I want my country back
The News, Islamabad, Friday, April 17, 2009
Eight years ago I boarded a plane to the United States to come to college. I was 17. As I left, my father hugged me and told me to never come back because he believed that soon Pakistan would not be a country fit for me to live in. I told him he was trying to save money by not having to buy me tickets to come home. We laughed it off. I hugged him goodbye and that day my father and I began our great debate about the fate of Pakistan. Abba told me to stay away. I defied him every time. I came home twice a year. I only flew PIA. I refused to do an internship in the US I worked every summer in Pakistan. I moved back when college ended. I started work in Pakistan. I worked two jobs because there was so much to do and not enough time to do it in. I was inspired and energised. I was hopeful and optimistic.
Today I am neither. And I have lost the debate with my father about the fate of Pakistan. The Parliament by endorsing the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation (NAR) has heralded the end of Pakistan as I knew and loved it. Today, the elected representatives of the people turned Pakistan into Talibanistan. Today we handed over a part of the country to them. I wonder how much longer before we surrender it all.
Today we legislated that a group of criminals would be in charge of governing and dispensing justice in a part of Pakistan according to their own obscurantist views. They have declared that the rulings of their courts will be supreme and no other court in the land can challenge them. They have also declared that their men that killed and maimed innocent civilians, waged war against the Pakistani army and blew up girls schools will be exempt from punishment under this law. A law that does not apply equally to all men and women is not worthy of being called a law. Hence today we legislated lawlessness.
What was most disturbing was the quiescence of the Parliament to this legislation. The utter lack of debate and questioning of this ridiculous legislation was appalling. The decision was not informed by any independent research or expert testimony, and to my knowledge none of the parliamentarians are authorities on matters of security, rule of law or regional conditions in Swat. This signals disturbing possibilities. Either our politicians are too afraid to stand up to criminals or maybe they don't possess the foresight to gauge the national impact of this action. There is no hope for a country led by cowards or fools.
How can one be hopeful about the political future of a country where the will and the wisdom of politicians becomes hostage to the threats of barbarians? How can I be optimistic about a country where doyens of the media like Ansar Abbasi hear the collective silence of the parliamentarians as the resounding support of the people of Pakistan, but are deaf to the threats issued by the Taliban to anyone opposing the legislation? How can I feel secure in a country where the army, despite receiving the largest chunk of our resources, cannot defeat a bunch of thugs? How can I expect justice when there are different laws for different citizens, and I as a woman am a second class citizen? How can I be inspired by a country where there is no culture, no music, no art, no poetry and no innovative thought?
How can I be expected to return to a country where women are beaten and flogged publicly, where my daughters will not be allowed to go to school, where my sisters will die of common diseases because male doctors cannot see them? How can I be expected to call that country home that denies me the rights given me by my Constitution and religion? I refuse to live in a country where women like me are forced to rot behind the four walls of their homes and not allowed to use their education to benefit the nation. By endorsing the NAR and giving in to the Taliban, Parliament has sapped my hope and optimism. Parliament has dealt a deathly blow to the aspirations of the millions of young Pakistanis who struggle within and outside the country, fuelled by sheer patriotism, for a peaceful, prosperous and progressive Pakistan.
When there is no hope, no optimism, no security, no justice, no education, no progress, no culture – there is no Pakistan. Maybe it is because I am the grandchild of immigrants who was raised on stories of hope, patriotism and sacrifice that even in this misery I cannot forget that Pakistan was created to protect the lives, property, culture and future of the Muslims of the Subcontinent. It was not established to be a safe haven for terrorists. We fought so that we could protect the culture of the Muslims of the Subcontinent, not so that we could import the culture of Saudi Arabia. Our ancestors laid down their lives so that the Muslims of the Subcontinent – both men and women - could live in a land free of prejudice, not so that they could be subjected to violent discrimination of the basis of sect and gender.
Maybe it's because I'm competitive and I don't want to lose the debate to my father, maybe I am afraid to lose the only home I have, or maybe because I love Pakistan too much to ever say goodbye – I hope we can remember the reasons why we made Pakistan, and I hope we can stand up to fight for them. I hope we can revive the spirit of national unity of 1947 and lock arms to battle the monster of the Taliban that threatens our existence. Talibanistan is an insult to my Pakistan. I want my country back. Pakistan Paaindabad!
