life, my area of residence, my city, my country.
That this is the person who would listen to my pleas of pain when my young daughter is brutally raped by the son of the local feudal lord; who would pay heed to my request for assistance when the area ASP tortures my son on a trumped-up charge; who would not ignore my entreaties for rehabilitation when the floodwater submerges my about-to-be-harvested crop, and the mud roof of one of the two rooms in my house caves in on my elderly mother.
That this is the person who would attend my teenaged murdered brother’s funeral, congratulate my board position-holder niece, attend my firstborn’s wedding.
That this is the person who would ensure that the government funds are used to turn the skeleton of a shoddy building into a quality structure where my children may not get the fancy education of Aitchison College and Grammar School but would have the assurance of access to a system that focuses on the modern ways of imparting knowledge.
That this is the person who would treat the illnesses of my loved ones as a personal responsibility, guaranteeing there is a hospital within my bumpy motorcycle, rickety bus ride, and where my life is not cheaper than the cloth used for stitching coats for the mostly inefficient, always overworked, government medical staff.
So think. Carefully. Before you vote. You think Khan, Sharif or Zardari is your ‘that person’ then vote for Khan, Sharif or Zardari.
Vote you must. As a citizen of Pakistan. Vote.
And when you vote, never ever forget that Pakistan is many things but a failed state. It is many broken dreams but not a lost cause.
It is full of disastrous outcomes of many a reckless governmental decision, but it is not stage four, metastatic cancer, killing one cell after the other. It is a series of un-kept promises, but there is always a sliver lining every thousandth tear that is wiped.
It is tainted black with the blood of many innocent people, but it is also the innumerable those who extend a dupatta, a shoulder, a sincere condolence to those who wail for their murdered loved ones.
It kills many of those who pray to God in ways different than that of the majority, but it is also that great-aunt who embraces all narratives–be they Islamic, Jesus-taught or originated in India centuries ago.
Pakistan is apathy that is more obvious than Everest on a rare sunny day, but it is also empathy that unites all when a natural catastrophe shakes many of its parts out of its stupor.
It is a brainless robot from a 1950s movie, but it is also many who intellectually outwit many at Oxford, Harvard and MIT.
Pakistan is a cacophony of militant clergy who incites hatred and violence against those whose religious sensibilities do not match theirs, but it is also the compassion of Data Saheb, Mai Maharban, Gurdwara Punja Saheb and Bibi Pak Daman, where all pray regardless of the language of their holy books.
It is a bunch of military dictators who created assets that unleashed mayhem and strategic depths that became deadly cul-de-sacs, but it is also Major Aziz Bhatti, Pilot-Officer Rashid Minhas, Havaldar Lalak Jan, and many faceless and nameless heroes whose commanding officers train them to be selfless to sacrifice their lives to protect us while we daydream into nothing.
It is Dr Qadeer Khan who nuke-sells it to the highest bidder, but it is also Dr Abdus Salam, its sole science Nobel Laureate, whose name is connected to the God particle. It is the TTP that kills irrespective of age, background and gender, but it is also the countrywide sirens of Edhi who collects its dead and give them burials.
Next era for Pakistan
Now you decide. Which Pakistan means more to you?
Which Pakistan do you dream of — one proudly striding into the next era, in sync with the rest of the world, or that which is a blast, a coup, a suicide bomber, a corruption scandal, a dishonest government away from becoming a ruin of a nation that has all the promise, all the glory to become all that it should be? You decide. For you. For your parents.
For your children. For your compatriots. Go and vote.
Only you have the power to make Pakistan the Pakistan it was meant to be many wars, many coups, many failed governments, many bombs, many graves, many broken promises, many weak leaders ago. Vote. On May 11, 2013.”
Pakistan voted on May 11, 2013. Not much changed.
Pakistan voted again on July 25, 2018.
Pakistan voted Imran Khan into power.
Today, on August 30, 2019, I feel it in my fingers, in my gut, in my heart. Today’s Pakistan is not the Pakistan of that day in May 2013.
Pakistan is still fragile, it is still broken, but it is on its way to be the country of the best of my dreams, the most heartfelt of my duas.
I just know it will happen. Some day. Soon.