By Shemrez Nauman Afzal
We all know what is wrong with Pakistan. We all read the newspapers every day. We watch TV, we watch the anchors and the video clips, we listen to the radio, and with a straight face, we acknowledge that we have become immune to violence, to hatred, to inequality, to greed, and to whatever happens to Pakistan.
If you’re really not concerned or bothered about it, and would rather do something else, now is the time that you stop reading this, because it really isn’t worth your while. But if you do care, and if you do want to do something about it, but don’t know what to do or how to do it, just take a little bit of time out and listen to what I have to say. The choice is yours, but the right to know is yours as well.
Yes, there are many problems with Pakistan, and nobody knows where to start from or where to pick up. But instead of talking about what’s wrong with Pakistan, shouldn’t we be talking about how we fix it? Everyone says there’s a war being fought against us – some say it’s the Taliban, some say its America, others say it’s the mullah’s, and so on. Well, if it is a war according to that narrative, then we do need to fight a war against Pakistan’s problems, but how many wars can we fight? Do we pick up arms and fight the Taliban? Or do we join the Taliban and fight America, in Afghanistan or like Faisal Shahzad in New York? What good does protesting do if you do not get your voice heard in the end? Do numbers in the street matter when you give a speech and go home, but do not achieve anything substantive or cogent from the common platform that you all stand for and believe in?
Yes. We need to fight a war against all of Pakistan’s problems. One war that we need to fight is against apathy. And that is the biggest war we must fight. Why do we not care? We must care. If we feel sad or depressed, then we must do something about it so that it does not keep happening to us; call it survival if not altruism. We cannot sit idly by and watch our nation spiral down into further depths of chaos and anarchy. But what do we do? Do we join the police or army? Or do we join the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Do we join those who are protesting every day out in the streets, on one issue or the other? We might think of all of this, in the comfort of our drawing room, and then just move to the TV or read something on the internet. Or go out to have a cup of coffee, meet with friends, drive around, do something interesting, get tired, go to sleep, and live another day.
If you are still reading this right now, know that you are responsible for this country’s problems if you don’t do anything about it. Whenever you stop acting like a citizen of Pakistan, you do this country so much harm that it becomes hopeless for other citizens of Pakistan to live or survive. And there is a way to make amends for it. There is a way to actually undo the wrongs, the mistakes, the grievances of the past sixty-three years.
If Pakistan is your country, if you really feel for it beyond an national identity card or a passport, then own up to it – to its mistakes and to its greatness. Become its engine of change. Bring positive and meaningful change, and stop waiting for it. Stop being concerned – start being responsible. And it’s not that difficult, and if you really are worried about Pakistan and want to help change it for the better, then you won’t have to change much yourself – you will just have to become, for lack of a better term, more productive. And others who are already being responsible, or want to be responsible, will join you. If you don’t believe me, you should listen to Allama Muhammad Iqbal who said har fard hai millat ke muqaddar ka sitara; each citizen is the shining star of the nation’s destiny.
So stop cribbing about hopelessness and despair. Stop being apathetic. BE the change you want to see. Bring positive and meaningful change through democratic means, and silence all those here and abroad who say that Pakistan is a failed state. It does not matter who you vote for, as long as you vote and make your voice heard. Your political opinion does not matter in your drawing room – and contrary to popular opinion, it may matter even less on your blog – but on the ballot paper, your political opinion is your exercise in charting out the destiny of your country. It is both your privilege and your responsibility – in a democracy, the citizens rule, but if the citizens are not responsible or capable to rule, then the system falls apart. And we all see that it has.
Despite our better judgment, we have made this mistake again, and again, and again. This has happened in all elections that Pakistan has experienced – most of them have been labeled as rigged, while the one in 2008 had high hopes, but ended up with results that also accounted for 46% bogus votes in the final tally. The citizens of Pakistan are capable to rule themselves – if they were not, sovereignty would have no point in our country, and some already believe it doesn’t – but in order to properly exercise this capability, the citizens of Pakistan must be responsible about electing their leaders and representatives. To do this, they must vote responsibly – because someone who has come to power without your vote (whether it is a general or a politician) will not be accountable to you in any way. Pakistan must prepare for elections in late 2012, or early 2013. Or even before that. The timing of the election matters very little – what matters is the result, and what matters even more is that if it reflects the general will of the people of Pakistan. How must Pakistan prepare for this? By being aware about the political system of the country and of the political options available in any given electoral situation. Since education has suffered immensely in Pakistan, even electoral knowledge in the voting populating is found wanting. Constituents must responsibly elect their representatives, and they must know how to be responsible during election campaigns as well as during voting procedures. Bringing change by the ballot is the only chance Pakistan has; change by the bullet is something the residents of Swat would repeatedly warn you about.
It is time for you to become responsible; responsible about Pakistan, responsible about its problems, responsible about what you can do about it, responsible about actually doing something about it, and by doing so, encouraging others to be responsible in the smallest ways that they can. Once we are able to understand how to convert our concerns and depressions into innovative ideas and solutions, we can share these small solutions to help our communities deal with bigger problems. For Pakistan right now, community mobilization is the most important element of recovering a national and local ethos that is becoming victim to suspicion, mistrust, and other social impediments. Communities must become aware of their living environments, and they must responsibly handle the problems that they and their neighbors face. This cannot happen in a day, but for it to succeed, it must continue to happen every day, and you must do your part for your community even if others don’t. And when it is time for you to decide who gets to govern us and determine the future of our country, make sure you vote, and vote responsibly.
The future of Pakistan depends on it.