A Pakistan for all seasons: Views of a Pakistani abroad

Published: October 22, 2014
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I foresee a day when katchi abadis (slums) and load shedding are things of the distant past.

With each passing summer, I become increasingly weary upon hearing the same tired question,

“But, are you sure you want to go back this year?”

Whether the inquiry is presented by my father, a close friend, or even a concerned relative in Karachi, repetition has made it a mainstay in the uneasy arsenal of those who would oppose my annual visits to Pakistan. Do not misunderstand me – I understand their concern, one grounded in the unpredictable and often hostile socio-political climate of the nation.

With the national and expatriate rumour mills alike saturated with horror stories about riots, home invasions, roadside robberies and so on, it’s no wonder that Pakistanis living abroad are rattled by the very notion of setting foot on their native soil. In spite of this instability, my infrequent visits are undeniably necessary – they allow me to substantiate my intimate connection to the people and culture of Pakistan, all the while keeping me abreast of the prevailing political and socioeconomic injustices obstructing our ability to become a safe, just, and self-sustaining democracy.

Admittedly, I am viewing the political state of Pakistan through a telescopic lens – physical distance inhibits me from honing in on fine details of routine discrimination and atrocities. Aside from the cursory information gathered during my brief trips to my parents’ native land, my understanding of the bigger picture is largely second-hand. I occasionally skim through Pakistani news publications and hear talk to relatives over Skype, but online activism, mostly in the hashtag form, keeps me most informed. From #NayaPakistan to #SayNOtoVIPCulture regularly adorning Facebook walls and Twitter feeds of loved ones living in Pakistan, these informational snippets and political buzzwords serve as my primary connection to the scene. Still, I am globally aware enough that I can pinpoint the hot-button issues – the cries for the ousting of a prime minister potentially elected through unscrupulous means, the immense growth and support of a political party led by a former cricket star who has ventured into politics, an Islamic scholar whose more right-wing ideology still calls for an end to corruption and favouritism. Even armed with this knowledge, however, I feel vulnerable observing national turmoil from the sidelines.

Perhaps my greatest concern closely mirrors that of individuals hesitant upon seeing foreign-born Pakistanis travelling to Pakistan. I constantly ponder over similar questions in relation to my relatives and friends, particularly those on the frontlines. Sure, they are admirable agents for social change, but are they “safe”? What is the guarantee that they will return home, following the dharnas, the protests, and the days covering national affairs from media outlets? How can I, thousands of miles away, sleep easy knowing that they might not wake up the next morning?

The short answer is: there is no guarantee.

I am proud of these individuals, affecting progressive reform in their society, and fearful for their lives. However, this fear is not debilitating nor hindering. Rather, it is a necessary evil, a cogent reminder that success does not come without its risks and inactivity is akin to culpability. If I were in their place, I too would rather be an activist than an idle bystander. While this may seem like a convenient statement to make considering my comfortable distance, as a Pakistani, I still have my hopes for the future of this nation.

Even discounting my memorable visits to the country and other personal considerations, I strongly advocate an equitable and politically sound Pakistan – a nation where regardless of one’s ethnic background, gender or socioeconomic standing, each individual is given certain unalienable rights and the ability to chase their dreams. These luxuries, sadly, cannot be attained until the status quo is overthrown.

Until corruption and nepotism end, until the gap between the poor and the rich is sufficiently bridged, we cannot move forward. It is my hope that once these fundamental issues are addressed, Pakistan can focus on others hanging in the balance. I envision an end to illiteracy and discrimination, a focus on environmental concerns and healthcare equity. I foresee a day when katchi abadis (slums) and load shedding are things of the distant past. I dream of the summer when the resounding response to my yearly excursion is,

“Great! Can I come too?”

Daniyal Ahmed

Daniyal Ahmed

A freelance writer and poet, he is engaged in the lifelong pursuit of betterment and knowledge. He enjoys literature, humanitarian affairs, traveling and philosophy. He holds a B.S.S. in Biological Sciences and is an aspiring Physician Assistant (PA). He tweets @inimitabledani (twitter.com/inimitabledani) and blogs at www.oursoulsascurrency.wordpress.com

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

  • Humza

    I would say that the majority of foreign Pakistanis who live abroad oppose violent protests and anti democratic actions. We understand the importance of rule of law, institutions and following an imperfect system called democracy. I know that being in North America has taught me that one has to work within a system over many years and have patience to see things through. Not follow the Third World mentality of wanting overnight changes through a Dharna a la Arab Spring. We have all seen what happened in Syria, Egypt, Libya and Iraq. Western observers say the Pakistan’s 2013 elections were largely fair and free despite the minor rigging that goes on in all developing countries. The system is more important than any party but Pakistani people are stuck on personalities and waiting for a savior. They must realise that everyone has a role to play in making a better society. That’s why I support the elected government to complete its term before next elections and then see how to vote then.Recommend

  • L.

