August Issue 2012
Letters to Pakistan: Part I
To commemorate Pakistan’s 65th anniversary, Newsline requested Pakistanis to write a letter to their motherland. From columnists to chowkidaars, fashion designers to milkmen — the letters trickled in. Read on…
Let me remind you that you were created to be a prosperous homeland for the ‘minorities’ of the subcontinent who were subjected to prejudice and persecution. You were supposed to be a welfare state to serve and protect all your citizens equally.
Please recall that awe-inspiring moment when your founding father, Quaid-e-Azam M.A. Jinnah, made the following promises:
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan…You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State…. and you will find that in due course Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State”
Let me state plainly, with my heart filled with pain, that you have failed to be the promised-land even after 65 years. Here the mosques are bombed, temples are demolished and the ‘places of worship’ Jinnah spoke of are in ruins.
You have banned a non-Muslim from becoming head of state (Article 41-2) and from being eligible to be elected Prime Minister (Article 91-3). Religion, sect, caste and creed play a decisive role in your territory, and its citizens are certainly not treated as ‘equal citizens of one state’. A citizen, for instance, cannot get an identity card or passport unless he/she apostatises another citizen. Your courts are bound to sentence a ‘minority’ to imprisonment and even death for propagating or practicing certain beliefs that may ‘hurt’ the ‘majority.’
Dear Pakistan, you have unfortunately become a home, a safe haven for people who proudly march towards a colony to “make mincemeat of the Christians” without being stopped by anyone, including your law enforcement agencies. And the self-proclaimed custodians of your ideology slaughter Shia Muslims with impunity on a daily basis.
It seems as if you are comfortable with the beheadings, massacre and forced conversion of minorities. If not, why is your media silent towards such atrocities? Why are your otherwise omnipotent and omnipresent security forces failing to protect your citizens? How long will your elected government excuse itself saying “our hands are tied” and peruse its ‘policy of appeasement’ when it comes to safeguarding the lives of ethnic, sectarian and religious minorities?
The Baloch are being killed, and hundreds of others have gone missing just because they demanded their due rights. Meanwhile, the law enforcement agencies respond only by blaming a ‘foreign hand’ for all the human rights violations taking place in your poorest but largest province, even while the Supreme Court recently stated that there is plenty of evidence indicating involvement of the security forces in forced disappearances.
The Pakhtuns are subjected to mass murder at the hands of your strategic assets — the ‘good,’ ‘naÃ¯ve’ and ‘angry’ children you have fostered for assorted agendas — i.e. religious zealots.
And the Hazaras are being put under ‘house arrest’ after a decade of being subjected to an ongoing murderous campaign against them. Your self-proclaimed lovers and defenders are killing these Pakistanis, almost every day, just because they are a minority in the Land of the Pure.
We are not free. Not to worship and increasingly clearly, not even to live.
My grandfather told me a pre-partition story.
A family lived in a village in central Punjab with a Hindu and Sikh and Muslim population. There were Shias and Sunnis among the Muslim community, but they didn’t realise that they were Shias and Sunnis because they always stood together against the Hindus and Sikhs and an occasional gora police officer. My grandfather’s story involved the annual Tazia procession, the bonhomie among the Muslim boys, and their absolute determination that the Tazia procession would march in front of the village mandir despite the police order that prescribed a different route for the procession. So each year at this time, everyone got arrested. The way my grandfather told the story, it seemed that this was the most amusing thing that had ever happened in the village. Every male over the age of sixteen was arrested. And there were so many of them, that there was no place in the police lock-up. “The police handcuffed us in pairs and left us in a field,” he told me. “We could walk around, but each of us was tied to another person, which kind of became our jail.”
My grandfather was handcuffed to a Shia boy. Although they were together in their cause, my grandfather didn’t really like him. “So every fifteen minutes, I’d say I needed to go and pee. And of course he’d have to come with me, sit down with me. By the end of it he was begging the policemen to handcuff him to someone else.”
They were all released the next day. More than half-a-century later, my grandfather still chuckled when he remembered his day in the field and the miserable Shia boy.
