Anything positive? | Pakistan Today

Anything positive?

Give me something positive about Pakistan, asked Bob Hathaway, director of the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars in Washington DC, as we sat down to lunch in the basement of the Reagan Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The tone implied that he didn’t think there was much that could be termed positive.

Hmm, I said, let’s see. People are still getting married, having children, thinking about their future, sending them to schools, caring for them when they fall ill, respecting their elders, honouring their dead and burying them, going out in the evenings to eat, or be with friends, going to their jobs, feeling happy and sad, depending on what the occasion is, and generally living, or wanting to live, just like other people do. Artists are creating; music is being made, theatre, especially slapstick, is thriving. The media is straining at the leash; the courts are functioning, even if not always efficiently.

I find these to be good benchmarks, in some ways far better to judge the health and resilience of a society than the pointers used by economists to measure growth and prosperity. Those pointers are important of course, but they don’t measure the spirit of a people.

I didn’t think Hathaway would be convinced by what I had said but he was and that is a measure of his incisiveness.

But what about the government? This bunch of rulers has been called inefficient, corrupt and venal. Not without reason either. And yet, this government has entered the fourth year of its rule; it has managed some important policy measures, the National Finance Commission award being one such. There has also been the 18th amendment, in its scope and the consensus it drew second only to the original exercise that got Pakistan its constitution in 1973. There has been the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009 which has granted self-rule to that area; a commendable step. Also, the government, despite being in a slim majority – not enough for it to form the government singly – has managed to retain its coalition support. No mean feat that given conflicting interests of coalition partners.

The operations against extremist elements have been a mixed bag but the security forces retain their morale and have also captured large chunks of the territory in the tribal areas.

There are many problems too. Many people don’t pay taxes; people can be brutal and kill fellow citizens with impunity; there is corruption; the criminal justice system needs a drastic overhaul, as do hospitals and schools. But again, in varying degrees, this is also the story of most states in the region and beyond. Complexity can beget many problems, more so when states are passing through periods of transition.

It is a terrible cliché to talk about the half-full or half-empty glass but there’s basic truth in that formulation. How one looks at a situation is crucial in determining one’s perspective. Pakistan is going through a transition with a capital T which subsumes in itself many smaller transitions. The process, or processes, will not always be smooth. Quite often, as in the case of Karachi, the situation can get violent and take a terrible toll on human life. That is not condonable but one can cite history and realise what bloody battles go into streamlining societies.

Hathaway agreed. He said there was much in the history and the present of the United States to suggest that transitions can be violent and brutal. There are also other examples. None of this is to justify the minuses the state and society of Pakistan are beset with. It is in fact terribly important that we continue to work towards getting a final shape on many issues. But what is vital from the viewpoint of our discussion here is the realisation that there are multiple ways to see a country, not just one which posits that Pakistan may be on the verge of failing; worse, it may already have failed.

That is a hasty assessment, not just because it begins and ends with a worst-case scenario but also because it ignores the people of Pakistan and their daily lives. Moreover, as I argued with Hathaway, some of what we are witnessing, though ugly at this point, is likely to move Pakistan towards some kind of resolution of the pressing issues.

Transitions are never easy. They can also mean several years and decades of political and other bickering before things settle down and political actors begin to frame and then abide by the rules of the game. One cannot put a time on such fluid processes but the very fact that this government has survived and the political opposition, despite ups and downs, has let the government be, for the most part, manifests a degree of maturity not seen before.

Also good is the fact that we are now grappling with issues that were usually swept under the carpet. Grappling can be messy business; it can lead to violence and other acts of misdemeanour. But the very fact that not much can remain hidden, and that the only way to deal with contentious issues is to tackle them, provides hope of better things to come.

The writer is Contributing Editor, The Friday Times.


  1. Khalid Rahim said:

    First we as a nation need to change our attitude.In the last
    two decades we have become self-centered egoists, bigots and
    close-minded society living in a glass house.We have become
    the Protectors of Allah and his Prophets as if Allah Himself
    has lost the power? Like Ostriches we have buried our heads
    and wrapped ourselves in a cocoon hoping to become guardians
    of the celestial gates.

  2. Mahmood said:

    Ask Hathaway to Visit Kasur and see how things change.Actions speak louder than words. Change in Kasur is the most positive thing happening, and it was done by ruling elite and bureaucracy.

