Like the New Year, a birthday is usually a time for introspection and soul-searching. You go over the past year, assess what you accomplished or failed at, and resolve to work harder for your goals. While celebrating the country’s 66th birthday, did our leaders do the same? Since the leadership has changed hands, it was perhaps, a more apt time to get into some soul-searching and to outline new resolutions. But amid the political melee that continues within the numerous party lines, it is debatable how much thought is actually put into spring cleaning the cobwebs that have made it impossible to give the country a viable future.
Pakistan’s problems are numerous and way beyond the scope of this limited space to enumerate. But they aren’t insurmountable if the political will is aligned with its progress. Looking at this year’s brighter side, we can count, at least, one major ‘historic’ achievement in the year that passed. The first democratic transition of power is no mean feat. It might have been flawed, it might allegedly have been rigged and it took 66 years coming, but to state a much-cliched phrase, Rome wasn’t built in a day! This might be exaggerated optimism or just plain naivete, but in the face of all the disasters, finding a bright light is vital if we are not to be swallowed by our own despair.
In an amateurish video clip sent via email as an August 14 celebration gift, the punchline stated, “It took France 178 years to get it right … Pakistan is just 66-years-old.” However debatable, youthful or just plain silly that observation might be, it does prod one to change the perception of a glass half empty to being half full. Opinions are so jaded where Pakistan is concerned that everyone gets to hear the bad news and no one bothers to seek out the good stories.
Terrorist activities make headlines, whereas the resilience and enterprise of the average Pakistani is never mentioned. Our aspiring G8 neighbour, on the other hand, goes all out to present the colourful palette of its culture. It’s a country where problems exist in as much magnitude as the size of its land mass, but India’s booming IT industry and the dazzling success of its cinema are what the world mostly sees.
I, too, have been guilty of indiscriminate disparagement of Pakistan on many occasions when despaired by the pervading rot that almost numbs all good thoughts. It was after one such disastrous column in which I sang the enemy’s praise while lamenting our ills that I was summarily put in my place by a senior colleague. His cryptic email read, “Indians half the size in number of Pakistan’s population sleep on footpaths. And as the writer of Hard Country (I am sure you have read it) says, ‘percentage-wise more area is out of the Indian government’s control than is the case with Pakistan.’ Nobody goes hungry in Pakistan whereas in India, huge stocks of wheat are rotting in silos because Indians have no money to buy it.” He further advised me to read Praful Bidwai’s article, which documented that in India, a woman is raped every 22 minutes and a bride burnt every 58 minutes. Chilling statistics that remain obscure under the blaze of Bollywood blockbusters.
The senior colleague’s verbal thrashing, however, was enough to rearrange my perspective. It wasn’t that the knowledge of India’s evils was a new revelation, but I realised that Indians accept the rotten side as a fait accompli but boast outrageously of their national accomplishments, basking in the glory of their progress and emancipation as a nation. Despite coming from the humblest of backgrounds, an Indian will hardly ever belittle his origins.
As Pakistanis, we have forgotten how to champion our successes and instead, are drowning in a sea of notoriety publicised more by ourselves. A team of public relations strategists is badly needed to market our talents and dim the evils of our situation for the outside world. Perhaps, if someone IS making a list of resolutions for Pakistan`s 67th year, creating an effective marketing strategy would be a good agenda point. We desperately need to remind ourselves and the world outside of our worth.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 22nd, 2013.