Category Archives: Politics

Re-thinking rural education: Bringing the outside world to a village

I am from a village in rural Punjab, Pakistan. Like most other villages, my village lacks proper infrastructure. Poor people live in houses built with mud and only the rich live in huge mansions. Children of the rich go to private schools in the city but the poor parents cannot even afford the heavily subsidized government schools. They are left with no other choice but to educate their children in the village school.

Visiting my village as a kid, I remember hearing about the experiences of students in the village school. As you might or might not know, schools in villages have a multi-grade teaching system. A multi-grade teaching system is where a single teacher would teach children of different grades, usually 3 or 4 grades. However, there is only one teacher in my village’s school who teaches students in grades 1-10.

Let me show you how a typical class might look like. Here’s a cousin of mine who volunteered to teach English and Mathematics to a group of students in the village.

Imran Maken teaching a group of students

Would you ever be willing to study like that? As a parent, would you pay to send your children to study in a place like this?

Poor parents in villages have no choice. Not having a choice means they either send or do not send their children to such schools. Talking to parents and children in the village, I realized these people saw education as a need and not as a want. I saw the children sitting on the ground for hours wanting to learn new things. I saw parents forcing the children to go to these schools. Both the students and the parents saw education as they only thing that would result in better lives for them. Unfortunately, due to the unavailability of teachers, the un-friendly environment of schools and the lack of resources, a lot of children drop out after grade 5 to help their parents with other stuff.

Knowing how much students in my village want to know about the outside world and with an understanding of how education can change lives there; I have decided to use my education, exposure and experience in Toronto to take back something for them.

Most people in my village have not seen anything outside the village or they have only been to the nearest urban center. So, naturally, when I go to visit them from Toronto, they cannot stop asking me questions about the world they might never be able to go to. For a while now, I tried to come up with something which would not require them to spend resources they do not have but at the same time be able to get what they want. I found the answers in Internet. I bought a projector to make it even more exciting.

I am going back to my village in December. This time, I am not going to be doing much talking. Instead, I will let the projector, hooked up to internet, show these children all they want to know about the world that is still alien to them. The children are going to be shown a few visual documentaries and a couple of movies to get them excited about the prospects of learning they will have available to them.

The internet and projector can not only be used to educate these children but can also help in trainings for women & men in the village. For example, we can have virtual classes where someone sitting in Canada or anywhere else in the world teaches women in the village a skill or an art. I believe all of us have a unique touch, a talent. Some of us are lucky enough to have the conductive environment that allows us to discover, realize and use our talents. Unfortunately, most of the times these talents and special skills go unnoticed.

A poor kid in a rural area could be a great artist or a great painter or even a singer but due to his upbringing he or she has not been able to find time for him/herself and look within them to see what they are good at. When these children go to the village school, a person who does not care for them, their opinions or their talents, greets them. A new, innovative, friendly, flexible, fascinating classroom for these children can change the way they perceive education. Human beings are the most important resource we have and we cannot let these children and their lives go to waste. The potential is limitless. I am taking this classroom back to my village and hope for it to work successfully. If successful, it can become a role model for schools in other villages. If that happens, thousands of lives will change.

Note: If you have any ideas, suggestions, criticism, or anything else that you think will help in making this happen, I would be very happy to listen to you.


Why has the Jamaat-e-Islami failed in Pakistani politics?

Pakistan is a deeply religious country with over 95 percent of its population being Muslim (Rais, 2011, 22). Although the Pakistani military has ruled Pakistan for most of the years since it gained independence from India in 1947, Pakistan remains a democratic republic with elections being held at the national and provincial levels over the past few decades (Tanwir, 2002, 252). Democratic governments have been formed by the leftist party, the Pakistan People’s Party, and the right-of-center Pakistan Muslim League on different occasions (Tanwir, 2002, 252). Surprisingly, the Islamic parties in Pakistan have continuously failed to perform well in the general elections (Moten, 2003, 401). One would expect the Islamic parties to fare well in a country that calls itself an ‘Islamic Republic’; however, this has not been the case. Why has the Pakistani public been so reluctant to vote the Islamists to the legislature? How do the Islamic parties view the relationship between religion and politics? What kind of relationships have the Islamic parties had with democratic and military governments in Pakistan? What has caused these Islamic parties to perform poorly in the elections?

This paper will attempt to answer the preceding questions by: first, talking about the origin and ideology of the biggest Islamic party in Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI); second, the paper will present the concept of an Islamic state as envisioned by JI; third, it will talk about the JI’s track record in elections and its relationships with military and democratic governments; fourth, it will identify reasons for JI’s failure to rise to legislative assemblies. In all, the paper will discuss the strategies implemented by JI to contest elections and their vision of an Islamic state to show how their ideology and actions have led the Pakistani public to distance themselves from Islamic parties.

