Many decades ago, Faiz sahib wrote an essay on the culture of Pakistan. It was perhaps the most comprehensive vision of the Pakistani identity, which was inclusive, democratic, respectful and, I daresay, secular. It was a fascinating mosaic from pre-Islamic heritage to its Muslim identity and inspiration, with the local cultures of the Pashtun, Punjabi, Baloch and Sindhi.
Tragically, today Pakistan is caught between two extremes and multiple variants, suffering for the want of that vision. What are these extremes? The first extreme comprises those who want to take Pakistan into the Middle Ages by imposing a theocracy based on their own interpretation of Islam. To them, Pakistan is the world’s sole Islamic nuclear power, which everyone is out to destroy. Islam to them is the answer to all the problems facing Pakistan. They are prone to using terms such as ‘westoxified’, ‘peons of the west’, ‘liberal fascists’ and ‘paid slaves’ for everyone they disagree with. A variant of this extreme wants to wage a 1,000 year war against India and is given to such slogans as “Bharat se rishta kiya; nafrat ka intiqam ka” (Relationship with India: hate, revenge). A slightly different variant wants to bring back the Khilafat. Inevitably, all these extremes are pro-Taliban and believe that anyone fighting the Taliban cannot be a martyr. Meanwhile, the same people support the complete extermination of the Baloch citizens of Pakistan.
The second extreme consists of self-styled ‘freethinkers’. To them, everything about Pakistan is wrong, starting from its creation. Their standard of ‘liberalism’ is not a person’s position on such things as women’s rights, minorities’ rights or equality of citizenship but whether or not you are willing to denounce Pakistan as a country. Indeed, in this group, unless you reject Pakistan in toto and become a self-hating Pakistani, you cannot be considered a meaningful member of humanity. Essentially, what they want is for Pakistan to disband its army, give its nuclear weapons to India and just roll over and die. Invariably, they believe that while Waziristan should be bombed out of existence, Balochistan should be declared an independent state as soon as possible. A variant of this extreme believes that the root cause of all that is wrong with the world is Islam the religion.
These two extremes have a symbiotic relationship with each other. Without one the other cannot exist. Both essentially agree with each other’s narrative without accepting it. In the process, these outspoken extremists on both sides marginalise all other opinions in the middle. Here I would like to state a few facts for both sides to consider: Pakistan exists and it is here to stay. Its disintegration is in no one’s interest. A great majority of the people of Pakistan is emotionally attached to and derive their life’s inspiration from the religion of Islam but it does not mean that they would accept the imposition of a theocratic dystopia on their heads. It also does not mean that Islam will cease to play an important role in their lives. Pakistan is a multicultural and multi-religious country. Imposition of an identity or a narrative that does not accommodate its multicultural and multi-religious nature will always be a failure. The Pakistani nation — one and indivisible — comprises Baloch, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashtun and countless other ethnicities, all of whom are part and parcel of what makes us Pakistani. Each language that is spoken in Pakistan is a Pakistani language but Urdu is our lingua franca, our common tongue with which we communicate with each other. Islamic ideology, if there is such a thing, can only mean justice, fair play and equality, and any attempt to narrowly define this ideology would mean unmitigated disaster. Pakistanis are proud of their men and women in uniform but we shall never again accept a uniformed president. Belittling the sacrifices of our soldiers because of four unthinking generals who derailed democracy in this country is not acceptable. And, finally, Pakistan must always be a democracy. Without democracy, Pakistan ceases to be Pakistan.
During the course of the few years that I have been writing on these pages, many have queried as to why I speak up for the Ahmedis. It is because in this patriotic community, I have always found a genuine love for this country despite all the persecution they have to face. They — much more than our ‘freethinkers’ who, mind you, have always been beneficiaries of this country’s lopsidedness — have genuine grievances against the country but have you ever seen an Ahmedi question the existence of the country or abuse it? Every August 14, their buildings are lit up and the flag of Pakistan flies high. The Ahmedis’ contribution to Pakistan’s creation, existence and survival are second to none. They still pray for this country because they believe that it is their own country. Though many of our countrymen hate them, it has not turned them into self-hating Pakistanis.
There are many Pakistanis — many of them Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims of every kind — who reject these extremes and all their variants. Ultimately, as Pakistanis we have every right to exist as an independent and honourable people. The two extremes that hold us hostage cannot be counted upon to deliver us from this quagmire because, at the end of the day, they are too self-serving and self-engrossed to care about this country. It is us — the middle Pakistanis — who reject both those who hate the world and those who hate ourselves, who will ultimately have to take control of Pakistan’s destiny. This will be our Pakistan; the Pakistan of tomorrow.
While the human spirit craves for liberty at all ages, its yearning peaks in youth. The youth are ...