Guest contribution: Pakistani and Proud?

August 30, 2008

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone.  The writer is a former Reuters Middle East correspondent who now works in documentaries for Channel 4. Here he writes about how Pakistan looks from London.

                                               By Amil Khan

It’s nice to feel wanted. If you are British-Pakistani, British of Pakistani descent, Anglo-Pakistani, or whatever, it’s a familiar and complicated state of mind. Britain is keen that you feel British – even though no one can explain what that really means. On the other hand, if you describe yourself as “British” to a born and bred Pakistani, you might as well have “traitor” stamped on your forehead.

Carrying the Pakistani flag at the Beijing Olympics/Adress LatifThis identity tug of war partly explains why I have a love-hate relationship with my father’s country, but it’s not the whole story. Pakistan – like other former colonies – has a national love-hate relationship of its own with Britain. But that’s not why I have one with Pakistan. Being born of immigrant parents always means that you have more than one part of the world claiming your loyalties. But that’s not it either. After all, many people have multiple loyalties. You can be far more content being British and Indian.

As a teenager, Pakistan provided refuge when you were made to feel as if you didn’t belong. When right-wing politicians said you weren’t British as adamantly as their successors in the same party now tell you that you can’t be anything else, it was satisfying to cheer the Pakistani cricket team – and it still is. Pakistan was the place grandparents became all misty eyed about when they spoke of “home”. I heard that Pakistan was a country born of its people’s desire for self determination and steely will. I knew Pakistan could be chaotically disorganised and fractious, but always pulled together in the end and answered adversity with guts, genius and determination. For me, the core of Pakistan’s character was a “don’t take no s**t” attitude. When I went to work as a journalist in the Middle East and saw posters of dictators adorning every wall, while in Pakistan military rulers past and present were lampooned in cartoons, I thought it was a national character I could relate to and respect.

Early disappointments with Pakistan came when I visited the country as a teenager. But I brushed away the reality of grinding poverty, corruption, deep inequality and crushing injustice by blaming British colonialism and America for its proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That was enough – for a while. When I was at school, Nawaz Sherif came on an official visit to Britain as prime minister. He told the press he would turn Pakistan into an economic powerhouse and all the Pakistanis in Britain would want to return. He then went back to Pakistan and built a couple of mansions. A couple of years later, Pakistan carried out nuclear tests just to show India it could. The U.S. imposed sanctions and Sherif said; “If the nation is forced to eat daal (lentils), so will my children”. He then promptly built another mansion.

I watched all this from Britain and thought; “Come on Pakistan! What’s wrong with you? Get rid of these idiots.” I had come to think of Pakistan as a nation of immense potential, and I badly wanted it to realise some of that. I wanted to believe – as I had been led to believe – that malevolent outsiders conspired to keep Pakistan underdeveloped. It was confusing and disenchanting to realise the blame lay with Pakistanis themselves.

At about the same time, I came to think about my identity as more than a convenient cloak I could use to stick two fingers up at the world around me – which led to the question; “What does Pakistan actually do for me?” The answer was; “not much”. Nawaz Sherif’s comments in the UK before the political turmoil that led Pervez Musharaf to take power were the only time I can remember British Pakistanis were even acknowledged by the Pakistani government. For all the “always remember that you are Pakistani” from grandparents hankering back to the promise of Pakistan’s founders, its politicians were glad to see the back of us.

File photo of police telling people to move away from King’s Cross and St. Pancras Station after London bombingsIsrael, for example, arranges for young British Jews to visit the country every year. The notion that Pakistan could have the foresight to try to instill an attachment among a captive audience of millions across Europe and North America is laughable. A growing and confident India talks of British Indians as “ours” and an asset in the geo-political future the country sees for itself. After the 7/7 bombings in London, however, Musharaf said the young British men of Pakistani parentage were a British product and problem, not a Pakistani one. Instead of an asset, we became a problem that no one wanted to take the blame for.

Pakistan’s answer to the challenges of the post 9/11 world have shown it at its worst. Nawaf Sherif and Benazir Bhutto saw the rise of sectarianism and terrorism as an opportunity for personal advancement rather than as a national crisis. I saved a fair amount of my anger for the British news media, which failed to take Bhutto or Sherif to task, and instead bought into the “democracy against the dictator” news template. They failed to ask what Bhutto would do about the militants that Musharraf hadn’t already tried. Or question her about Pakistan’s arming of the Taliban during her term in office. Sherif plugged away at Musharraf for sacking Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhary, but didn’t he sack a good few judges himself when he was in power? And underpinning it all, why did no one think to question the premise that these people are in any way democrats? Most Pakistanis seem to believe – probably rightly – that elections for prime minister are settled in backrooms and hinge on who can offer the biggest bribe to feudal landlords. He who buys the landlords, buys the votes of their millions of peasant farmers.

But where British journalists can be partly excused for having a sketchy understanding of a far away place, it is Pakistanis themselves who have to shoulder the real blame. I have been in Pakistan when both Sherif and Bhutto were serving as prime ministers. Their unpopularity when in office was staggering. Everyone knew about the corruption and ineptitude. So why did Pakistanis vote for their parties in the recent elections?

“There are few choices in Pakistani politics,” was one answer I got from a friend in Pakistan. Why is that? Pakistani diplomats are always keen to point out that their country is not a run-of-the-mill dictatorship because it has a strong civil society, a free press and no leader personality cult; so why there aren’t new people and parties ready to deliver good governance. Maybe that tenacious “take no crap” attitude I always wanted to believe lay at the centre of what it meant to be Pakistani has finally been defeated.

