Utilizing our strengths to the maximum in these testing times

Posted on July 22, 2010

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By Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin

It goes beyond doubt to believe and mention that Pakistan today is passing through a very critical stage of its short life of being an independent nation-state.

While targeted killings, along with rising street crimes have impacted civilian life in Karachi and Balochistan, interior Sindh has been partially engulfed by long-standing and unresolved clashes between its various regional tribes.

While Lahore has been visited upon by a fresh wave of terrorist strikes in recent months, the civilian government of the Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif and governor Salman Taseer has been constantly ignoring the threats posed to the people of Pakistan by  the Punjabi Taliban.

In the northern and tribal areas of the country, the Pakistan army has been heavily engaged in fighting a well trained insurgent force commonly referred to as the Tehreek-E-Taliban Pakistan, or simply, Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani Taliban which is actually a consortium of many other terror outfits which have united in order to further their agenda of killing many thousands of innocent people in Pakistan and abroad, had paralyzed civilian life in the country’s northwest before the army launched the Rah-E-Rast military operation (Operation Black Thunderstorm) to flush out these hardcore militants.

Add to that, the sheer economic and political mismanagement which has been the established hall-mark of the current People’s Party led federal government. This economic mismanagement, has  had  a catastrophic impact on Pakistan’s economy as businesses in cities such as Sialkot, Faisalabad, Karachi and other places have been deeply affected because of bad and ill-planned government policies, budgets and taxation regimes.

However, this is not the end for the country.

During my more than two years of stay in Australia, I have had the good opportunity of  interacting with other Pakistani expatriates hailing from all over Pakistan and to take a birds eye view on our country’s population, cultural, linguistic and racial demographics. In Pakistan itself, I have had connections and friendships with a diverse group of people who are based in many different regions and cities.

I have also had the honours of traveling widely across Pakistan. All the way from Rashidabad (in interior Sindh), which is a multi-billion dollar orphanage facility that is providing world-class services to children who have lost their parents, to the beaches of Gadani (in Balochistan) and from there, to the great city of Lahore.

From Lahore, I have traveled through the federal capital Islamabad to most of Pakistan’s northern areas and some parts of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhawa province, which include Skardu, Naran-Kaghan, Kalabagh, Murree, Hunza, Gilgit and Peshawar.

These detailed traveling experiences and my diverse interactions with Pakistanis living overseas, convinces me of one thing—our people need to harness their real strengths in order to steer the country’s ship through these testing and trying times.

These real strengths include our cultural diversity and immense reserves of untapped natural, mineral and human resources, without which we may not be able to economically or socially develop our nation.

Routinely, people in Pakistan and the world outside are inundated with a stream of negative and terrifying stories coming out of the country through the news media
(specially Pakistani media), which often finds it very hard to engage in balanced reporting.

While it is understandable that our local news media would require more time to learn from many of its past mistakes and breaches of journalistic ethics, on the other hand, it would not be wrong if the Pakistani people and the international media also shed some light on what Pakistanis have achieved over the last many years and that where do our strengths as a nation, really lie.

It needs to be understood, highlighted and appreciated that despite the constant terror attacks and the ongoing economic malaise, corruption and political instability over the last 15 years, Pakistan has continued to produce some of the greatest and best cricketers, writers, musicians, singers, software programmer and students that the world would ever get to see.

Despite the difficult circumstances of the post 9/11 era, Pakistan yet managed to produce high-quality internationally renowned writers like Mohsin Hamid, cricketers like Mohammed Aamer and Umar Gul and singers and musicians like Atif Aslam and Ali Zafar over the last ten years.

Achievements of individual Pakistanis who have done their bit to improve the country’s image internationally should be celebrated and appreciated in meaningful ways.

Our people should understand that our strengths lie in being proud of cultural, racial and ethno-linguistic diversity which should be protected, celebrated and nurtured using a wide range of platforms. It is this immense diversity that has the potential to add the much needed essence to our democratic structures and systems in society.

This cultural diversity is an integral component of our massive untapped human resources which need to be harnessed in order to propel the nation’s social, economic and political progress in the years to come.

Pakistan today has amongst the largest reserves of mineral salt, coal and other naturally found minerals in the world. The total population of Pakistanis speaking Sindhi and Punjabi as their first languages is nearly six times the entire population of Australia and twice that of the UK.

Today’s Pakistan has no dearth of talent when it comes to producing some of the best fashion designers, software programmers, writers, singers, musicians and sportsmen the world would ever see.  This can best be gauged by understanding how legends like Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Imran Khan revolutionized the art of fast bowling in cricket or by understanding the extent to which the entrance of Pakistani musicians and singers in the Indian and Middle Eastern markets changed the entire music scenes in those countries.