Jamaat-e-Islami: Mawlana Mawdudi’s Brainchild
As British rule neared its end in India, Indian Muslims became increasingly politically and socially isolated. Muslims in the Indian subcontinent were divided along ethnic lines and had failed to have their concerns addressed at the national level (Mukherjee, 2010, 322). The Muslim theologian Mawlana Abu’l ala Mawdudi thought he could use this opportunity to create a party which would work to bring all Muslims under the banner of Islam. Thus, the Jamaat-e-Islami came in to existence in 1941 to serve the interests of the Muslim community (Kumar, 2001, 274). Mawdudi believed the Muslim culture had been diluted from centuries of influence from the Hindu culture (Nasr, 1996, 6). Muslim Punjabis could relate more with Hindu Punjabis than their co-religionists in Bengal. Similarly, Bengali Hindus and Bengali Muslims had more in common than with people from their own religions (Mukherjee, 2010, 323). Mawdudi intended to remove what he thought were impurities from the Muslim culture. He called for unity amongst the Muslims and separation from the Hindu culture (Nasr, 1996, 6). In Mawdudi’s eyes, the Jamaat-e-Islami was not just for the Indian Muslims but rather the Muslim umma (community) at large. The vision was pan-Islamist in nature and Mawdudi hoped his party to transcend the national boundaries to encompass all peoples and countries (Jackson, 2011, 79). Initially, Mawdudi had rejected the creation of an independent state for Muslims but later moved to Pakistan after its independence. He dreamed of making Pakistan an Islamic state, a model, that the rest of the Muslim states could emulate (Mukherjee, 2010, 331). To the dismay of Mawdudi, his party and its supporters, this dream would not only fall short of coming true but Jamaat-e-Islami’s transformation from a social movement to a political party would result in embarrassing election outcomes.

The Jamaat-e-Islami was to be led by an amir (leader) and consisted of the Majlis-e-shura (consultative assembly) and the members of the party. The members were required to be pious Muslims, with a morally upright character (Moten, 2003, 392). Even non-members were divided into different groups based on their closeness with Jamaat’s ideology. Those who sympathized with the goals and objectives of the Jamaat, hamdard, were held in the highest rank followed by mutahtir, those who recognized the Jamaat’s mission as a positive influence. The lowest ranked amongst the non-members was reserved for mutaarif, those who had been introduced to the objectives of the Jamaat but had not been influenced or become sympathizers (Jackson, 2011, 76). The shura or the consultative assembly of the party was responsible for policy formulation and involved a rigorous process of debating. Only once a consensus was developed among all members would the policy be adopted (Jackson, 2011, 78).

The vision of an Islamic state
Roy Jackson in his book ‘Mawlana Mawdudi and Political Islam’ writes “Mawdudi portrayed the Jamaat as the moral guardians of Pakistan: a holy community that did not dirty its hands in the mud of political wrangling” (Jackson, 2011, 71). Indeed, the JI initially limited its role in Pakistan to spreading Islam’s message and social work for the refugees who had migrated from India (Ali, 2010, 220). However, it did not take long for Mawdudi and his party’s position to change. In 1948, the JI initiated a campaign to establish an Islamic state and involved itself in the country’s politics. Nonetheless, JI sought to achieve its objective only by acting as a pressure group (Ali, 2010, 220). The aim of Jamaat-e-Islami was to bring an Islamic way of life in the country and Mawdudi wanted to prove the it to the world that Islamic laws could exist in any age (Ali, 2010, 221). It is important to note that Mawdudi believed for these Islamic laws to work, they needed to be implemented along with Islamic principles of tawil, qiyas, ijtehad, ijma and istihsan (Ali, 2010, 221). The first step towards building an Islam State, Mawdudi believed, was the declaration of the following statues by the constituent assembly of Pakistan (Ali, 2010, 223):
(1) That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God almighty and the government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent;
(2) That the basic law of the land is the Islamic shariah which has come to us through our Prophet Mohammad;
(3) That all those existing laws, which may in conflict with shariah shall in due course be replaced or brought into conformity with the basic law and no law, which may be in any repugnant to the shariah, shall be enacted in the future;
(4) That the state, in exercising its powers, shall not be competent to transgress the limits laid down by Islam.

The Islamists believed an Islamic state was the only answer to Pakistan’s problems. They saw Islam as not just a religion rather a complete way of life. Mawdudi’s concept of the legislature was based on the “concept of shura (consultative assembly) and on the institution of ahl-al-hall wa’l –aqd (those who unbind and bind)” (Nasr, 1996, 94). He also wanted to have an Islamic constitution implemented in Pakistan. Mawdudi viewed this constitution to be a constantly evolving document based on neither a fixed sharia nor on any other existing document. According to Mawdudi there were two kinds of laws; on the one hand there were those laws that were unalterable and on the other there were laws that could be changed according to the needs and requirements of the state (Nasr, 1996, 99). These latter laws could be changed by invoking the Islamic principles of tawil (hermeneutic interpretation), qiyas (logical reasoning), ijtehad (independent inquiry into Islamic law), ijma (collective consensus) and istihsan (invoking the spirit of the sharia in novel circumstances). This Islamic state was divided into four groups consisting of male Muslims, female Muslims, Zimmis (followers of a religion recognized by Islam i.e. Christians and Jews) and non-Muslims. In this state, citizenship would be offered to Muslims all over the world (Nasr, 1996, 99).