    You are so lucky to go back every year! Remember to not take it for granted, Daniyal. Great writeup :)Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    very very good. A very refreshing piece. I hope our country gets put in order so educated people like you could return .Recommend

  • Indian

    You have an interesting point about patience & working within the system Vs. a desire to see big changes overnight. I’m compelled to agree with your logic.Recommend

  • Indian

    Very nicely written. Enjoyed your article.Recommend

  • Rahul

    Foreign resident Pakistani’s pretend to be Indians in their public dealings. Being pakistani is a badge of shame they only admit among their own.Recommend

  • ani

    refreshingly honest and logical observation, HumzaRecommend

  • Critical

    I’m an Indian and I would ask you to stop trolling here…Its a piece written by an expat Paki…Why do u care if he pretends to be an Indian or Arab or Chinese while in USA….Recommend

  • Sohaib

    Very wrong Rahul. Maybe you think that from an Indians POV. but I have lived in UAE for 17 years and not once I have introduced myself as Indian. ALways introduced myself as a Pakistani and was never insulted for being a Pakistani either. Never. There is no shame.Recommend

  • Gp65

    Written from the heart. Hope your wish comes true soon. I understand your wish to visit your hometown ever year. I visit Mumbai regularly too. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Economy can be fixed. Hard but can be fixed.

    Jobs can be created. Hard but can be done.

    Electricity Generation can be increased. No problem.

    But, Pakistan’s issues are much deeper and darker. Issues like Radicalism, Hatred towards its minorities, propensity for violence, extreme Religiousness, its past, its hatred towards India and creeping Arabism, hatred towards its inherited Hindu culture – like banning Basant. All these issues will take generations to overcome.

    The question can these issues be addressed in our lifetime?Recommend

  • Humza

    I would dispute that completely. Trust me, most native Pakistanis who live abroad including myself would never pretend to be Indian. Simply put, we know that our appearance, history and culture is a mix of many different regions and we see ourselves as being very different from Indians. That’s why there are so many proud Pakistani American Organizations in the US. Yes there are some Pakistanis whose families migrated from India who settled in Karachi. These people often identify with India but not native Pakistanis like us. Go tell a Pashtun, Baluchi, Punjabi, Sindi or Kashmiri that they look Indian and see the response. All Muslim people abroad, especially Arabs and Iranians have to deal with negative comments associated with Muslims but remember Pakistan is only one of many Muslim countries.Recommend

  • globalsage

    I have yet to meet any Pakistani who claims to be Indian in their public dealings. You really made this one up, didn’t you ?Recommend

  • Adil Uddin

    I am also a Pakistani living in Canada and neither me, my parents nor my brothers ever hide their Pakistani connections. Even many of my friends ( who are also from Pakistan) refuse to hide the fact that they are from Pakistan. I had had Indian, Bangladeshi, Serbian , Sri Lankan and Chinese friends/mates too and they never picked on me due to my Pakistani origins.

    In daily lives too, I was never attacked or harassed after telling that I am from Pakistan, even though we acknowledge that there are certain issues back home. Kindly search it on your own and see videos and pictures of Pakistan Day Parade in London, Houston and Toronto. And I would also like to inform you that the World doesn’t end on Times Of India and their news materials, so try to expand your thinking and sources.

    Happy Diwali, by the way!!Recommend

  • kamran usman

    Talk about painting everyone with the same brush.. there might be idiots who do that in amreeka but i haven’t come across any so far including myself.. Recommend

  • raj

    you are wrong. this shows your immaturity of moving around the world. I have seen Pakistanis never use india with their names esp in countries like malaysia and Singapore where Indians have secured a bad name for themselves.Recommend

  • Sane

    Surprising that Pakistanis identify them as Indian. India is famous for rapes specially foreigners. India has a huge and very visible population of hungry and naked people. Why a Pakistani should label as Indian. Illogical if you say or think. Economically Pakistanis are much much well off than Indians.Recommend

  • Sane

    How you say that families migrated from India identify them as Indian. They never do that. Do not get into a propaganda.Recommend

  • Sane

    Similar rather more problems are there in your country. Why not you correct yourselves first.. Then advise others.Recommend

