‘When it rains, it pours.’ That’s an oft-repeated phrase used by some to describe the several challenges surrounding Pakistan that have time and again hit the country’s outlook.
From recurring issues on internal security and the powerful reality of Pakistan’s borders being more than just under pressure, there is no shortage of reasons for sleepless nights of key decision makers.
Higher tax rates have propelled Imran Khan’s government to face a range of sceptics, questioning the government’s motives and its ability to improve Pakistan’s outlook. It’s still early to predict the eventual outcome of such painful measures. But it’s abundantly clear that faced with challenges on multiple fronts, Pakistan promises to remain unsettled for the foreseeable future.
However, compelling questions must be raised over exactly what keeps the country going. In this debate, the role of Pakistan’s icons assumes importance. The country’s very birth took place in the face of multiple adversities.
Back in 1947, when Pakistan was born, many predicted a short life expectancy for the new state. Generations of Pakistanis have grown up hearing accounts of how the country’s first wave of civil servants relied on thorns from bushes to pin their official notes together, with the government being unable to even afford paper clips.
Icons of the past and present have frequently reminded Pakistanis of the sheer strength of the human spirit that has repeatedly and miraculously kept their country going.
While there’s no dearth of iconic figures in Pakistan, this week’s account of a newly emerging campaigner in Karachi who helps families cope with the shock of losing dear ones to suicide was truly inspiring. Atiya Naqvi, a Karachi based clinical psychologist whose son committed suicide just over a year ago, came out bravely and publicly to speak about how she has coped with her own ordeal.
Statistics published by Dawn showed that roughly one person takes their own life every hour in Pakistan. Writing an opinion piece in the same newspaper and describing suicide as “still a taboo topic”, Naqvi narrated her ambition to help grieving mothers of suicide victims so that “broken and lost women like me can find ways to reconstruct our lives”. Her account came as a powerful reminder of other icons who similarly took up vital causes to help people in misery and eventually created an all too enduring legacy.
For instance. Akhtar Hameed Khan, a pioneer in development economics single-handedly became dedicated to support slum dwellers of Karachi, and eventually succeeded in lifting standards of living across one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. And Abdul Sattar Edhi, known to many in Karachi as a messiah, was no alien to throwing his life on the line. When shootings raged in Karachi in the 1990s between members of rival gangs, the late Edhi led his ambulances to pick the injured before taking them to hospital emergency rooms. Pakistan’s impressive icons in other sectors have ranged from men in uniform who have battled hard-core militants and many laid down their lives, to campaigners for different causes.
Coming together, such icons of the past and present have frequently reminded Pakistanis of the sheer strength of the human spirit that has repeatedly and miraculously kept their country going. This is especially relevant in a country where successive governments have failed to meet popular expectations, notably in critical areas such as health care, education and providing jobs for the poor.
While Prime Minister Khan’s government has promised to root out corruption that has increasingly knocked down Pakistan’s outlook over time, there is a lot to be done. Pakistan must also move rapidly to reconcile with the recurring failures that have widened the gap between the rich and the poor.
Policymakers must rededicate themselves to appreciate the iconic figures who filled the gaps in vital areas. Ultimately, such a gesture could work to inspire an entire generation of Pakistanis to join the band of high achievers.
As for Pakistan’s ruling structure represented by elected members of federal and provincial legislatures alongside the federal and provincial governments, it’s important to focus squarely on meeting the most pressing daily challenges. At the same time, the spirit unleashed by iconic figures needs to be recognised as a source of inspiration for Pakistan’s coming generations.
Going forward, as Pakistanis are forced to tighten their belts, daily life challenges are set to multiply. Faced with increasingly tough times, members of Pakistan’s ruling class will need to rely on a combination of government resources combined with the force of individuals armed with the promise to make a difference.
For Khan and his followers, recognition and celebration of Pakistan’s iconic figures must become a top priority. On the streets of Pakistan, where help is badly needed by dozens of individuals, such a spirit will be the key to meeting the all too mounting and visibly formidable challenge
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.