“In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed”. (Invictus-William Henley)
There is no better way to begin an article on Pakistan-a country that has and is facing gargantuan obstacles, has been resolutely surviving if only by a thread of unwavering spirit. Be it the recent catastrophic flooding that has affected more than 20 million people and counting, corrupt leaders, daily bomb blasts (no, this isn’t an exaggeration), continuing fighting between the army and Taliban in FATA or the sensational spot fixing scam involving Pakistani cricketers, the country is in turmoil on all fronts.
Being a citizen, I can vouch for a general sense of disillusionment one feels watching the news as we’re bombarded with sullen information from all quarters. So, what do we do? They say there are five stages of grief- Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance and most Pakistanis seem to fluctuate between these various states of minds as per the country. There is anger, bewilderment and denial followed by helplessness and finger pointing. There are questions that are never answered, consequences of decisions that were never ours and then there is more of the same. Yet, at the end of it all the only reason I believe the country continues to survive is because we, as a people haven’t lost hope-perhaps, this time the storm will be followed by some sense of calm. Or, maybe next time.
As unbelievable as it may sound, Pakistan was once touted to be the most promising country in the world in the 60s as policies allowed the economy to boom and the future was pregnant with potential.Although, nowhere near perfect, people welcomed martial law under Ayub Khan as movements such as the ‘Green revolution’ led to an increase in the agricultural trade in the world market and burgeoning growth vis-à-vis industries. Post that era however, there has sadly been not much to talk about. A democracy only on paper, the country has had what can best be described as military dictatorships with interludes of democratic rule wherein one corrupt official simply replaces another. This, in turn, has led to a vastly shrunk economy with more than half the budget being allocated to defense, huge amounts of debt, money laundering by parliamentarians and essentially a population starkly divided between the poor and rich. And as if poverty, illiteracy, a collapsing economy and a governmental façade wasn’t enough, 9/11 brought the War on Terror to Pakistan’s doorstep. Let’s just say, the worst descended into pandemonium and there has been no relief since. The government was forced to fight its own citizens in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas under the guise of stopping terrorism as more innocents were killed and conveniently labeled as ‘collateral damage’. Agitated, angry and defensive, these so called ‘terrorists’ have riled back as one suicide bombing after another rocks the country ; death is fast becoming only a statistic. This was a war that was never ours and yet, we continue to pay its price.
Not all of our problems are other people’s fault however. Sometimes, even nature partakes. The recent floods in the country have shocked the world as its ramifications are said to surpass that of the Haiti earthquake and the Tsunami this decade. The already non-existent infrastructure of these areas is now completely destroyed as even several weeks late, some people are stranded with no food or access to doctors. There are 20 million homeless people that need to be fed and taken care of by a population (I shudder to use the word ‘government’ here) already excessively burdened by runaway inflation. Turmoil? I think that’s an understatement.
Interestingly, if you googled Pakistan 10 days ago it is more than likely that words like ‘terrorism’, ‘Taliban’ and ‘flood’ would top the list. However, we now have our cricket team to thank as terms like ‘spot-fixing’ are also quite predominant in the news. I should make one thing clear before I launch into my tirade regarding such scandals and that is the fact that cricket is not considered as an ordinary sport in Pakistan. It very avidly competes with religion and that’s no mean feat. So, imagine a country heartbroken to the brink and add to it global insinuations of cheating and corruption within even the hallowed sports structure. The picture isn’t pretty. It usually never is with us in it.
But, Pakistan is a country of paradoxes and contrasts. Jemima Khan correctly points out, “I think about Pakistani society. It is an endless contradiction-hostile and hospitable, euphemistic and unambiguous, spiritual and prescriptive, aggressor and victim.” So, where we have people taking bribes at work, we have millions coming out to donate for flood victims. We jeer at our government but hope that the next time we elect the same official, things will be different. Effigies of our cricketers are burnt on the streets but if a foreigner happens to comment, we defend them to no end. We go out shopping 5 minutes after a bomb blast has racked a nearby area and we spend sleepless nights wondering how our country is going to make it through. And still, we are united by our faith and hope. Faith in the fact that hopes will bear fruit, and hope in the knowledge that our faith will pull us through. Yes, Pakistan is a country in turmoil and there can be several solutions offered to fix the problems-better leadership, education, better policies, etc. But, that’s not what matters. To me what is most important knows that we will survive this and every other hurdle thrown our way and somewhere along its course, we’ll figure it out – with a bloody but unbowed head.