  • Humza

    I did not mean to offend you. I have some friends from Karachi and when they meet Indian people they sometimes mention that their families originally came from UP or Madras or Bihar or some place in India which is why they eat different foods, wear different clothes or look a bit different than other Pakistanis. For example I have a friend from Karachi whose family is Hyderabad Deccan and he was talking about foods with another Indian from the same region. I could not relate to them because I am native Pakistani. That’s not to say anyone is better or worse but this is a difference. Don’t be so easily offended if someone points out the obvious. For example, a lot of women in Karachi wear sari on a day to day basis but not in KPK or other parts of Pakistan and this is because these families also wore saris before coming from India.Recommend

  • sajay

    but we don’t see india in turmoil.India will overcome its problems in the coming years for sure. But with its thoughts Pakistan may not.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    We have done that. For example, we have elimated Polio. Our literacy rate is far higher. Our poverty rate is far lower. Our GDP Growth is nearly double that of Pakistan. Tourists still come to India. We are Democratic. We had a Sikh PM for an entire decade.
    None of this Pakistan has been able to achieve.
    There is no comparison with the kind of Radicalization found in Islam and one which is found in Hindu culture. That is the reason Pakistan and India took different directions at Partition.
    We had the same poverty, illiteracy, culture, language, habits, but India went on to become a Secular Democracy; Pakistan, well, a state where Military rules the roost.
    Our problems are poverty, education, hygiene, etc. There are no Hindu Terror camps or Hindu version of Jihad.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Only if you had bothered to Google a bit before commenting.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/07/us-timessquare-backlash-idUSTRE64655Y20100507

    There was an article from a Pakistani in Dawn once who had claimed that she pretended to be from India in one of the encounters with security. I can dig around and paste the link, if you insist.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    All these Pastuns, Baluchis, Punjabis, etc., pretended to be Indians reported Reuters.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/07/us-timessquare-backlash-idUSTRE64655Y20100507

    is Reuters lying? If you want there is a lot fo material listing the instances of Pakistanis pretending to be Indian.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Buddy, a definition of a Rape in Pakistan is where there are 4 male witnesses. India is brave enough to admit there is a problem, not hide behind regressive, 7th century laws.

    Pakistan’s poverty rate is nearly double that of India now.

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/181361/economic-survey-2010-11-has-the-real-poverty-rate-hit-43/Recommend

  • LAfan

    I was in Los Angeles a week ago. One day we called UBER taxi service, in course of conversation he said he is from India. When I asked which part of India, he said Lahore. I had the same experience in UK twice.Recommend

  • Yo2Da2

    As long as Pakistanis, Indians (or whatever) continue to emigrate to Canada, the US, Australia and other Western countries and settle down there, when are they going to accept their Canadian, American, or other Western identity and values? Why continue to identify yourself as “Pakistani” or “Muslim”? This is why there will be a problem of full assimilation and suspicion from some quarters in Canada, US, Australia, UK, Germany, etc. (Large-scale immigration from non-Western countries is going to change these countries’ culture and values, and not for the better, either. Take just one freedom, that of speech. Make a factual statement about Islam in America – like Bill Maher and Sam Harris did three weeks ago – and you get the fury including death threats from the world’s Muslims. So, who in America is going to speak their mind about Islam after this episode? Slowly this and other freedoms will erode and liberal democracy will suffer.)Recommend

  • LaLa Land

    No turmoil .. Are you living in timbuctoo ? Here mla thugs are coining phrases like love jihad to turn indian against indian & you’re posing here as if there are no internal treats to our secular democracy. If things go this way,we’ll also have violence in our country by 2019,like pak is having now.Recommend

  • an indian

    Tasteless remark. What constructive aim did you hope to achieve with that comment here ? Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Someone get this guy a ticket to Pak. He can help us!!!Recommend

  • Hmm..

    I read this human rights watch report very recently & it changed the way I look at my tolerant country.
    http://m.hrw.org/reports/1999/indiachr/christians8-05.htm
    You’re right about the no terror camps,but there still is barbaric crime by saffron goondas. Here are egs of a muslim mans arms being chopped off & being burnt alive in front of a crowd,delhi govt. attempting to shut down places of worship with lame excuses,burning alive an elderly missionary & his two little sons(& beating up villagers who tried to save him),planting hindu idols in non-hindu place of worship & conducting pooja,gang-raping defenceless nuns hiding inside chapels (I thought those kind of atrocities were done by invaders in the dark ages )
    Spoiling the names of secular,tolerant,democratic Indian
    What would Bapu say…I’m beyond sad.Recommend

  • malik

    Just FYI :

    If you ask an Indian in US, “Where you are from?” He’d reply “I’m from India.” A Sri Lankan would say he is from Sri Lanka, Bangladeshi from Bangladesh, Japanese from Japan, and a Chinese from China.