    Once impassable city lanes and roads are opening and where sewer flowed, it is dry even in rains and there is proper drainage system in working condition and roads are pretty good.Pakistan is not only war against terrorism.

  3. russianroullete2 said:

    No matter how much Pakistan progresses in any direction – there will always be someone finding fault in one thing or another. Problems which also exist in the all advanced countries are pointed out , as though they are something unique to Pakistan.
    If that were the case then there would be no police, lawyers,judges and prisons in those countries. There would be no doctors, hospitals and medicines. No country can claim that it has gotten rid of every single one of its problems. The only difference between Pakistan and those countries – is that those countries they know how to hide their problems better and there is a great deal of propaganda. To a tourist visiting London before the riots – they would be impressed by the lacquer on everything, the face of wealth and abundance – imagining that is what Britain is really like. That image was shattered. The racism and inequality exploded – the city's image across the world was crushed. The image of wealth was just that an image. The West knows how to hide and paint over every single blemish – but it does not mean many of the problems, which seemingly only plague Pakistan, are not there at a much bigger scale.
    They are very much there. In Pakistan there NGOs for everything – making us look far worse than we actually are. Than we have people Hathaway judging us. He better go back to his own country and clean things up there, before making arrogant statements.

  4. Gulzar Kandrani said:

    Whatever Ejaz has jotted down is positive and it is better to point out flaws existing in our country and we ought not to compare our country with other countries regarding fault-lines but try to heal seeping wounds. So let the sane people to find out the flaws and way-forwards so we may bring our country on the par with other developed countries.

  5. Amber said:

    yeah so true, this is some thing unique in a Pakistani's mind. Its just that all Pakistani believe in the story that "one day i was busy in planting a seed, I saw the doom coming over my neighborhood, i knew i was about to loose it all, but then i did not stop myself from planting that seed. because whatever has to come will come, why should I stop being good". No matter what fears lie above our heads we Pakistani (who actually respect being Pakistani) are doing good for it and are moving on avoiding the hurdles.

  6. shahid karamat said:

    a verry reaistic article.a true picture .a welcome relief .Shame on Geo n its goons who r churning out horrible stories after stories.think they hv a hidden agenda.

    • Jahanzaib said:

      So were my friends….but i was able to convince them…a lot of people do visit Pakistan…it's just that what we see in the media might be exaggerated…
      This might help you:
      It's the blog that my friends are maintaining for their visits…

  7. shiv said:

    Sir. Exactly how much of Pakistan is actually under control of the so called "Government" and their army? Are the economy and literacy rate in Pakistan keeping up with the birth rate? But these are inconvenient question. Easier to stick to inane facts like Pakistanis are eating, marrying, having children etc.

  8. danweb said:

    Best observation: "But the very fact that not much can remain hidden, and that the only way to deal with contentious issues is to tackle them, provides hope of better things to come." Foreigners do have the perception that in Pakistan everything sooner or later comes to light. This is not a closed society.

  9. SatyaMeva Jayate said:

    Pandavas had come to Ek Chakra village, on the outskirts of which lived this man-eating asura named Bakasura. Every morning, the village folk would need to send walking to Bakasura's cave, one of their own, who at the end of this short walk in the woods, would end up being a hearty meal for Bakasura.

    • SatyaMeva Jayate said:

      Conversation between a buzzing bee and this poor sacrificial villager, as this poor soul is walking gingerly onwards to Bakasura's cave one morning.

      "You must be feeling awful today, sir", asks the concerned bee while buzzing. "Does it not feel bad that in five minutes, you will be sitting all ground up inside Bakasura's stomach?", asks the bee.

      But to the surprise of the bee, this poor villager, by the name of Abdul Lahori Khayali, replies thusly: "No, no. It is all very positive in life right now. Am I not taking one step forward after another? Am I not looking left and breathing, and looking right and breathing? Why, I am also able to see you, dear buzzing bee, and what a relief-giving sight you are. Also, I went potty this morning, which was so positive, and then ate Gosht Kadhai, which was most positive, and now, you see that cave in the distance? Now I am going to be able to enter that ancient archaeological hole in the rock, and what could be more positive than that?"

  10. Saifullah said:

    Pakistani people are haveing more children and more beoutiful children then the chamaar hindoos in bhindia. Therefore they are jeales of Muslims and Pakistan.

    • APS said:

      true but a slight correction… we are jealous of Pakistanis not muslims.

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