Monday, 24 March 2014

Pakistan Day

To believe in Pakistan, you need to believe that Muslims are a nation and, therefore needed a separate homeland. You need to believe that religious identity of Indians was more important than any other cultural, ethnic or political identity.  

Sunday was 23 March, Pakistan Day. It is commemorates the Lahore Resolution, when the All India Muslim League called for a separate state for the Muslims of India. 

It was a rainy and wet day and, I had got up a bit earlier than usual since I was going to meet a friend for lunch. My mother was enjoying the special morning shows devoted to "milli naghmey," viewing of the parade, and the sense of celebration. We flipped through the channels hoping to catch some of our favourite "naghmey" but in vain! 

I caught some of the sentiments and expressions of patriotism either by the anchors or interviewees who were on TV. "What does your country mean to you?" "What does Pakistan stand for?" Everyone gushed and waxed lyrical about how lucky Pakistanis were to have a country, a homeland of their own and how much they believed in Pakistan. 

Do I believe in Pakistan, I asked myself, anymore? What does it mean to believe in Pakistan? 

It is funny to be asking these questions to myself. Almost shocking. I grew up as a Pakistani diplomat's child and, although lived abroad almost of my childhood and adolescent years, being Pakistani was the strongest part of my identity almost right from the start. 

I remember arriving late to a rehearsal for singing "milli naghmey" in Bonn, Germany at the Pakistan Embassy. My brother and I were 7 or 8 years old.  I remember mingling with other Embassy kids at birthday parties at their houses and Eid parties at the Ambassador's house. 

When my father became an Ambassador himself, the sense of identity and a sense of duty to represent Pakistan was even stronger.  We were proud that our father was the representative of his country, directly mandated by the President. Pride automatically solidifies your identity. It creates a positive relationship to your country.  

Not only was my identity as a Pakistani quite strong but also what Pakistan stood for, its history,  and its treacherous relationship with India. I sometimes marvel at how national narratives and  a collective emotional fabric can still be inculcated into someone's mind even if they haven't actually been schooled or lived in that particular country. Our links to Pakistan were deep and actively kept alive through our parents' stories and, a regular supply of Pakistani television programmes and Pakistani newspapers. Pakistani Embassies were also well stocked with books and promotion materials. 

For instance, I remember leafing through pamphlets which showed pictures of Kashmiri babies killed by Indian soldiers. These were on display at one of our Embassies. 

My first best friend in life was Ritu Bakhtiani. She and I were inseparable and often used to call each other up the night before to make sure we colour coordinated our frocks the next day in school. We did everything together in fourth and fifth grades. Her father worked at the Indian Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. I used to be at her house all the time and, often borrowed movies from her parents' collection. For some reason, I loved borrowing Dilip Kumar's black and white movies like "Ram Aur Sham" and "Kohinoor." 

We had a great friendship and, made my childhood years even more special. But even as little kids, barely 10 or 11 years old, we somehow knew about the problems between our two countries. During a field trip, I remember she and I were arguing about who Kashmir belonged to! 

From an early age, we were taught why Pakistan had to be created, about the treachery of the Hindus, the hypocrisy of Gandhi, and how over and over again, and Pakistan was the victim of aggression and unfairness. There was no way Muslims would have been equal citizens once the British because the Hindus had cozied up to the British and were now the dominant group. We had to separate. We were completely different. And, so a great idea, a great dream was born and, many sacrifices were made to create this new homeland. Pakistan was born but amidst great deception: many of the Muslim-majority areas of India were usurped, including the greatest prize of all, Kashmir. We didn't get any resources to build a new country and, pretty much started from scratch. And, we had to go to war over that and, at least 3 times after that too. We lost East Paksitan too, thanks to India. Our own friends and allies betrayed us and, let us lose it. 

These are but some of the stories that form the Pakistani narrative about its birth and history which as good citizens you do not question until you start thinking for yourself. 

All my years, not only we as a family but individually too, we got on famously with Indians. We socialised with Indian members of the diplomatic community. We had Indian friends at school. We exchanged Indian movies for Pakistan TV plays. We felt comfortable chatting in Urdu - as we say - or Hindi - as they say. But, things were fine as they were. We were both separate countries and, clearly there was a reason for the status quo. Nations do no just split up for no rhyme or reason.

