Back in Pakistan and loving it!

Published: July 9, 2012
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After having lived abroad for six years, I don’t regret boarding the flight back to Pakistan for good. GRAPHIC: ERUM SHAIKH

The second best decision I ever made in my life was to come back to Pakistan. The best decision I made was teaching in this country that has been labelled as the ‘most’ dangerous country in world.

Michael Kugelman, the program associate for South Asia at the  Woodrow Wilson Centre, recently wrote a blog for Dawn about the return of expats to Pakistan. He concluded the article with a question to expats about what it is like to be back.

This is a question posed to me almost on a daily basis by anyone I meet who discovers I have returned after having studied abroad.

I’m back because I am a Pakistani; I belong here and Pakistan has been great to me so far. After having lived abroad for six years, I don’t regret boarding the flight back to Pakistan for good.

While the good food and being amongst my own people feels fantastic, the best part of living in Pakistan is the amount of positive work one can do here. I didn’t want to be one of those expats living abroad who sat at the dinner table and argued about the pitiable state of Pakistan, their biggest fear being coming back.

As ambitious as it sounds, I wanted to be the one to go back and start working from bottom up. I wanted to connect with the people on ground, and understand what the root cause was for the problems faced by the locals, and perhaps help clear the mess, if there was any.

Teaching was one of the best ways to achieve all that, so I joined NUST and Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) where, of course, a month’s salary was equal to what my friends graduating from Cambridge were earning in a day!

However, an incident changed my entire perspective about the salary.

In the first month of teaching in Pakistan a student from Balochistan who studies at QAU approached me and requested if I could find him a job since he was now graduating with a Master’s degree. His next statement rattled me to the very core; it shook the ground beneath me.

He was willing to work for just Rs500 a month.

Can you imagine the desperation of this man and his family?

I realised I could no longer wait for decades to be well settled enough before I started making any real contributions to the country; the time to do ‘something’ was now – not a moment later.

QAU, where students come from all over Pakistan, has been an eye-opening experience for me. The Pakistan that most of the readers of The Express Tribune know is curtailed to Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad. What they don’t realise is that there is a Pakistan out there which is diverse, liberal, and intellectual. That is the real Pakistan that people in major cities are disconnected from – a Pakistan we Pakistani’s ourselves have failed to discover.

It’s been a whole year since I started teaching here, and I really don’t know if anybody is listening but what is important to me, is that I am bringing an alternate voice to the crowd. I’m no Messiah; neither have I got any ‘revolutionary’ ambitions; I’m just another brick in the wall, like many others, playing a part to build Pakistan.

In my previous blog, I mentioned how radically different my teaching methods were, and the sort of discussions I have in my classroom. I’d consider myself successful even if a handful of minds are able to look at the world from a difference perspective after attending my lectures.

Apart from teaching, a major chunk of my time is consumed by students, counselling them in higher education, job search, training them in research, hearing them out and understanding their basic requirements; basically in letting them know you care.

Before I started working, I was forewarned. I was told to be weary of what I said in my classrooms and to be cautious of attracting the attention of mullahs, the ISI, and the likes – since the society we live in is radicalised. Well, I’m proud to say, that having taught Islamic political philosophy at QAU, having critiqued the religion down to its bones, and bashing the army and the ISI, teaching at an Army university I have not once been harassed or been picked up by the agencies.

And there is a reason. The reason is that I don’t follow any political agenda in my classrooms, and the students over the course of the semester understood that. I remind them that everything I say in class is only a perspective; I don’t know the truth, and I don’t claim to know it either. I push them to do their own research. I give them a different view and challenge them to disprove it.

I have spoken to Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), Jamaatud Dawa (JUD) and have interacted with people from the Army and exposed them to my views. I feel there is always a way to go about things. Pakistan has a culture and code of conduct in the society just like any other society in the world. One could do or say anything one wants, without fear of harm, as long as it is done in the right manner. Problems occur when people try to push their own agenda on to the society with complete disregard of any prevailing views.

There is a Pakistan that is shown on TV, and then there is the Pakistan where I feel an enormous amount of freedom – more freedom, at times, than I felt in the United States. I only wish more Pakistani’s from good schools could come back to Pakistan and start teaching.

Good teachers, make good nations.

Read more by Hussain here.

Hussain Nadim

Hussain Nadim

A faculty member teaching political science and international relations at NUST Business School and Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.