The transformation of JI into a political party
During the partition of India, princely states were given the right to choose to side with either India or Pakistan. Kashmir, a princely state, with a majority Muslim population was expected to join Pakistan but the Hindu Maharaja of the state decided it would accede with India. Pakistan, in response, declared jihad (holy war) against the Indian army in the territory. Mawdudi, a scholar on the subject of jihad, disagreed with the Pakistani government on terming the war a jihad and went on to make his criticism public. This resulted in his arrest along with the arrest of other Jamaat leaders (Jackson, 2011, 71). The arrest of its party’s leaders forced the JI to move into the political arena indirectly taking part in the elections that were going to be held in the province of Punjab in March 1951 (Jackson, 2011, 73). Even though JI did not field its own candidates in the election, it supported those it considered as pious Muslims. As the Jamaat did not consider the Pakistani government to be Islamic, taking part in the direction albeit indirectly seemed somewhat hypocritical. JI was trying to become a part of the government it considered un-Islamic. This did not sit well with some of the members of the JI but the meeting of the shura ended up giving the party a go ahead to support pious candidates claiming it was trying to prevent the election of corrupted people to the parliament (Jackson, 2011, 72). The candidates that the Jamaat supported ended up losing. Nonetheless, JI had never been this close to the political circles prior to these elections.

Mawdudi was released from jail in 1954. In 1957, he decided that JI would contest the national elections due to take place next year. This decision was made after realizing that it was impossible to create a significant change without making Pakistan an Islamic state. To make Pakistan an Islamic state, the mandate of the people had to be won; to win this mandate, elections had to be contested. This was an important drift in JI’s perspective. From the view that by changing individuals you bring a change in the society, JI was now focused on bringing a change to the society in order to reform the individuals (Jackson, 2011, 73).

JI during democratic and military rule
Before the JI could make its debut in Pakistani politics, General Ayub Khan brought a military coup in Pakistan. Khan was seen as a secular figure who intended to keep religion separate from politics (Jackson, 2011, 74). In order to make Pakistan into a modern state, he passed the Muslim family laws in 1961. These laws abolished unmitigated polygamy, gave powers to the women by making it compulsory for husbands to seek their wives consent for a second marriage, and abolished the practice whereby a husband could divorce his wife by saying talaq (divorce) three times (Jackson, 2011, 75). Seen as very progressive and in contrast to the traditional understanding of Islam, JI strongly opposed these laws and tried to put pressure on Khan to repeal them. General Khan did not give in to JI’s demands but had to look to the leader of the party for support during the 1965 India-Pakistan war. He appealed to Mawdudi to declare the war against India a jihad in order to legitimize the Pakistani army’s actions and to raise the morale of its soldiers (Jackson, 2011, 75). At the same time, JI decided to attain more political strength to protest liberal laws like the Muslim Family Laws.

The stage finally came for JI to test its political strength in 1970. Ayub’s successor, Yahya Khan held general elections in 1970 in which the Jamaat took part (Jackson, 2011, 75). The JI had gone in with much hopes of capturing power to fulfill its dream of an Islamic state but was faced with an embarrassing election result winning only 4 out of the 300 seats in the national assembly (Kumar, 2001, 272). All Islamic parties together, the JI, Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamiat Ulama-e-Pakistan (JUP), were only able to secure 13.95% of overall votes cast (Kumar, 2001, 272). Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), won the elections. Bhutto, who had campaigned for the elections under the banner of socialism, was criticized by the religious parties as being anti-Islam while socialism was called a ‘godless’ system that was in opposition to the teachings of Islam (Jackson, 2011, 75).

The results of the 1970 elections had dejected Mawdudi forcing him to return to his original vision of the Jamaat where it only existed as a holy community, in a domain separate from politics (Jackson, 2011, 75). Mawdudi and JI would have seen the 1970 elections as the last blow to their vision of an Islamic state had General Zia-ul-Haq not come to power. Zia-ul-Haq, after bringing down Bhutto’s government and imposing martial law in the country, offered hope to JI and Mawdudi for the establishment of an Islamic state. Mawdudi was appointed as a senior statesman during Zia’s rule and the process of Islamization of Pakistan began. Consumption and selling of alcohol was banned and strict laws on sex outside marriage were imposed. General Zia also put in place sharia benches temporarily removing the existing British law (Jackson, 2011, 76).

General Zia finally fulfilled his promise of holding general elections for the national assembly in February 1985. These elections were on a non-party basis with candidates still receiving backing from different individuals and parties. These elections saw the defeat of many of the candidates supported by General Zia and his political allay, the JI(Kumar, 2001, 272). The next elections were held in 1988. In these elections, the JI joined forces with other Islamic parties. The alliance of the religious parties, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), was defeated by the Pakistan People’s party with the JI only winning 8 of the 26 seats it contested (Moten, 2003, 402). The JI faced a similar result in the 1990 general elections. It ended up with just 3 per cent of the popular vote in the National Assembly elections, 4% in the North-West Frontier province, 3% and 0.8% in the provinces of Punjab and Sindh respectively (Kumar, 2001, 273). The Jamaat-e-Islami repeated its poor performances yet again in the next two elections that were held in 1993 and 1997 receiving 6.75% and 1.83% of the percentage of total votes cast respectively (Tanwir, 2002, 252).