Pakistan’s achievements and immense contributions by no means have been limited to the world of sports and music. In the literary world, Pakistani writers like Tariq Ali, Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie, Fatima Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Mohammed Haneef have been able to strongly establish themselves as their works and ideas have been well received by an international readership. In the past, their books have been nominated for the highest literary awards of our times.

In the education arena, more Pakistani students routinely achieve highest international grades in the Cambridge university administered bi-annual ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examinations than students from any other country where these examinations are undertaken.

Industrially, it can be said that Pakistani textiles, which includes everything from the quality of cloth and fabric to colours and the diversity of designs, does enjoy genuine international popularity in Australia.  In terms of agricultural production,  Pakistan’s different rice brands are fast becoming market leaders here. If recent media reports are anything to go by, Pakistan is all set to become the world’s largest exporter of rice, which could rise to up to 3.8 million tonnes by the time the next season of harvesting ends.

In Australia, I have personally witnessed more and more Pakistani products ranging from Shan’s cooking spices to Pakola drinks and from Tapal Jasmine Tea to the finest brands of Pakistani rice and factory made textiles being imported, stocked and sold to consumers not only at Asian grocery stores, but also in the much larger Coles and Woolworths supermarket chains.

For all our endless struggles to deal with our diverse concepts of nationalism and the distorted picture of our country dished out by the Western media, ours has been a nation made up of people who know how to have a positive psychological impact on visitors coming from overseas.

The best examples of this fact are people like the American traveler and social worker Greg Mortenson, and the journalist of British origin, George Fulton. Mr Fulton, who came to Pakistan as a journalist a few years ago, now calls our country his home. He also holds a Pakistani passport.

Mr Mortenson, who initially came to our country as a traveler, has been building schools and educating young boys and girls in the northern areas. He too has been inspired and fascinated by our country and cultures.

During my stay in Australia, time and again I have met Australians and people from other ethnic backgrounds who have been inspired by Pakistani culture.  Some of these people take pride in conversing with me in Urdu. These are the people who still have fond memories associated with Pakistan that go right back to our cricket team’s victory in the 1992 world cup final, and even beyond that.

Westerners who travel across Pakistan express their pride in having traveled to places like K2 mountain and Chitral, especially at the time of the Shandoor polo festival. It is people like them who are part of the international audience and fan-clubs of great singers like Abida Parveen and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

The Europeans, Australians, Americans and others who visit Pakistan often mention that our biryanis and niharis, naans, other foods are amongst the best cuisines they would ever get to eat and that our ‘dhaba’ culture is amongst the liveliest eating out atmospheres and environment that they have ever witnessed.

Across all ethnic divisions and regions of Pakistan, the people generally have a vast variety of different answers to the pertinent question of who is a Pakistani? Our vastly divergent concepts, analyses and conclusions regarding our real national identity can be used for our country’s social, economic and political development.

Take the example of the Pathan communities of the north and their ethnic diaspora in Karachi. A long-standing cultural trait within their community is to bury old rivalries and to face common threats with a united front. Time and again we have seen this general hospitality being extended by the settled Pathans to their fellow brothers and sisters when they escape conflict ridden areas.

There is much that we all can learn from this. The need of these difficult times, undoubtedly, is that Pakistani people should think beyond ethnographic lines and work in unity, with faith in themselves and God for the genuine betterment of Pakistan as whole in order to turn it into a progressive state, as it was thought to be by our founding fathers.

This is the same lesson that the rise and success of independent charity groups and organizations teaches us. Despite the record levels of corruption, mismanagement and the general abysmal structure of political governance in Pakistan, our country has produced some of the most respected and honoured social workers and entrepreneurs of the current era. This includes the likes of individuals such as Imran Khan, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Shehzad Roy and The Citizens Foundation, (TCF).

While Mr Khan is credited to be the founder of Pakistan’s first cancer hospital and Mr Edhi is sitting the head of one of the world’s largest networks of civilian ambulances and orphanages, Mr Roy and the TCF are busy providing free but state of the art education to children hailing from Pakistan’s poorest social classes.

Mr Roy’s Zindagi For Life Trust and the TCF have erected state of the art schools throughout the poor areas in many Pakistani cities where a genuine education in English language, Mathematics, Science and computer-based learning is being given to those children who would have otherwise been begging on the streets, working in agricultural fields, at car repairing shops or would have turned up to a life of crimes, hardships and exploitations of the worst sorts.

Examples such as these, teach us  that only when we learn how to utilize our strength as a nation, that we would be able to move forward as a progressive country that can confront the multiple challenges of the 21st century with hope, optimism, confidence and faith in our own abilities and talents.

If we would like to face the challenges of today and the future successfully, then we need to rise unanimously as citizens of one nation who believe in one single goal, which is to make Pakistan a progressive nation-state in the decades to come.

The writer is an International Studies student at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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Posted in: South Asia