My mother told me a partition story.
It is also a story about my grandfather. And this story is so common, has so many versions, has been told so many times in films and novels and memoirs, that I always wonder if this is what really happened to my mother, or was it just a story that she had heard from a girl who had heard it from another girl. But here’s the story anyway: A few days before the partition, when it still wasn’t clear if our grandfather’s village was going to be part of India or Pakistan, at a time when riots had already started, all the girls from the family were marched to the village well. “If Hindus and Sikhs attack our village, you all must gather at this well and jump into it,” my grandfather told my mother and the other girls in the family.
It didn’t come to that. The village fell to Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs were chased away. Apparently nobody had to jump into the well.
I don’t remember asking my mother if she would have jumped into the well along with the other girls if there had been an attack.
There are no morals in these stories. They are both about minor irritants during the birth of a country..
But dear Pakistan, these days it does seem as though every evening we are marched to a well and reminded that that we must jump into it if they attack us. ‘They’? The problem is that the list of potential attackers has grown as large as the country itself.
Meanwhile, every day, we manage new ways to torment the person handcuffed to us, we drag him for a pee that we don’t really need to take.
I hope all is well with you. On this, your 65th birthday, I wanted to write a long letter congratulating you on your achievements. But how can I? Where have you come: you are now a pimple on the face of the world that refuses to go away. I remember you being quoted and known as the most dynamic young Muslim nation that people looked up to, and your airline’s slogan ‘Great people to fly with’ made us proud. Now, on the national carrier and in the Land of the Pure alike, it’s more like “great people to die with.” From the most progressive airline in the world which trained others, and uniforms from designers like Hardy Amies who designs for Queen Elizabeth, to Pierre Cardin, the renowned Parisian couturier who designed PIA’s second uniform, and Madam Carven in the seventies, the airline has now become an international pariah. But why expect anything different when you, its motherland, have evolved into a convoluted nation of contradictions, with cheap politicians and even cheaper clerics who have raped you in the name of religion.
Not that you never made us proud — with your sons like Abdul Sattar Edhi, Dr Abdus Salam, Nusrat Fateh Ali, Mehdi Hassan, Imran Khan, Jehangir Khan, Aisam ul Haq, and many others. Not that you haven’t shown the world intellectuals, authors, artists and directors like Bapsi Sidhwa, Hanif Kureshi, Sadequain, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, and many others. But these have always been your lone soldiers, shining beacons emitting solitary rays. And what have you done for them except at best, give them awards, and that too conferred either by a military dictator or a corrupt politician, or much, much worse, excommunicate them and leave them to perish on alien soil as you did to your only Nobel prize winner, Dr Abdus Salam.
It is sad that in your history you have always selected the wrong person for the job. It is sad that instead of becoming the Dubai or Singapore you could have become, you have turned into a banana republic. I cry for you, Pakistan, for I fear that in my lifetime I will not ever see you happy and prosperous, that I will always see you with a begging bowl in hand , lying to the world and trying to get more money from anywhere you can, at whatever expense to yourself, to fatten the bellies and pockets of your so called sons, parading as leaders.
And so I am amazed by the resilience of your people, how they manage to survive in this country, where the snap of the fingers of one of your illustrious sons shuts down the seventh largest city in the world.
And yet, Pakistan, I will always love you for what you have given me, a sense of belonging, fame and respect. For me you will always be home. But sadly, I don’t know if my kids would say the same thing. For them the greener pastures they will aspire to are not your fields of hay and barley, the sweet fruit of success will not come from the mango trees of my childhood. For them, I imagine those will be the Canadian maples and for them the greener pastures of Central Park in New York.
For as minority citizens, could they ever really call you home?