    But, a Pakistani will proudly say, “I’m from South Asia !”Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Rubbish. India’s Insitutions are rock solid, so are the cultural ethos of the varying indeginous cultures of India.
    India is not a Banana Republic, and more importantly its a Hindu majority state. In other words, its not a Pakistan.Recommend

  • Adil Uddin

    I am not sure whether you speak truth. Plus I am not sure about your nationality either. Anyways, as I mentioned earlier you can search about Pakistan Day Parades in different cities of UK too. You have your own opinion and experiences and I have my own. Kindly disclose your nationality if you don’t mindRecommend

  • Adil Uddin

    Anoop, I am also a Pakistani living in Canada and never pretend to be an Indian in front of others, even though I personally have Indian , Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan friends too. You talk about one article from Reuters. But can you also search about Pakistan Day Parades that took place in Houston , Toronto and London? I live in a Toronto suburb and here Pakistani shopkeepers etc…don’t hide name of Pakistan or Pakistani flag over their shops.Recommend

  • Adil Uddin

    Humza , I also belong to an Urdu Speaking family and another coincidence is that my grandparents were also born in Hyderabad (Deccan). It’s more about cultural similarities that we have with Indian Muslims with whom we share our ancestral lands and history . But that doesn’t mean that we hate Pakistan, neither do we pretend as Indians.
    Even many senior Indian Punjabis who were born before partition in areas of present day Pakistan, talk about their ancestral homes in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Gujranwala. But that doesn’t put any question over their loyalty or patriotism.
    Please don’t stereotype everyone.Recommend

  • LaLa Land

    I really hope you’re right. But Im losing confidence..we have some hindutva politicians who’re are talking-the-talk on the international stage,while,insiduously,they are making their lackeys to not walk-the-walk. I fear they are attempting to change our secular democracy into a Hindu-Saudi-Arabia (if you get what I’m trying to convey). Let’s see if they insiduously begin to do anti-constitutional things.Already,have an anti-gandhi hindutva chief talking on the national channel for vijaydashmi,love-jihad,anti-minority remarks etc..just waiting for some kind of violence or riots to start becoming a pattern,like in the late 90’s.Recommend

  • Humza

    Reuters is selling news and sensationalism – not facts. You want to pick up an isolated news item from post 9/11 terrorism attack to show how a few people were singled out in US? By all means go ahead but this article says nothing about native Pakistanis and the majority reaction. I never disputed that some Indian origin Pakistanis may mention that their families are originally from India. And so you know, a lot of Pakistani exaggerate when they speak. This old article means to say that things were so bad after 9 / 11 that things were so bad for Muslims that Arabs pretended to be Jews, Iranians pretended to be something else and so on? I disagree. Believe me or not but most native Pakistanis are offended if you call them Indian looking. No offense but it’s true. Right or not, we think we look different and have different customs and culture. My mother would be offended if you said her children were Indian looking so trust me, we would never go around claiming to be Indian, Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi whether you think it or not.Recommend

  • Safwan

    Not true. Yes, witnesses thing is a clause, but it is not mandatory. The victim’s testimony and the dna test are enough as proofs. Hah, it’s funny how you judge India’s poverty by one stat and Pakistan’s by another. You mean India poverty rate is around 20%? What makes you believe that, the stats that were published by Congress government last year? Hah. Why don’t you use same the source for both countries, let’s say stats by the UNDP I will help you, here we go. http://www.dhakatribune.com/economy/2014/jun/27/bangladesh-3rd-poorest-country-south-asiaRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Did I mention anywhere 100% of the Pakistanis say that?

    I only gave link to one such article only.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    “read this human rights watch report very recently”

    1999?? that’s 15 years back and you call it recent??. Maybe you reached 1999 on your journey towards the 15th centuryRecommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Fine, Reuters, according to you, is a corrupt money making organization, which sensationalises things.

    But, how about Dawn and its writers?

    http://www.dawn.com/news/1023248

    She is a Pakistani origin woman who pretended to be Indian and admits it in her piece for Dawn.
    How come she didn’t feel offended to call herself Indian?
    I have several links which actually prove my point. I’ll share one with each comment. :)
    Next, from ET! :)Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Here is a Pakistani lady whose parents were from India openly admitting she lied and told people in UK that she is from India.

    http://www.dawn.com/news/1023248Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Here is a Women’s activitist take on the laws and procedures in Pakistan regarding Rape.

