There is much to celebrate in Pakistan: its scenic beauty ranging from lofty mountains, to deserts, to incredibly beautiful valleys, to river plains, and wetlands; the range of activities it offers from skiing, to scaling high peaks, to gliding, to sailing, to desert safaris; its food which has found its way into the restaurants and kitchens around the world, and its fruits; mangoes and kinoos in particular, which are rated the best worldwide.
But it is a country at a nadir - it is hard to find anything worth celebrating in Pakistan these days. Security concerns keep all of us confined close to our homes. Yet, I want to salute its people. Not people as in politicians who over the decades have covered every vice in the continuum from inefficiency to downright corruption, not the faujis who seem to believe that this country was made for them and moved from being protectors of its border to estate developers and industrial magnates, not the feudalists who still manage their strangle-hold on the political and economic fronts of the country, not the bureaucrats who have know-towed to the government of the day only to raise a hue and cry about its doings once retired, not the business people who want more and more without even paying basic taxes, and not those who make their quick buck and invest it in dollars or euros smirking as inflation devalues the rupee.
I want to talk about people — you, me, the common man and woman — on the streets, in the villages, in the shanty towns, living a 9-5 life, struggling under the weight of a country seemingly gone hopelessly wrong. We, the people of Pakistan are hardworking, generous and forgiving.
Do not please forget we have been hard-done-by as a nation. More and more of us, 40% today, are living below poverty line. Barring a select few, the majority have either had no education, or education that has no power to earn them any money. So we have resorted to being creative and hardworking. Look at the young boys who rise at dawn to go round the city’s dustbins collecting anything that can be recycled. Plastic bags, bottles, paper…these boys are our equivalent of recycling bins. They collect and sell…earning whatever money they can however painstaking and lowly the job. Shoe-shine boys not only frequent the markets, but often go from door to door, working hard to earn their 10 rupees for each pair of shoes. Young girls work as maids, frequently carrying the sahib’s child just a few years younger than her, eating the left-over food in restaurants and homes where she is taken to mind the brat.
Next let’s talk about the women in Pakistan. You’d imagine there would be no worse fate than being born female in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. DAWN reported on Feb. 2, 2010 that crimes against women were up in the past year. However, despite the misguided religious zealots, insecure and steeped-in-tradition patriarchs and the open preference for the male child, women are struggling to get ahead. The ratio of girls in professional universities is rising. And we have had some exceptional women who, through sheer belief in their cause, succeeded in a predominantly male society: Benazir Bhutto (first woman Prime Minister), Dr. Shamshad Akhtar (first woman Governor of the State Bank), Ayesha Rabia (first to captain an all-female crew of PIA), Anoushka (trekked to the frozen Arctic region), Naseem Hameed (gold medalist sprinter), Fouzia Aurangzeb (bronze medal in obstacle race).
Generosity: Edhi’s Welfare Trust, The Citizens’ Foundation Schools, and Shaukat Khannum Memorial Hospital are only three examples of the charity we unhesitatingly give, each according to her/his capacity.
Apart from these bigger NGOs, there are literally hundreds of formal/informal organisations where mostly women are working quietly to provide some sort of relief to stressed citizens. These women seek no fame, they want no recognition: they help because it is in their nature to help.
Compare the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan to that in Haiti recently. In Pakistan, you, me and the family next door put together whatever they could afford, whatever they thought was essential for survival and simply drove to Azad Kashmir to distribute among the earthquake victims. The lumbering red-taped government moved in much later. Using personal contacts, the aid offered by the volunteers managed to reach practically every calamity-struck family. Doctors and volunteers helped with the injured and the displaced long after the initial shock was over. There was no looting, no desperate cries for water and food because to the vast majority these were provided within a couple of days by individuals. Also, more recently, with the IDPs. The contributions, in cash and kind, came from us, ordinary citizens of Pakistan.
We, the people of Pakistan, refuse to give up on what otherwise looks like a bad job. Our artists and activists are determined but non-assuming gentlemen and ladies, intent only on doing the right thing despite the force of the government of the day. We’re a perfectly competent citizenry, who'd get along just fine if we'd only be allowed to.
Say what you will, I am proud of us, our heritage and our culture. I am not proud of what has been done to my country; I hold my head high because I know we, you and I, do rise when we feel the cause is just or the government cannot or will not provide relief. Give us the ‘zarkhaiz’ conditions of Iqbal, and we can sing in the words of Rudyard Kipling:
O Motherland, we pledge to thee Head, heart and hand through the years to be.