I am Pakistan


[Click to view here: I am Pakistan]

an external view by Faraz Saleem

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As I sat at the dining table discussing my upcoming trip to Pakistan there was a sense of protection, a sense of commitment, a sense of belonging that surrounded me and the family.

The idea of visiting Pakistan for a Christian charitable mission and for the development and progress of the game I loved superseded the bad news coming out of the country.

Is the trip to Pakistan really worth it? What is the opportunity cost surrounding such a trip?

Thoughts like; will I be able to stay happy without having to see my young family for so many days never really crossed my mind.

After all, Pakistan is not a country for those with a faint heart.

Finally the day came and I flew the biggest passenger jet out of Toronto, via Dubai into Lahore. Landing early morning the airport was generally quite but filled with the “aroma” of second hand cigarette smoke.

“Welcome to Pakistan.”

First morning was a welcome breakfast; Canadian weekend breakfast of kings “Halwa Poori”, was on the menu and unlike royal food of sorts, there wasn’t much left after I was done with it.

Travel Day # 1 and off we go.

In any country, the local driving conditions are the immediate indication of the type of people that surround the area.  Road signs:  “what are those?”  Road markers:  “we don’t believe in them” says the taxi driver. You honk and make way; you protect yourself and things will be fine. Lanes are there, but no one wants to follow them.

This is the new Pakistan.

Granted things were never any better in Pakistan since the last decade that I have been visiting but the Pakistan of 2007 was much better than the Pakistan of 2011. What is the difference? There are a number of them.

Mr.10% is in charge…in a country where he can be the president then anything is possible.

Stats reveal that some 30,000 people have been killed in Pakistan in the past four years in terrorism, sectarianism and army attacks on the terrorists. The number of attacks on the Pakistan heartland is on the rise and Pakistani terrorists have gone global in their ambitions.

Is this a place for me to be…I mean, really, come on, I have a young family at home!

Then the need, urgency and deterioration of our people, the vastly marginalized and “technically diminishing” minority population forced me to stay on & stay focused.

Pakistan has yet to answer the age old question… “am I an Islamic state or a Democratic Republic?”

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, made it clear that he thought Pakistan should be a country for Muslims, not an Islamic country; however all religions will be welcomed and will enjoy equal rights.

Since inception, however, every Pakistan government that has failed to deliver has used Islam as a crutch.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned alcohol. Zia Ul Haq, legitimise his military coup by pledging to islamise the country.

And the list goes on.

During Musharaf’s time I would hear news regarding the availability of a senior military officers in every government building who would hear your complain and treat your fairly, or at least he tried.

I heard stories about new educated police officers who considered earning an honest wage their top priority then to be mudded by bribery.

This I did not see in 2011.

The government is useless; democracy in Pakistan has been subverted by patronage. The two main parties (Muslim League and PPP) are now family assets. One leaves, or dies, and an automatic successor is appointed.

What age are we living in? The dark ages, the mughal rule or …? I thought we left all of this behind hundreds of years ago!

One such successor to the throne, President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari, who is president only because he married into the Bhutto clan.

When Pakistan desperately needed a courageous political gesture in response to the murders of the governor Salman Tahseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the president failed to attend their funerals.

If this is the level at the top of the tops, then what do you expect from the general population?

In a decade where most of Asia has leapt ahead, Pakistan has lagged behind. Literacy is at an all time low, inflation is high, unemployment is at its highest and the dreamers are a large.

Nothing wrong in dreaming…didn’t Martin Luther have a dream?

Eventually some dreams materialize and form something glorious however I wonder if the next few decades will do any wonders for Pakistan.

In a poll conducted by Pew Research Centre, 80% of Pakistani Muslims are in favour of stoning people who commit adultery and 60% of Pakistanis consider United States a bigger threat to their existence then Pakistani Taliban (15%) or India (18%).

And this is the country where I am encouraging development. Whatever happened to the billions of dollars US, UK and other countries have pumped into Pakistan for development programs.

On surface, I don’t see any improvement for that kind of money so how far will my mere thousands go, asked my opposing side. The dream is young, I fought with myself; we shall try and give it a chance.

And try we did, SEED (society for education & economic development) (www.seedpak.org), setup its first foreign visit and 3 Christian schools in the outskirts of Lahore as these kids are the future.

If Pakistan can curb its enthusiasm to take over India, cut its military budget and spend even half of that on education, economic development will come. Foreign investment will flow; expats will return and the middle class will be re-established. The land of the 4 seasons may actually get a 4 Seasons.

This is in no way a statement that can change the foreign policy of a nation but spending on education can never go wrong and the men in power can only try.

In the interim, as Pakistan works its way from history into the future, simple folks like me can only agree to be stopped and searched several times in a mere 25 minute drive to the airport; whereas assassins and suicide bombers are never search until the deed is done.

I also agree, or am forced, to go through narcotics, customs and passport control at the airport whereas my friends with “approach”, “cash” and “status” are whizzing past without any checks.

Small things like clothing for my new born daughter and simple pieces of wood glued together (cricket bats) are considered commercial items and I am asked for a token of appreciation for the diligence of the officer’s in charge (bribe) in order to allow them to pass.

Giving bribe is not part of my mission, so I don’t agree…that brings the wrath of the custom gods and I am not allowed to carry any baggage… “Have it all shipped” they say.

And that’s exactly what I did, you will not suck my blood…if only every Pakistani could stand for their rights…it would be a great country to live in!

Pray for Pakistan!

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