LAHORE EDITION 03/05/2001
Three Visitors before Eid
There have been a couple of observations made by three visitors to this
blessed town of ours that make me think we need to do a rethink on where
we're heading as a nation. I suppose the problem is that we've had a rather
rough time for about a decade or more, politically, economically and
Politically, I can't think of anyone who hasn't had some hopes
disappointed or even shattered. If you're a PML or a PPP supporter, you've
seen your parties thrown out of office twice apiece, and while in office,
they've not come up to your expectations (except perhaps for the first Nawaz
government). If you're a fan of one of the smaller parties, whether it be
the Jamaat Islami, Tahirul Qadri, Imran Khan, Hamid Nasir Chattha or
whoever, your party hasn't been allowed by an ungrateful electorate to get
into power. It's difficult to think of any political leader who has emerged
from the last decade with his reputation enhanced. The only long shot left
to try is Farooq Leghari's Millat Party.
Economically, who can claim to have done well consistently over the last
decade? If cotton farmers make a killing one year, it's been wiped out the
next. Sugar mills do well a year or two, and then get bogged down for the
next three. In fact apart from the IT sector, I can't think of a single form
of private enterprise, whether it be the corner shop or the largest
industrial group in the country (whichever it is) which hasn't seen more
hard times than good.
But coming to the remarks thrown out by various speakers. The first I was
told by a friend, himself in from the USA on a visit, Big Moose, now Dr
Musadiq Masood, and as respectable a citizen these days as we were once
disreputable together. Moose had to do with the tour by visiting
Congressmen, and he told me that Representative Jim McDermott had remarked that Pakistanis were more self-assured than Indians.
Now Congressman McDermott knows Indians better than he knows Pakistanis.
It was his first visit to Pakistan, after several to India. He's the Co-Chair of
the House India Caucus, which is basically a group of pro-Indian
Congressmen. He's also a psychiatrist by profession, so even if his
observation is based on a brief visit, it is an informed insight.
Frankly, maybe we've been bashing ourselves too much. We've been overawed by all of that propaganda on Zee, about Indian progress in IT, its forex reserves and its huge defence budget. But the impression that Indians make on foreigners is of having a chip on the shoulder, of a certain hostility,
of inwardness. On the other hand, we Pakistanis apparently come across as
friendly, welcoming and looking out of our shell.
Perhaps one reason is that India is still very far from where it wants to
go, which is to become a world power, while Pakistan is where it has always
wanted to be, an independent nation left to get on with its collective life,
and not bothering anybody else.
Emotionally, Indians are inward-looking, but realise intellectually they
have to engage with the outside world.
Sure, we've got problems galore, but at least our aspirations are
reachable. In a way, all of that worry about what is going to happen is
perhaps exaggerated. Of course, some of the insidious Indian propaganda
about Pakistan being a 'failed state' has been at fault. If you introduce
the idea, then you bring it forward as a kind of virtual reality. Even
denials keep the idea before the mind. Imran Khan NEVER, I repeat NEVER, indulge in match-fixing. See what I mean? The idea Of Imran Khan being involved in match-fixing has been raised in your mind.
In that context, it was interesting to note Dr Riffat Hassan coming out
very fervently with an affirmation that Pakistan was not a failed, or
failing, state. Very much a daughter of Lahore, she's been a professor of
comparative religion in the USA for a quarter of a century, and is a
powerful exponent of the Muslim liberal tradition that starts in the
Subcontinent with Sir Syed and passes through Allama lqbal. We've reported her Leadership Lecture at our offices earlier, but her comment, that
Pakistan is not a failed state, in response to senior people in Islamabad
who said it was, reflects the difference in mindset between us, who are
disappointed at the decline in day-to-day life, and visitors, who still see
a shadow of the vibrancy and dynamism that infused the Pakistan Movement.
And finally, there was the foreign diplomat from an East Asian country,
whom I won't identify, probably because I wouldn't like a friend of
Pakistan's like him to get in any sort of trouble. He made the same point
about Pakistanis, but he did seem to regret that we weren't realising our
potential. It wasn't just disinterested.
His country, like all East Asian countries, is constantly looking out for
trade opportunities; the only difference is that he and his staff help their
entrepreneurs, unlike ours, who make all the objections.
So on this Eid, after a lot of gloom, I feel a little better about my
country and my town than before. Maybe Our Beloved Chief Executive and his merry bad of heroes will not destroy the country entirely; maybe there'll be something left behind for us to build a better future with. In fact, if we
believe our visitors, there surely will be.