Happy Pakistani Independence Day. Pakistan Zindabad. I hope you are all celebrating with your families and friends, eating mitthai and sharing the magnificence of Pakistan. One nation, one soul. But if Pakistan wants its soul (and citizens) to be zinda (alive) for a long, prosperous life, then it needs a new kind of independence- one of thought.
A nation which broadly follows Sunni Islam, the image of Pakistan is better defined by bitterness, greed, and jealousy. Some of you will gasp.
“A Pakistani, a British-born one, is telling me I’m bitter, greedy, and jealous?”
Well, not exactly. I’m talking about our image. That thing so many people seek to enshrine in diamonds, glittering with sacrifice, to show it off to anyone who will look.
This is the downfall of Pakistan.
It is embedded deep within our culture, and is carved out of the mountains of stone in people’s hearts. Sacrifice runs in the blood, and is spilt too easily. Our dewy complexions hide beads of sweat, glistening with the reflections of onlookers. We are not sculptures, but statues: unyielding, stuck in a time where we do not belong, a symbol of decay.
The problem within us is not the invasion of new, Western ideas (because a lot of them are not new as it is). It’s not our colonial past and our brutal separation from India. It’s not even our continuing spate of failing governments, marred by assassinations but hiding behind a thin veil of democracy. The problem is our reluctance to shape a future in which people can just get on with our lives. We need to move on, past the old, tired ideas, and make ourselves independent. We need the citizen to be separated from the government. We need the villager to be separated from the village. We need the body to be separated from the mind.
Pakistan is obsessed with what it thinks everyone is saying about them. There is an inherent suspicion within the country. Whether it’s the government and the fear of fraudulent intentions, or the neighbour who has a big mouth when it comes to your big arguments, Pakistan is trapped in an endless cycle of being suspicious and having suspicion cast upon it. The same can be said for our international reputation when the government is accused of pandering to the Taliban or other extremists. Likewise, when parents are certain that their child did something wrong because so-and-so was spreading unverified news about them, Pakistan contributes to its own demise.
Instead of worrying about what other people think, let’s focus on creating something we are proud of. A nation which is held back by backbiting is not a magnificent one, no matter how insistently you pretend it is.
If the small-scale attitudes of Pakistani communities were to improve, this could eventually lead to more trustworthy, socially responsible governments. Yet, Pakistan takes offence when anyone suggests it changes itself, much like a parent whose child makes a valid point.
I see it everywhere. However, Pakistan is damaging its future by controlling every single aspect of people’s lives.
By focussing on what others think, we chain ourselves. In a society which supposedly follows mainstream Islam, judging others rather than leaving it to the judgement of Allah is our main problem. We take too much time deciding to do things in a way others would admire, even though people with negative attitudes will pick apart even the most perfect tablecloth and say it’s stained, because no one can win that argument. You can go back and forth, arguing about how clean it is, and those with unclean intentions and a lack of capacity for rational argument will insist on saying it is dirty for the rest of their lives.
I see this matter as a not entirely straightforward one. Due to the close-mindedness of many within the community, we cannot remove ourselves from our situation and look at what we’ve done. We have raised unhappy people who then inflict their miserable judgements upon others, because they don’t see why anyone else should forgo their duty to be miserable to make everyone happy.
Duty is not necessarily sacrifice. It’s not necessarily negative and foreboding. Real duty is a positive one to ensure that we are a welcoming community of accepting people, who have our own aspirations and encourage others to reach theirs. If this is truly to be the great country everyone pretends it is, everyone, from the village to the city to the capital, needs to ensure that they focus on achieving positive goals.
Just be nice to each other. We don’t need to drag others down to be satisfied. There is nothing preserving about culture except its need to constantly change according to what we do.
Until our community realises that we are the ones responsible for the sorrow and the sadness in our lives, we will live in denial and blame everyone for our misery. No, that is wrong: we should not seek to blame, manipulate, and scapegoat anyone.
Let’s start thinking about the wider impacts of the culture we follow, and do something to ensure we raise strong individuals with individual ways of thinking. Only then can we eradicate the disease of backwardness. Let the people think freely, and be free.
Don’t you want to be happy too?
N.B. I come from a small village near Rawalpindi and visit frequently. Please do not take this as a snapshot of all Pakistanis but those who engage in backward thought.