The writer is pursuing a master's at Princeton University. Earlier, she attended Yale University. Email: stariq @princeton.edu
Seerat Hazir's response
"I am curious to find out which Pakistan she wants back. The one created by the British with the help of wealthy and influential feudals and nawabs as a gift to the Americans to serve as a pawn in the cold-war games after the 2nd world war? The one ruled successively by military dictators, aided and abetted by a conniving nexus of corrupt bureaucrats, politicians, industrialists, and devious feudals that many of us were privileged enough to be related to, getting our passports and driving licences made without standing in sweaty queues? The one that created a two-class system: the haves and the have-nots?
"…We are being over-simplistic by focusing just on the Taliban phenomenon, conveniently just mentioning in passing - almost as an after-thought, almost as something you pick up from a souvenir shop at the end of a trip to tell friends back home that you had been there - the real problem stemming from the imperialist greed – the fountain-head of all this violence and self-destructive frenzy which seems to have taken over the dispossessed of the world. It doesn't take much intelligence… to understand what's happening here in Pakistan at the moment. Here is how it goes, more or less:
"The US and allies decide to cut the Pak army and ISI down to size (re-read Washington Post, since Obama). Obama admin decides to deal directly with the civilian govt and bully the army into playing second fiddle. Aid is made conditional. Transparency is demanded. Pak Army tells the US, well, then let the civi govt take care of the war on terror. Within weeks things begin to happen: Taliban blow up 200 Nato trucks, and practically force the Nato command into looking for alternative supply routes into Afghanistan. They can't be stopped for some mysterious reason. Taliban take over Swat and are seen patrolling cities and towns with impunity, and they can't be stopped for some reason. FM radio stations start spewing out extremist propaganda and they can't be jammed for some odd reason. Girl schools are burnt down, video of a young girl being flogged ruthlessly by frothing fanatics pops up to remind everyone what Taliban are capable of. Rumours are sown in diplomatic circles in Islamabad that Taliban are just behind the peaceful Margallas, a mere 100 km from the diplomatic enclave, and, more disturbingly, Kahuta. Nazam-e-adl is given the nod. All this is stage-managed by the Army in connivance with a puppet parliament, to remind the Americans and their allies how things will look if the army is not supported and financed the way they want it. This was a trailer shown to the men on the Capitol Hill who already have their ears cocked for such news from Pakiland. Officials and generals scurry back and forth. A deal is struck and Hallelujah! General Kayani appears on the front pages on April 25, reiterating his resolve to fight the war on terror to the bitter end. The Taliban Tide begins to ebb back to its mysterious origins. Thanks be to Allah, the All Merciful.
"Pakistan (read pak army) again points the gun to its head and gets its demands. Only someone with eyes misted over by April showers can fail to see that Taliban of Swat is the other side of the ruling elite led by the army: the side that will flip into broad view once the US decides to take on Pakistan a la Afghanistan and Iraq. I don't know whether it's misguided sincerity or plain escapist ideology that defines the activism of most of our more enlightened academics here and abroad. I only wish if all that painstakingly acquired scholarly wisdom were focused on unmasking the real culprits and their local and foreign cohorts, and identifying ways and means to move towards some kind of a solution, rather than joining the popular chorus written and directed by the western media. and which is sure to bring the crowd to its feet. The only solution lies in paving the way, through word and deed, for greater provincial autonomy and breaking the colossus of a corrupt federation controlled and manipulated by a greedy, all-powerful army.
"You and I are a sorry, confused product of a somewhat privileged class which directly or indirectly benefitted from the elitist culture cultivated by the establishment in cahoots with their foreign masters; a product of the unjust system which gave us an unfair advantage over the marginalized masses. Time now, if there's still any left, to look back at all the injustices we had partnered in silence; raising our voice only where and when it suited us, as long as we could scamper back to our privileged existence, to the 6 O'clock appointment with the dentist after the 4 sweaty hours spent in robust activism at Regal chowk. The real question is not what we should do about Talibanisation: it's what we should be doing to challenge and change the system which serves as a nursery for such carnivorous flora. But, sadly, we can't tear ourselves away from our `qatil' that Faiz wrote about, because he is our 'hamdam', our benefactor, too: Better blame a bunch of misguided, bearded fanatics with their shalwars hitched up above the ankles, sporting a Gotcha jacket, and be done with it.
"Wake up and smell the shit in our own pyjamas, and don't be fooled by the Taliban Cafe smell that the western machinery and its vendors in Pakistan so eagerly want us to wake up to."