It was only in the general elections of 2002 that the alliance of religious parties ended up with a considerable number of seats in the parliament (Tanwir, 2002, 252). The percentage of total votes cast for the religious parties increased from less than 2% to almost 11% winning them 46 seats in the national assembly. The religious alliance for the first time in Pakistan’s history formed a majority government in the province of North-West Frontier (Tanwir, 2002, 252). The increased support for the religious parties was linked to the religious alliance’s anti-American slogans that had been used to exploit people’s emotions after American forces had entered the bordering territory of Afghanistan. However, as the most recent elections of 2008 have shown, the Pakistani public has taken back the mandate from the religious alliance and elected a semi-secular party, Awami National Party (ANP), to form a government in North-West Frontier replacing the religious alliance (Goodson, 2008, 11). The religious alliance once again ended with a dismally low of 2% of total votes cast.

The beginning of the end for JI
While some of JI’s own policies resulted in its failures, there were factors beyond the party’s control that also contributed towards its poor performance in the elections. The JI started off as a platform for Mawdudi’s ideas. However, later conflicts developed on the objectives and vision of the party. JI as a political party had to make certain compromises that did not go in parallel with its ideology. For example, in 1965, JI was supporting Fatima Jinnah for her presidential campaign against Ayub Khan even though it was against Mawdudi’s views on the social role of women (Nasr, 1996, 44). Moreover, by siding with General Zia after the fall of Bhutto’s regime, JI showed its willingness to work with authoritarian regimes to achieve its objectives. This created an unfriendly relationship between the JI and other political parties.

As a pressure group, JI had done well in having the government respond to their concerns and demands but because of its hardline approach, JI as a political party failed to gain popularity at a national level. Even though Mawdudi tried to create unity under the banner of Islam, the different sects within Islam undermined the role of Islam as the uniting force. In addition, some of the off-shoot groups of JI became involved in militancy and sectarianism (Kumar, 2001, 278). Kumar (2001) states “These organizations which divided the Islamic political forces, fuelled extremism and sectarian violence, and further alienated the people from religious politics.”

With a very rigid membership criteria, the JI limited its scope of becoming a party of the masses. It could only field limited number of candidates due to the increasing requirements of closeness to religion by the members (Moten, 2003, 403). Another missing feature in the speeches of Mawdudi and JI’s strategy was a viable economic plan (Nasr, 1996, 50). The JI leaders were active in criticizing socialism but did not have a sound economic plan of their own except resorting to Islamic teachings about creating a just society. Vali Nasr (1996) writes Mawdudi “worried less about economic liberation than about preserving dress, language, customs for they were essential to safeguarding Muslim culture”. These vague and abstract principles did not seem to attract people who ended up voting for other mass parties.

To the defense of JI, it can be said that almost all democratic and military governments that have come to power in Pakistan have tried to use religion to advance their own interests. All wars were termed as jihad to legitimize the states actions and to gain support from amongst the masses (Mukherjee, 2010, 338) Also, JI could not spread its roots at the national level due to closed political structures of Pakistani politics. When Pakistan is not under martial law, its either the Pakistan People’s party or the Pakistan Muslim League that is in power. These parties contest elections by fielding candidates who are either feudal or business tycoons. Votes are forced or bought. On the other hand most of JI’s candidates come from the middle class and only rely on Islam’s message to attract voters.
The birth of ethnic parties like the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that focus on advancing the interests of a particular ethnicity also lead to a decrease in support for religious parties (Kumar, 2001, 273). With Pakistan moving towards modernity and a larger population of the country being educated, JI has even fewer prospects of doing well due to its hardline approach towards Islam and its views on the minorities and women. According to the founder of the party, Abu’l Ala Mawdudi, “only 5 percent of the Muslim population of Pakistan were enlightened about Islam, 90 percent were illiterate with blind faith and the remaining 5 percent had been corrupted by Westernization” (Moten, 2003, 396). Perhaps, it is only the 5% enlightened Muslim population of Pakistan, as Mawdudi put it, who have been able to relate with the ideology of JI and vote for it.

The JI has not only failed to achieve its objective but also moved away from it while trying to make compromises to achieve political success. With a huge Muslim population, Pakistan remains a country where religion is very important. However, while people would like to see god fearing politicians, they would not like religion to be the basis for all the political decisions. For parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami, it is better to act as pressure groups, keeping a check on government’s policies by voicing concern where the policies are found to be in contrast with Islamic teachings. A democratic government will allow these voices to be heard in order to reach an understanding. The JI’s electoral misfortunes should tell us that the dream of establishing a shariah state is, if not impossible, unnecessary and unwelcome in Pakistan. The politicization of Islam and Islamization of politics will only lead to the abuse of religion for political purposes and vice versa.

