Friday, April 17, 2009
I want my country back
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.
The writer is pursuing a master's at Princeton University. Earlier, she attended Yale University.
Email: stariq @princeton.edu
Related post on the current state of existential threat to Pakistani Nationhood.
Pakistan's Existential Challenge
The trouble for a country defined mostly by what it is not.
(Wall Street Journal, OPINION: GLOBAL VIEW, MAY 12, 2009)
About Iran, Henry Kissinger once asked whether the Islamic Republic was a country or a cause. About Pakistan, the question is whether it's a country or merely a space.
Mr. Kissinger's point was that if Iran were a country like France or India, its bid to acquire nuclear weapons wouldn't pose an apocalyptic threat: It would merely be seeking the bomb in pursuit of rational, and limited, national interests, like prestige and self-defense. But if Iran is a cause -- the cause being world-wide radical Islamic revolution -- then there's no telling where its ambitions end.
The world has a tough time dealing with cause countries, no matter if the causes are bad (Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia), good (the U.S.), or somewhere in between (colonial Britain and France). Even more difficult is knowing what to do about countries that are really just spaces, wholly or partly ungoverned.
Today, Somalia is a space not even pretending to be a country. The result is destitution, piracy and a sanctuary for Islamic jihadists, but little by way of ideas for how to change things. Historically Afghanistan has always been a space, defined mostly by its power to repel: The Obama administration would be smart to take this into account by keeping its expectations for nation-building low. Whether post-invasion Iraq is a country or a space remains a question, though it seems to be leaning in the former direction.
As for Pakistan, we're about to find out.
The world took note last month when a Taliban advance brought it to within 60 miles of Islamabad. But that offensive was less intrinsically distressing than the seeming nonchalance with which Pakistan's rulers, current and former, surrendered sovereignty to Islamic extremists, first in the tribal hinterlands and then in the Swat Valley.
What kind of state simply accepts that its judicial and political writ doesn't actually run to its internationally recognized boundaries? Three cases are typical.
One is a weak state that lacks the capacity to enforce its law and ensure domestic tranquility -- think of Congo. Another is an ethnic patchwork state that knows well enough not to bend restive or potentially restive minorities to its will -- that would be present-day Lebanon. A third is a canny state that seeks to advance strategic aims by feigning powerlessness while deliberately ceding control to proxies -- the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.
Pakistan's odd distinction is that it fits all three descriptions at once. It is politically weak, ethnically riven, and a master of plausible deniability -- an art it has practiced not only toward India, Afghanistan and the U.S. with its support for various "freedom fighting" groups but also, in the matter of the CIA drone attacks, toward its own people.
The roots of Pakistan's problems go to its nature as a state. What is Pakistan? Even now, nearly 62 years after its founding, the best answer is "not India": As with the Palestinians, Pakistani identity is defined negatively. What else is Pakistan? As with Iran, it is an Islamic Republic: Punjabis, Pashtuns, Kashmiris, Balochis, Sindhis and so on are only really knitted together in their state as Muslims.
No wonder the Pakistani army has been so reluctant to redeploy the bulk of its forces to the western front: To do so betrays Pakistan's entire reason for being. Tellingly, the army only went on the offensive this month after the Taliban took aim at an army convoy. Odds are roughly even that another "truce" will be agreed by the government just as soon as the Taliban draws appropriate conclusions and reserves its violence for clean-shaven men, independent-minded females and other enemies of God.
Of course the "Islamic" state that Pakistani founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah foresaw wasn't quite what the Taliban have in mind. "You will find," he said in 1947, "that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because this is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."
That vision still appeals to a majority of Pakistanis, who have repeatedly defeated radical religious parties at the polls. But rejecting clerical politics is not quite the same thing as accepting secular ideals. It's also hard to sustain republican hopes when the practical results -- in the persons of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and current President Asif Ali Zardari -- have been so consistently dismaying.
We live in an age dominated by immodest ideas of personal, national or ideological destiny, to which Pakistan has not been immune. It might consider more modest aims, like simple countryhood. And since the threat it now faces is existential, let's put the point existentially: The alternative to that kind of being is nothingness.
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