File photo of then General Pervez Musharraf in front of a portrait of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali JinnahThat attitude, I think, was the basis of Pakistan. The promise of an independent, modern, Muslim state that Mohammed Ali Jinnah envisaged morphed into another promise – a strong, militarily capable Muslim nation ready to stand up for suffering Muslims. But after 9/11, when Pakistan lined up in America’s corner, that last promise was destroyed. Suddenly – it seemed to the children of its diaspora – Pakistan was actually happy to take a lot of crap and some British Pakistanis gravitated to another promise; the Muslim pride and action of al Qaeda.

Last summer, while researching extremism I went to a rally organised by a radical Islamist group in London. When the protestors’ coach  passed a memorial to Commonwealth soldiers, one young guy from Luton shouted out; “Look! You die for them and they give you a bit of stone with ‘Pakistan’ written on it. God forgive our grandfathers for letting themselves be divided into meaningless nations created to serve the kuffar.”

The young man’s rejection of Pakistan comes from the same place as my dysfunctional relationship with the country; its failure to live up to its promise. It’s not a modern Muslim state charting its own way in the world, it’s a feudal mess that keeps failing to live up to the potential of its people. And the final straw has been its loss of backbone.

Then again, maybe that attitude I was drawn to is still there? But it no longer resides with the government or the ordinary office workers, mechanics, traders and farmers that make up 90 percent of Pakistan. It now resides with the ultra conservatism of Tehreek e Taliban. If that’s the case, Pakistan and I are beyond therapy.


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intresting,chill out friend,it took USA 275 years to becoema great nation,pakistan is just 61 and a lot batter,after the end of great mogul empire WE started from zero and i think so far we did preety good,iam not saying its all honey and milk but one always have to be positive and yes some pakistani created a lot of mess and problems for pakistan but more mess and problems are crated by OTHERS who just dont stop puting there,leg,nose etc in our affairs,there is a long list of that,i give you one example people of pakistan wanted general mussharaf out but us and uk were doing there best to keep him IN,why on earth they dont mind there or sick bussines,let us sort out our affairs.

i dont care and i dont ask this question ever,OH WHAT PAKISTAN DID FOR ME,i always ask what i did for pakistan and want to do a lot of pakistan.

if that man who shouted OH GOD FORGIVE OUR GRANDFATHERS …… iam sure his for GRANDFATHERS WILL BE SPINIGN IN there graves,what i will say good give reward and have mercy on our grandfatehrs who did a great job by creating pakistan,if WE failed to do good for pakistan and with pakistan its not there fault.

if your home have a problem you try to fix it,not burn down the house or leave the house or start saying oh i hoped i never had a house.

well all of you who are confused or sad or ashamed of being pakistani ,well you can apply for british or indian passport LOL.hope you get one,good luck.

Posted by ali | Report as abusive

I enjoyed this exploration of your feelings for Pakistan and I understand where the despondency comes from. I’m Pakistan born, albeit bred in places whose history (at times) is more familiar to me than my own. As you’ve also suggested, Pakistan is a feeling idealized by those who’re familiar with its inherent potential and it served as part of our identity abroad. It still is very much part of who I am, despite my foreign accent and being typecast as either Indian, Turkish, Greek, Arab etc. never quite Pakistani enough. The constant political upheaval, the warring factions in the north and the threat of poverty leaves one grappling for air. Take heart Myra, Pakistan is still very, very young. The country we’d like it to be will take many years to come to fruition. Possibly our great grandchildren will enjoy the Pakistan we long for. In the mean time try to look for the positive, gravitate towards what you see is change; highlight it and bring it to the world’s attention. You’re already creating history. Cheers.

Posted by Merium K | Report as abusive

Well, to tell u frankly every feeling u have is unquestionably correct. People of Pakistan are left with no choice but to support crooks. Whole country would have been turned to another Afghanistan had Musarraf not ruling it. I remember, after 9/11 I was wishing that Musarraf say “NO” to US demands and we have end to whole Kashmir issue too…….unfortunately, didn’t happen. I thought at least “Lal Masjiz” episode would propel and snowball to make people of Pakistan taste the dust of Islamic extremism but again general was back for the rescue. But like said “Mulla ki daud masjid tak”, fools brought the only savior down……. Now, it’s a wait and watch game for Pakistan to dig its own grave and then happily sit in it.

Posted by raghu | Report as abusive

Pakistan is alive with possibilities, this country and its people has got immense potential. It is again a question of thinking what Pakistan has given me or what did I give to Pakistan. I think Pakistan gave me an identity, and pretty much everything I have today. It is my turn to repay this country. Pakistan may have problems like any other country, still this is our homeland and I love Pakistan.

Posted by UMPK | Report as abusive

Congratulations Myra, on your first unbiased and honest post in reuters. Atleast from this post onwards i hope yuo donot support Kashmiri muslims who apparently tell you they want to be part of pakistan. Dont you think for the good of people and for a healty identity they should stay with India ??

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

save and love pakistan and kick out all parasites enemies out of this country interfering and hollowing it from inside as our elders have given several sacrifices for making this great nation pakistan

Posted by maria | Report as abusive

Hi Myra,
A very compelling writeup of a Patriotic Pakistani.One actually yearns for the efficiency of Military dictatorship. As Israel started killing Palestinians , the impotency of MUSLIM UMMA IS coming into sharp focus for Pakistan which was the first nation created on the basis of RELIGION and believed strongly in it.Saudi arabia didnot even give a petro fascility when pakistan was defaulting.It gave 250 tons of dates. Its princes come occasionally to hunt rare Pakistani birds.Saudies do not allow their citizens to visit Pakistan while they can visit kaffir India!!!Once Pakistan comes out of Muslim UMMA SYNDROME it will evolve as also Palestinians.

Posted by captainjohann | Report as abusive