Ali, Sheikh Jameel. Islamic Thought and Movement in The Subcontinent. New Delhi: D.K Printworld, 2010.
Goodson, Larry P. “The 2008 Elections.” Journal of Democracy, 2008: 5-15.
Jackson, Roy. Mawlana Mawdudi & Political Islam. New York: Routledge, 2011.
Kumar, Sumita. “The role of Islamic parties in Pakistani Politics.” Strategic Analysis, 2001: 271-284.
Moten, Abdul Rashid. “Mawdudi and the Transformation of Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistsan.” The Muslim World, 2003: 391-413.
Mukherjee, Kunal. “Islamic Revivalism and Politics in Contemporary Pakistan.” Journal of Developing Studies, 2010: 329-353.
Nasr, Seyyed Vali Reza. Mawdudi and The Making of Islamic Revivalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Rais, Rasul Bakhsh. “Pakistan.” Political Insight, May 23, 2011.
Tanwir, Farooq. “Religious Parties and Politics in Pakistan.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 2002: 250-268.

Pakistan under apartheid?

Apartheid was the official policy of the South African government until the year 1990.  The National Party had introduced apartheid after being elected to power in the elections of 1948. Apartheid called for the separation of the white population of South Africa from its non-white population. Laws were put in place to exclude black people from voting, public places and even traveling inside South Africa. Inter-racial marriage was not permitted and considered as an offence. Apartheid was finally removed in 1994 after the African National Congress (ANC) led by Nelson Mandela reached a resolution with De Klerk the President of the South Africa and the head of the National party (NP).

Growing up in Pakistan and witnessing continuous injustice towards a particular section of the society, I have started to believe apartheid still exists. It exists in Pakistan between the rich and the poor. I see a wall, a divide, and segregation between the two.

Sarfraz Shah was shot dead at point blank range by the law enforcement agencies a few days back in the city of Karachi. The incident was recorded on camera which brought some attention to his death. While looking at the video and the way Sarfraz was being pushed around, I felt as if he were some other species.  Sarfraz was a human being and yet he was not like you and me. His only fault was that he was poor.  Similarly, a few months back, a relative of mine was walking towards his house when a few drops of paint fell over his clothes from the top of a wall that was being painted. He looked up towards the person working on the wall who apologized immediately. This relative of mine went on swearing at the laborer. After a point, the laborer swore back. My relative took out a hand gun and shot him in the head.  The laborer was left there to die and (I am ashamed to say this) my relative roamed around free as if it were a bug he had shot at. Again, the laborers only fault was that he was poor.

These and many other such incidents happen in our society on a regular basis. Very few are recorded on the camera. Hardly any victim gets justice. Our politicians come and make a few fancy statements against such incidents. The media talks about it for days. A commission is formed and we move on. No one addresses the underlying causes. Once our emotions die away and they do with time, no one cares anymore. We have to take a more proactive approach and take action before these things take place. Crying over someone’s death or forming a commission serves no real purpose. It is superficial justice.

In the rural areas of Pakistan, the land lords sit on high-rising chairs while the poor, the peasants and the farmers are made to sit on the ground or ‘peeris’- low rising stools. This is done to remind the poor of their position in the society. These customs are there to instill fear in their minds. So many places in Pakistan have different cutlery for the poor and the rich. A friend of mine rightly said, a few people in Pakistan are citizens, others are just subjects.

All the laws and all the law enforcement agencies we have work towards protecting the rich from the poor. The poor have no big houses, or property or wealth that needs to be protected. They have no money that they can use to bribe or silence anyone. The sad reality is that if Sarfraz Shah came from a rich family, he would never have been shot like that. The sad reality is that if the Sialkot brothers were sons of a politician or a wealthy businessman, police wouldn’t have stood there watching them being tortured.

We keep asserting how Islam treats everyone equally and yet there are no signs of equality in this society. The poor only find solace in their religion as it promises them a better after life. This keeps them from rising against their masters and rulers. If anyone, it’s us the fortunate portion of the society who have to stand up to all the injustices towards the poor. We have to give those a voice whose voices have been suppressed. We have to give those people hope who have been shunned by the society. We have to give those people an opportunity who have the potential but find all doors to progress locked. We have to free those people who have been chained by the society. We have to free those peasants who have been enslaved by the landlords. We have to provide equal opportunity to all regardless of their social status, their religion, their ethnicities and their backgrounds.  Justice has to be based on merit and not money. It is never too late to change. If we still heed to Imam Ali’s saying, ‘societies can run without God but not without justice’, we can steer our society towards the right direction.  If we remain satisfied with what we have, if we only care about ourselves, if we let things be the way they are, our society will never change.

Islamic Republic of Pakistan

(If Pakistan were a person)

Don’t start judging me by my name. Please, for a moment, forget everything you have previously heard about me and put everything you know about me aside. Give me a chance to talk a bit about myself and then feel free to form your opinions.