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/afghanistan-pakistan/outlawed-in-pakistan/the-stigma-of-reporting-a-rape-in-pakistan/

    “How common is rape in Pakistan?

    It’s fairly common. You have to understand that you can’t really go by statistics. Statistics will tell you a couple of hundred cases in a year that were reported. But then, that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. It’s just a little dot, really, because a lot of cases, even if they do get reported, even if the police are approached … they have powers to dispose of cases. …”

    This is another piece from Dawn about a specific case where the Rape case was taken forward because there weren’t 4 male witnesses.

    http://www.dawn.com/news/1016271

    “The court refused to entertain the DNA evidence, which reportedly proved the guilt of the accused, and gave the accused the benefit of the doubt because the victim could not produce four eyewitnesses to the rape.”
    So, write a letter to Dawn and inform them how they have their information wrong.Recommend

  • Hmm…

    I found the report and read it for the first time,in the last ten days : hence ‘recently’. Recommend

  • Prashant

    “My mother would be offended if you said her children were Indian looking so trust me, we would never go around claiming to be Indian, Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi whether you think it or not.”

    I am fine with the fact that you are proud of who you are but why would you be offended if someone says you look like an Indian or for that matter an Indian looks like a Pakistani? Is not that true that you are closer to the Hindus and Muslims of India than the Arabs or the people from Persia, I ask this as I have seen a few Pakistanis claiming that they have more links historically to the west of Pakistan than the East.

    Also, are there any similarities between a Punjabi/Baloch/Pashtun in Pakistan when compared with the Sindhis and the Mohajirs other than religion? If the answer is a no, then you must also feel that you are doing a favour on them by letting them remain a part of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Prashant

    “India has a huge and very visible population of hungry and naked people.”

    Your previous generations had the same opinion of India and it is surprising to see the present generation has not moved an inch, shows some in Pakistan are so lost in hatred of India that they are not willing to either educate themselves or want to live in denials.

    By your logic, the Indian growths story since the early 90’s is a lie despite the fact that the entire world endorses it.

    “Economically Pakistanis are much much well off than Indians.”

    India is not perfect and we indeed have a great number of people who are poor and hungry but not a single country in the world compares India and Pakistan economically.

    Also, ask a poor man how it feels for not being able to feed his child before sending him to bed and stop making fun of those who are not as privileged as you are, no matter which side of the border they are on.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    My two year old son found out about dinosaurs yesterday so dinosaurs were there till yesterday by your logicRecommend

  • Gratgy

    My two year old son found out about dinosaurs yesterday so dinosaurs were there till yesterday by your logicRecommend

  • Somethings rotten in..

    No dude,thats your logic ( to equate obsolete sauropods from 200 million years ago ,that killed no humans,to Indians who murdered Indian nationals 15 years ago,in modern,post-Independant India.)
    Besides-the groups mentioned in the article,who instigate minority killings,still,not only exist,but are helping the brand new govt.rule since this May-but you knew that & still chose to taunt.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Bro You are not making sense
    Posting a 15 year old article as “recent” is stupid, but then someone comes along justifying it……. PricelessRecommend

  • Somethings rotten in ..

    Arguing for the sake of argument..
    I’ll play along- The comment clearly says that the article is not published recently,but was ‘ read recently ‘..now,who is stupid -( reread above and figure out )
    I always agreed with your comments,but this unprovoked attack on a fellow Indian posting a reputed link , for a lame reason, shows me that Indians who loudly condemn anti-minority violence (for whatever reason) in Pakistan, ( posing as secular,just & tolerant Indians ),seem to have a different attitude to religious violence in India ( that it’s justified or ‘the minorities had it coming’ ) That’s hypocrisy.
    Can dish it out to Pakistanis,but can’t take it yourself ,huh ? That’s what is actually,priceless.
    ps- The Human rights article is shocking ( & similar stuff has happened after ’99,too )Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Why would someone post a 15 year old article, this is just downright silly. I just read in my class two book that Indira Gandhi is the Prime Minister of India. Would I post a comment saying that India is ruled by Indira Gandhi and it changed the way I look at India???

    And I must be really naive to believe that either you or the original poster are IndiansRecommend

  • Somethings rotten in ..

    ??!! Now ,I’m not an Indian ..waaah…(I’m not the author of the human rights link..) what’s next..I voted for the Congress & eat beef ?
    You,Sir, are a closet extremist.You may benefit from some soul-searching.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Yeah right!! voted for congress yada yada !! Whatever!!Recommend

  • Yasir Rizvi

    what i think since 1947 , we are able to understand our potential as unite nation

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pakistan-Square/537993089668507Recommend