I remain your humble son,
While the common populace continues to suffer and starve to death, you continue to bestow your wealth on the few who happen to rule over you. Kia nahin hain unke paas? Lekin phir bhi woh log lootnay men lagen hain; corruption men lagen hain. (What is it that they lack? But still they loot and plunder; they do corruption). Your children want to do something for you, but that is only possible if there is equality, when the law enforcing agencies are unbiased, when there is a guarantee of justice for all, and when there is a sense of security and liberty. Sadly, these are missing in you. One such incident took place before my eyes when the very person who had taken an oath to be true to you took a bribe of a mere 50 rupees — and that too in Ramazan a few minutes before iftar. You and your situation could even turn a believer into a cynic. But this is not to say that you are not great — you are a very great nation. However, a nation is defined by its people, and you, Pakistan, could succeed only if your people, including me, were to get better. Sadly, your children have lost their patience; everyone is frustrated now.
As a son of your soil, I pray that the rulers here get better and start thinking about the poor people too.
I was listening to a song by the Beatles where the lyrics went ‘When I get older losing my hair, many years from now…will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?’ and it got me thinking about you. About this amazing country called Pakistan, which runs from the sea through deserts, plains and plateaus to the highest mountains in the world. A country filled with natural wonders and such beauty that you are left awestruck. Whose history runs deep and whose people are diverse, warm and hospitable; a country not afraid to be filled with colour, music and culture. I thought yes, Pakistan has all this and more, but forget about feeding Pakistan at sixty-four — we have starved it for sixty-five years.
Had we fed you Pakistan, our constitution would have not been subverted, our military would not have turned its guns inward. There would have been the rule of law with accountability and justice for all. Our forests would not have been felled and our lakes and rivers would not be polluted. We would not be living in squalor, our children would be in school and our elderly would be receiving decent healthcare. But we didn’t feed you, we ate all the fat off the land ourselves and crave more.
We starved you of thinkers, philosophers and intellectuals. We jailed our poets and artists. We labeled anyone who spoke of freedom and democracy a subversive. We decided who was Muslim and who was not, and then we decided who could live and who could die.
We allowed a new breed of interlocutors to negotiate our places in the hereafter. To decide what ingredients make up a Muslim and what happens to those who don’t measure up. We have allowed them to terrorise us. Intimidated, we allow them to dictate life to us. They come armed with their brand of religion and they tell us how to dress, speak, eat, pray and even think. Their demands grow with each retreat and our corner gets more and more crowded.
The song goes on to say ‘You’ll be older too, and if you say the word, I could stay with you. I could be handy mending a fuse when your lights have gone…who could ask for more, will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.’
It’s easy to complain and easier still, to do nothing. So on your sixty-fifth birthday I, for one, need you. I will, and I hope many others will join me, feed you. I will not support those that seek to overthrow democratically elected governments. I will force government to work, to put in place reform, to build institutional capacity, to nurture minds and develop human resource, to regulate but not run business and put in place policy that benefits all and not a few. Most of all, I will not allow others to be interlocutors between God and me. I will not stand by and let them overrun you, kidnap our children, kill our soldiers, brutalise women and minorities, destroy schools and deprive little girls from getting an education.
I am sorry we only took from you and gave nothing back all these years, but here’s hoping this year and the years after this are progressively better.
Ayesha Tammy Haq
For you, Pakistan, we are trying to do well. What is good ought to be done and it ought to be done in a good way. Sadly the majority of your sons and daughters are poor; they are unable to contribute towards your well-being even if they wish to: they can barely contribute to their own. Most of your citizens can, in fact, hardly feed themselves even once a day.
I came to Karachi in 1980. Things were different then. Zia’s regime was good. There were businesses that were booming. However, since that time, all the governments, civilian or otherwise, have not been able to do as well. Hum bas abhi aas laga ke bethay hain (we wait and anticipate) that someone who is not corrupt and educated comes and leads the population and takes it out from this bottomless pit, which grows darker by the day. Just about 10 minutes before iftar, I saw a woman being robbed of all her belongings. Even the food she presumably bought for iftar was taken. She started crying. If that is the condition Muslims have come to in Pakistan, what can I expect for myself and my family who belong to a religious minority?
This series of letters was originally published in the August issue of Newsline as part of the cover story under the headline “Letters to Pakistan.”