So I have been in the news lately and you might have noticed. It is possible one of your friends mentioned me in a conversation or you heard a politician say my name. Whatever the source of your information might be, it is likely that the content wasn’t positive. Unfortunately, I have become known for a lot of bad things. Popular belief is, I am a terrorist. I have been accused of violating human rights by many several times. Many have blamed me for not having done enough to fight extremism. Fingers have also been pointed at me for sheltering dictators.

I will understand if you look at me with disgust. I realize no one likes to associate themselves with someone with a reputation like mine. My own children have left me and I am not surprised if strangers want to distance themselves from me.  However, I would appreciate if you give me some of your time today to hear my story. To save your time, I promise to keep it simple and short.

Let’s start with where the problem started. I became independent in 1947. I had grown big enough to live by myself but the struggle to become free wasn’t easy at all. There were many bumps along the road and many unexpected turns that I was forced to take. My children toiled with me for independence as all of us realized its worth. In the process, a lot was lost but there was a lot more to be gained that kept us moving forward until one day we became free. However, not too long after we became independent, something very unfortunate happened. The vision of our independence was blurred.

People started to attribute different reasons for our independence. It wasn’t so shocking to see outsiders attribute false claims but my own children had started to give dangerous colors to the partition. Soon, I was given a name by my children that became my identity. Even though I loved my middle name, ‘Republic’ and my last name, ‘Pakistan’, I always felt uncomfortable with my first name, ‘Islamic’.

I never wanted a faith to be associated with me. To me all my children were equal irrespective of what their personal belief was. I was aware that my children spoke various languages, had different faiths and followed different traditions. I knew differences amongst my children existed but I had hoped, perhaps naively, that they would accept each other as there was a fundamental bond between them. All of them shared the same mother.

As time passed, I found out my children had started to betray me and my vision for independence. They had started bringing out differences and imposing their views on the others. My vision of a pluralistic society where everyone lived peacefully together was put in the background. I found out soon that my own life’s story had been distorted. It had been tailored for personal interests. I had spoken of the protection of all religions, but as I was revealed, some of my children had associated my views to a particular religion. These children also seemed to have taken the right to correct others in their own hands. It became more obvious as some of my children started to be mistreated. They were denied the right to talk about their faith in public and even stopped from calling their places of worship by the names they wanted to.

This mistreated group of children included a great scholar as well. His name was Abdus Salam. Abdus Salam was a genius. He took my name to countries and places, I was unfamiliar with. Because of him people happened to want to know about me. They started to praise me for producing such a great scholar. I was so proud of him for setting an example for other children to follow. Little did I know that his success wasn’t liked by all. Religion was brought in to undermine his contributions and so his achievements were submerged by his own siblings.

Another thing I couldn’t come to terms with was that while some of my children were spending their money on luxurious items and vacations, many were begging for food. No one was helping each other out. Those who had the money had shut their curtains and were enjoying their meals in their air-conditioned rooms while others stood in the heat waiting to be fed. Those who had the education had it for themselves, no one cared to cater to the illiterate. Similarly, I noticed that some of my children had started using religion to control others. There were a few attempts by those with the guns to rule through fear too.

Mosques, which were supposed to unite, started creating divides. So much so that there were different mosques built for different groups. One had to prove their membership of a certain group to be allowed into the mosque. The house of God became the property of individuals and some children took the duties of God in their own hands. The sight of equality eventually vanished and tolerance started to disappear. The bonds began to fade away and differences started to fill in the vacuum. My beautiful daughters were forced into marriages and told they were somehow less important to the society than men. The society shaped their identity in such a way that people looked down upon them.

The dream of independence came true but only as a nightmare. My dreams had been shattered by my own family. I was betrayed by my very own children. This gave an opportunity to my neighbors to exploit my weak position. Some came forward to show concern only for personal interests. Some shunned me completely. Yet others kept telling me I had to do more to be accepted.

Only if I could tell the world, I didn’t want to be what I am today. This is not why I was born. This is not what I wanted to be known for. Only if I could tell the world, I wanted to be known for producing squash champions like Jehangir and Jansher, for producing great scientists like Abdus Salam, for respecting all religions, for fostering democracy, for creating equality, for removing gender bias. Only if I could tell the world, all these things are as dear to me as they are to you. Only if I could say it to the world, all my children are being blamed for the faults of a few. Only if I could show the world, my children are nice people. They just need to be guided through education and not punished with drones. If you still mock my condition, at least don’t doubt my intentions any more.

I hope I haven’t taken much of your time today. I hope I made sense. It was very hard to talk against my own children. I had to hold my emotions back while saying all of this. I am glad though that I took it out today. I realize it’s only the mother’s blind love which ruins its children. I have already been blamed for so many things. This one more accusation wouldn’t have made a difference but I care for my children and I did this with only their good in mind. May be somewhere, one of my children has heard me, and seen him/herself in my true image.