I started to have doubts when I learned about the criminalisation of Ahamdis by the Pakistan state since I come from an Ahamdi family. In many ways, our upbringing was a little contradictory in terms of where our allegiances lied. We were devout Pakistanis but our country considered our fait
heretical. In fact, we could be arrested if we practiced the simplest of Muslim gestures like saying "Asalamo alaikum." Apparently, Ahamdis also played a great role in the creation of Pakistan. Jinnah apparently gave up and went back to London. It was the Ahamdis who convinced him to go back to India and, keep trying to create a separate homeland for Muslims. The first Foreign Minister was the distinguished Chaudhry Zafrullah Khan who also served as Chief Justice at the International Criminal Court. The one and only Pakistani Nobel Prize winner is an Ahamdi. But alas, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gave into the mullahs' demands to declare Ahamdis as non-Muslims. Ahamdis over night turned into a heretical and demonised group. The head of the Ahamdi Community had to flee to the UK and, the headquarters of the world-wide Community were established in London. Meanwhile, Ahamdis, their mosques and even their dead are frequently victims of violence. Even now, most Ahamdis talk about their identity and Jamaat in hushed tones in public.  Recently during Musharraf's era, the religion column was added in the Pakistani passports. I was shocked at having to declare whether or not I believed in the finality of the Prophet Muhammad when renewing my passport back in 2005.

How could a state go around deciding which sect was Islamic and which one was not? Wasn't Pakistan created as a safe haven for all Muslim and minorities?  How could a group under mortal danger be turning in on itself? This was a significant clue for me. I embarked on a fervent mission to understand, promote and analyse Pakistan that may have been created as a safe haven for Muslims but was actually intended to be a progressive, modern and even secular state. 

I came back to Pakistan after completing my undergraduate studies in London. This was the start of the 9-11 decade. Musharraff was ruling Pakistan. I was living and working in Islamabad for a year. In my free time, I used to write impassioned letters to Editors of Dawn and The News. I used to write to my favourite famous columnists. I was quite obsessed about raising the Ahamdi issue. I would rant about our Foreign Policy adventures. I would protest military rule. It was great. 

I left Pakistan in 2003 thanks to a few stints with the UN that took me to Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia. I left the UN in 2008 and started working in the private sector in Liberia. I met and fell in love with an Indian and the rest is history. 

Not that falling in love and choosing your own life partner from whichever country is easy for a Pakistani woman but the logistics of a Pakistani-Indian match are impossible. Obtaining visas for each other's countries are fraught with bureaucratic hurdles. Faces sort of start withering when you tell them your husband and father of your child is from the other side of the border. 

I started thinking earnestly about the Partition. The numbers and facts started feeling more real. One million lost their lives in mindless religious riots. Train loads of people were murdered en routes. Women were raped in thousands. This all really happened! Was it necessary? Are we really different nations? 

Why can't people from two religions marry each other? And, if they can, why can't two nations live together?

And, then, Kavia arrived. We decided to skip the bureaucracy and, had her in the US. 

You know how humiliated and invaded you feel when try to get a visa for the UK or EU? The process is tediously long and, applicants have to submit a mountain-load of paperwork. Those long queues and exorbitant visa fees don't help either. You start thinking about the colonial legacy and, how ironic it is that you have to go through all this where once we were conquered and dominated by these former colonial masters who now masquerade themselves as democratic and civilised nations in every sense.  Well, you feel the same humiliation but also a great sense of sadness for the line that was drawn to separate people, families and friends in the subcontinent

I'm getting misty. I'm getting emotional. This kind of talk doesn't fit into the rhetoric of nation states and real politik. 

Sure, it would be naive to think of everything being hunky and dory before the British arriving on the scene. Muslims had ruled the majority of India for hundreds of years. Islam was a conquering religion. This history of Muslim dominance has likewise been used by the Indian politicians, too. 

Coming back to the question, do I believe in Pakistan? To ask that question, I would have to ask, do I believe Muslims are a separate nation? Did they really need a a separate homeland? Absolutely not. Do I, then, believe in Pakistan? No, not really. 

You also start thinking about the wider world. Can people of different religions live together? YES.

I do not know what the future is because since relations between Pakistan and India are not getting any better, it is going to be virtually impossible to live in either of these two countries. My husband and I will have to settle elsewhere. 

Will I still visit Pakistan? Yes. Will I still love Pakistan? Yes. 

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