Don’t judge Pakistan too hastily

Reading a few articles exhorting people to donate to the Pakistan floods, I literally feel sick by the hateful and ignorant comments posted on the articles. A case in point is an article by Ethan Casey that appeared in the Huffington Post. The comments range from paranoid Pakistan-bashing (‘what unites Pakistanis is their hatred of India’) to more widespread concerns about corruption and terrorism.

A few days ago I had read another article in the Telegraph titled ‘Pakistan suffers- but our wallets remain closed‘ and the comments on that one just horrified me because they were so downright racist. In stating their objections to helping out Pakistanis, some people had gone into everything they hate about Pakistanis and Muslims.

I realize that these may be some of the most ignorant and bigoted people out there and perhaps a minority. But when the majority of the comments are so hateful and people are ‘recommending’ (similar to the ‘like’ button on facebook) the nastiest ones, you just stop and wonder: Is this what the majority of the people out there think?

Maybe being surrounded by amazingly tolerant and respectful people at work (and before that at uni), I’ve developed a naive understanding of the world devoid of people’s prejudices.

Of course I also have to face the reality that things don’t grow in a vacuum. People who comment on the corruption or links to terrorism in Pakistan have some basis in reality (albeit exaggerated). I don’t want to get into all the structural arguments for why we are where we are, but it really saddens me to think that this is what my country has been reduced to.

Perhaps people’s short memories would make them believe that Pakistan has always been like this. But that’s not the case. And it doesn’t have to be either.

Yes, we’ve been a politically fragile developing country for most of the 63 years of our short history. But there have also been great moments. We’ve seen periods of remarkable growth and stability. Pakistan has produced some world famous inspirational people and the country has a lot to offer at so many different levels. It’s not all been perfect and I’m not glorifying the ‘past’. I’m just trying to put things into perspective.

Most nations go through periods of ups and downs. Afghanistan was a relatively ‘normal’ country in the 1960s showing similar development levels as its neighbours and look where it stands today. As late as 1990s, Iraq had one of the highest literacy and life expectancy rates in the Middle East along with its rich cultural and civilizational heritage (I’m not brushing under the carpet the abuses of the Saddam regime) and we know what’s become of it today.

On a positive note, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world in the 1950s and today it’s one of the strongest economies in Asia. Not too long ago, Ireland was mired by terrorism, instability and poverty (and some really horrible stereotypes were associated with that nation too) and today it is a respected member of Europe.

So all I’m saying is: let’s not give up on Pakistan so easily.

What’s happening in Pakistan?

Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. Every day there seems to be some blast or bad news. As I said previously, the day that goes by without incident is considered out of the ordinary and a blessing. We dread watching the news and live in constant fear of what’s going to happen next. Those of us who are abroad but have families back home are also constantly making sure the recent incident wasn’t in “our” area. Hareem’s comment on my previous blog likening us to OCD-affected chickens constantly counting their young ones is comical but very apt.

What is particularly demoralizing about the situation is that deep down many of us feel there is little we can do to change anything. As soon as you start deciphering the problem, you run into conspiracy theories. Which is why people like Zaid Hamid who’re talking about Indian/Zionist involvement all the time, much of it rubbish I think, have become so popular in Pakistan. But while not everything can be explained away with conspiracy theories, there is a lot of dirty stuff that IS going on. CIA/FBI involvement, ISI’s incompetence (or complicitness?), Blackwater agents, Zardari’s collusion, Rehman Malik’s incompetence, Gilani’s inconsequence, Haqqani’s subservience–the game is being played at such a high level that an average person feels at a complete loss as to what we could do to improve the situation, except pray.

And then we realize that life would not be worth living if we give up and fall into hopelessness. So then we bounce back thinking whatever little “good” I can do, let’s do that and leave the rest to God. We give money to education, volunteer in IDP camps, support patriotic initiatives, dream about a better future.

I really hope, though, that that’s enough in the long run. Sometimes I have the suffocating feeling that it might not be.

Terrorism literally hits home

I called home today to find out that a blast had taken place near our residential area. Wardah, my sister, said the blast made the house windows shake. It occurred outside the Naval Complex in Islamabad. One guard died while two others were injured (inna lillahe wa inna ilaihe raajioon). My family lives opposite in the PAF complex.

Hearing about the blast, my first thought was “Where is Zunu?” My sister Zunaira studies at the university inside the Naval Complex where she was at the time of the blast. To my surprise, their classes went on as scheduled and she was still in university at the time I called a few hours after the blast. Thank God no one was harmed but I’m surprised there was no evacuation of students.

What really surprises me about my reaction was how calm I was. A suicide bomb blast occurred less than a kilometer away from my family and I after the initial shock and sadness, we quickly progressed on to other topics even laughing and joking during the course of the conversation. Now I feel there must be something very inhumane and almost inhuman about that. Have we reached such a high level of desensitization that we are no longer shocked at anything? Has the constant turmoil and bad news made us apathetic? The fact that only one person died is considered good news. One person DIED. How is that good news? To keep sane and go on with life, have we become stripped of the basic attribute that makes us human– empathy?

Everything has now become relative and the day that passes by without a bomb blast is considered out of the ordinary. That more than anything really disturbs me.