Just remember, it’s never too late. We only go down to come back up even stronger. Remember, it’s your responsibility to help your brothers and sisters who are in need. In need of education, of food, of justice. You don’t have to be scared of them being dependent on you. They just need a chance, a push, an oppurtunity. Remember, religion is your personal relationship with God. Don’t let it come in between your interactions with anyone. Remember, remember the sacrifices we made for independence. Let’s value them and work towards reaching our true potential. Remember, I will always have hope in you. You are the only thing I have.

Keeping the Jazba alive!

In the past week, my news feed on facebook has been full of people posting videos, pictures and songs about Pakistan. Some have put the Pakistani flag as their profile picture; others have put pictures of their favorite players up. As the India Pakistan game approaches, fans on both sides of the border are getting ready to watch what is going to be a great game of cricket and a strong contest. In fact Pakistanis all over the world are there in spirit to support their team. They are sending out strong messages to the Indian team, constantly talking about Pakistan and their team’s potential. There have been tweets talking about the excitement and the emotion surrounding the game. People are seen in green shirts, proud of their country.

Once this game is over, once the emotions fade away, once people have cooled down and the profile pictures and the statuses are back to what they were before. Once the cricket fever goes away, will we Pakistanis give up on Pakistan? Will we stop talking about our country? Will we stop supporting it? Are we going to stop putting pictures of our flags up? Are we going to disown Pakistan?

It seems like we only want good things. When our team is doing well, we start owning our country, proudly calling ourselves Pakistanis and wearing our colors in the public. However, when there are bomb blasts, when there is unemployment, when there is corruption, when there is illiteracy, when there is the violation of human rights, we seem to disown Pakistan. We stay quiet about our nationality sometimes even ashamed of our origin.

Only in good times we stand with our country. In all the bad times we forget who we are, where we come from and what we can do. With the given situation in Pakistan, I have come across many Pakistanis who have told me they have no hope from the country. Some have given up hope and said they know things will never change back home. I have always disagreed. In a nation of 170 million people, I see unlimited potential. I see hope, I see talented painters, architects, artists, engineers, doctors, cricketers, scientists and social activists. I see all of this in the common Pakistani. I see this in more than 99% of Pakistanis who want to live normal lives, who go to work every day, who want their children to attend good schools, who have nothing to do with terrorism.

To change things in our country we have to start taking ownership. As Pakistanis all of us have to own Pakistan and play our roles as responsible citizens. By owning Pakistan I mean we should think of the country as our own property and not as someone else’s land. Like we wouldn’t leave a close relative in a bad time, similarly our country can not be left like that in bad times. We have to be there for it. We have to change this country. We have to change all the bad things happening in it. We are the ones to give it hope not to give up hope on it.

What Shia, what Sunni, what Pathan, what Mohajir, what Sindhi, what Balochi, what Punjabi, what Siraiki, if all of us can unite to support our cricket team, why can’t we unite to save our country. These differences that exist amongst us, these ethnicities and sects which create a wall between us, which divide us, are nothing but artificial barriers. Our team has players from all parts of Pakistan from all the different sects and all the different ethnicities. Our team has shown us what we can achieve when we unite. Our team has shown us victory is possible. The team management might be inefficient, our players might have been banned for spot-fixing and other charges, but the team has been able to come out all of it stronger than before.

Pakistan has made into the semi-finals of 2011 World Cup, a place hardly a few expected them to reach before this world cup started. Against all odds, we beat the team which had won the previous three world cups. On Wednesday we will play India, our biggest enemy in the cricketing world. We might lose, we might win but irrespective of the result of the game, we will have learned some useful lessons. Irrespective of the result, we will have seen that there is hope, there is unity, and there is the passion and the spirit to succeed, to come out of darkness and shine. We will have seen that with good leadership, things can change, things will change. Even when the world cup is over, I want to see people putting up pictures of the flag, wearing their colors and united against all the forces which seem to divide us.  I want them to be proud of their country as proud as they are on their team’s success.

In the end, I would like to quote John F Kennedy who said in his presidential address in 1960, ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’. Perhaps, it’s time for us to start doing that.

The Land of Pure Hypocrites

Perhaps when people say you realize someone’s worth when he/she is gone, they are right. Salman Taseer had never been a man I admired but he is an inspiration for me after this death. His death came to me as a surprise at first and a shock later. That he was attacked by his own security guard is what surprised me and the reason behind the attack is what shocked me. Many people in our society have closed doors to any debate or dialogue and have seemed to find a remedy for dealing with anyone with a different opinion. That is by killing him. All that our religion teaches us about using reason to acquire truth has gone down the drain and all the things our religion advises us against are seen to be stuck with us. The death of Salman Taseer is meant to act as a deterrent for those who wish to speak out against such injustices. It is meant to scare us with the fear of silencing us forever.

I only knew Salman Taseer as Governor Punjab. Like everyone else he wasn’t a perfect man. He had done and said things which had angered many. However, to justify his death on the basis of his views on a man-made unjust law and difference of opinion is barbarianism. There are many questions which come to one’s mind looking at the killing. Did Salman Taseer not know what he was saying could lead to his death? Was he so immature of a politician that he would say something so politically incorrect? Was he stupid enough to not realize that very few in his own party are behind him on these words? He knew everything. He knew about the dangers he had dived into. He did it because it was the right thing to do. Salman Taseer spoke the truth and died for it defending it.

