Letters to Pakistan: Part I
I was listening to a song by the Beatles where the lyrics went ‘When I get older losing my hair, many years from now…will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?’ and it got me thinking about you. About this amazing country called Pakistan, which runs from the sea through deserts, plains and plateaus to the highest mountains in the world. A country filled with natural wonders and such beauty that you are left awestruck. Whose history runs deep and whose people are diverse, warm and hospitable; a country not afraid to be filled with colour, music and culture. I thought yes, Pakistan has all this and more, but forget about feeding Pakistan at sixty-four – we have starved it for sixty-five years.
Had we fed you Pakistan, our constitution would have not been subverted, our military would not have turned its guns inward. There would have been the rule of law with accountability and justice for all. Our forests would not have been felled and our lakes and rivers would not be polluted. We would not be living in squalor, our children would be in school and our elderly would be receiving decent healthcare. But we didn’t feed you, we ate all the fat off the land ourselves and crave more.
We starved you of thinkers, philosophers and intellectuals. We jailed our poets and artists. We labeled anyone who spoke of freedom and democracy a subversive. We decided who was Muslim and who was not, and then we decided who could live and who could die.
We allowed a new breed of interlocutors to negotiate our places in the hereafter. To decide what ingredients make up a Muslim and what happens to those who don’t measure up. We have allowed them to terrorise us. Intimidated, we allow them to dictate life to us. They come armed with their brand of religion and they tell us how to dress, speak, eat, pray and even think. Their demands grow with each retreat and our corner gets more and more crowded.
The song goes on to say ‘You’ll be older too, and if you say the word, I could stay with you. I could be handy mending a fuse when your lights have gone…who could ask for more, will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.’
It’s easy to complain and easier still, to do nothing. So on your sixty-fifth birthday I, for one, need you. I will, and I hope many others will join me, feed you. I will not support those that seek to overthrow democratically elected governments. I will force government to work, to put in place reform, to build institutional capacity, to nurture minds and develop human resource, to regulate but not run business and put in place policy that benefits all and not a few. Most of all, I will not allow others to be interlocutors between God and me. I will not stand by and let them overrun you, kidnap our children, kill our soldiers, brutalise women and minorities, destroy schools and deprive little girls from getting an education.
I am sorry we only took from you and gave nothing back all these years, but here’s hoping this year and the years after this are progressively better.
Ayesha Tammy Haq
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