More shocking for me was to see the reaction to the assassination. While anyone’s murder cannot be justified on any grounds, it was upsetting to see a section of the society rejoicing the murder just because his views differed from theirs. Many embraced the killer as a hero. So much that the fan page of the killer on facebook had 2500 fans only in the space of an hour. Let’s not forget these people were from the relatively well educated section of the society. Unfortunately outside facebook many more sympathizers for the killer are present in other places of the society. There has always been a presence of such people in our society but this recent incident shows their extent of infiltration. Today these people are all around us. This should come out as a big challenge to the very few balanced and rational people of the Pakistani society but what these people find comfort in and what the jahil forget is that a lie told by a billion people a billion times remains a lie while a truth spoken by a single person remains the truth. These people are well aware of how much reason and logic their arguments lack. This is why they are trying to silence anyone and everyone with opinions different than their own.

When women in our society are forced to turn to prostitution to feed their dying children, no one finds it blasphemous. When children die on the streets because of malnutrition, no one finds it blasphemous. When the poor of this country are left without a roof in the shivering cold, no one finds it blasphemous. When suicide becomes the only option for the oppressed and unemployed in our society, no one finds it blasphemous. When the riches of this country are looted away by corrupt politicians, no one finds it blasphemous. But as soon as a sane man raises his voice against an unjust law, Mullahs are the first ones to be passing fatwas against that person. What has happened to our society? Quran sanctifies the human life and values it so much that on one occasion in the Holy Quran, Allah says “If a Muslim kills one man it is as if he kills the whole humanity.” (Quran 5:32) We have stopped using reason to acquire truth and relied on certain people to interpret the Islamic texts for us. The true message of Islam is peace. Killing a person for having an independent opinion is a blasphemous act. Having an independent opinion is not.

What Pakistan needs?

Pakistan does not need a military take over. Neither does it need a sharia system nor westernization.  All it needs is a nation.  It has been over 60 years that this country was born. In these 60 years, the people of Pakistan have failed to stand as one. Ethnic and sectarian divisions have torn apart the country. Efforts have been made all along to unite the people under the banner of Islam. We were asked to believe in ‘Pakistan ka matlab kia? La Ilaha Il Allah’. Unfortunately this phrase did not play the magic it was expected to play rather it caused certain dominant sects to impose their interpretation of Islam on the smaller sects. These particular sects also seem to have held the right to who can be called a Muslim and who cannot. I believe Pakistan desperately needs nation-building followed by democracy to be rescued from where it stands or it can lead to further disaster.

In 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh. It was not because its residents were non-Muslims. We lost East Pakistan due to our own faults. We couldn’t unite as one nation. We tried to impose a language on their people which they couldn’t relate to. We tried to benefit from their resources and we denied them political freedom. As a result they sided with the “hindu” enemy and became independent. Even Islam in this case could not act as the uniting force.   Now we are left with West Pakistan. Today West Pakistan is divided between Mohajirs and Pathans. Punjabis and Balochis. The army and the mullahs. The landlords and the elites. The Shias and the Sunnis. The Mian sahiban and the Bhuttos. Each is trying to impose its views on the other and they are all pulling Pakistan towards themselves. In doing so they are tearing apart the country.

We need to realize that Pakistan is not for one particular ethnicity, sect, class, or a political party. Pakistan is for all of us. We need to accept each other as we are.   Pakistan is a state with great diversity in terms of ethnicity. Instead of imposing certain customs and traditions on to everyone we need to cherish our diversity. We have to look at each other not as a Pathan, Mohajir, Balochi or a Punjabi but as a fellow Pakistani. We need to understand that our fellow Pakistani has the same right to Pakistan as we do. We have in front of us so many examples where Pakistanis forgot their differences and stood as one. During the wars we fought, Pakistan stood united. During the earthquake in 2005, Pakistan stood united. During the restoration of the chief justice, Pakistan stood united. And every time we stood united, we achieved what we wanted.

Today we have to stand united to defeat the forces of extremism and sectarianism. The spiritual leaders of the different sects have to set examples for their followers by preaching tolerance. The politicians have to set examples for their voters by practicing equality. The parents have to set examples for their children by removing prejudices. The teachers have to set examples for their students by teaching unity. We have to set examples for the generations to come to find an identity we haven’t been able to find yet. While it can not be denied that Pakistan was formed for the Muslims of the subcontinent as a state where they were allowed to practice their religion freely, we also cannot forgot the fact that the Quaid of the nation was a secular person by all means. Jinnah was an Ismaeli by birth and converted to twelver Shiism later in his life. He was never a religious person and mostly communicated in English. However, he managed to unite a great percentage of the Muslim population of subcontinent under his leadership for the struggle for a separate homeland. We have to stop fighting over our differences. We fought for this nation together, we must save it together!