Pakistani youth: Don’t agonise, organise!
A bespectacled teenager cycles his way from Lahore to his small town. It’s a long journey, but the merry boy has not a care in the world. After all, securing the highest marks ever recorded for the Matriculation Examination is no small feat.
Tears of joy complement the bright smile on his face as he enters the town. The town folk are all gathered around his humble family abode to give a hero’s welcome to their very own ‘Ramanujan.’
But among the multitude of admirers of the boy, no one ever imagines that Abdus Salam would have the honour of becoming the first Pakistani Nobel Laureate.
I recently met Professor Michael Duff, a prominent British theoretical physicist in London. Through his incisive observation, he spotted my subcontinent accent and asked inquisitively about my background. “Pakistan,” I replied promptly, half expecting no follow up comments from Professor Duff.
To my pleasant surprise, he beamed at me and enthusiastically said:
“From Abdus Salam’s homeland!”
“You know him?” I enquired.
“Of course, I was his doctoral student at Imperial College London,” exclaimed Duff, “Trust me, students have wings and mentors like Abdus Salam teach them how to fly.”
Incidentally Professor Duff currently holds a position at Imperial College which is named after his accomplished teacher: Abdus Salam Chair of Theoretical Physics.
In adverse times like these, when sanguineous and gory news make headlines in Pakistan, figures like Abdus Salam act as shinning stars on a dark night. They are testimony to our nation’s enormous potential. When we witness the abhorrent corruption of our politicians and their inept administration, it is convenient to make them the scapegoat for our nation’s many shortcomings. But, we fail to appreciate that it is us who instinctively go with the imperfect status-quo rather than endeavour to sow seeds of hard work and reap the harvest of success. After all, when Abdus Salam was awarded full scholarship at University of Cambridge, Pakistan was still in the infancy stage of its development which was marked by primitive infrastructure. It was not self pity which paved Abdus Salam’s path to Cambridge. It was self determination.
Another gem of Pakistan is Asim Khwaja, the first Pakistani Professor at the prestigious Harvard University. His research has received coverage from numerous media outlets including the Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, International Herald Tribune, Aljazeera, CNN and BBC. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak during the workshop ‘Firms and Household enterprises in Developing Countries’ at the University of Warwick. Professor Khwaja focused on Pakistan and it was pleasing to note that during his empirical presentation, he managed to deal with quite a few stereotypes regarding Pakistan. After expounding on the meaning of the word ‘Talib’ (i.e. student), Professor Khwaja noted that there are numerous promising ‘Taliban’ in Pakistan who have the potential to become top-notch researchers. Contrary to the popular perception, he emphasised that in-name-only ‘Taliban’ are a minority and the overwhelming majority of Pakistani youth believe that the “pen is mightier than the sword.”
With so much to offer, Pakistan still faces a dearth of human development. And therein lies the irony. Twenty years ago, it was the renowned Pakistani economist late Mahbubul Haq, who devised a composite statistic which was consequently adopted by the United Nations to rank countries by level of human development. The index known as HDI, places Pakistan at an unimpressive 125th position. If Mahbubul Haq was alive today he probably would have been awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics. But he would have been more pleased if a Pakistani political or civil society leader had the honour of winning the ‘Mahbubul Haq Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development.’ The award was established by UNDP in honour of Dr Haq and it still awaits a Pakistani recipient.
If we make it a habit to lament about our remorseful state, then we will remain stagnant in all spheres of life. In other words it is a choice between organise and agonise. Asim Khwaja discussed the enormous potential in Pakistani youth. Perhaps Abdus Salam’s memory can act as an inspiration to teach these promising youth who need to learn how to fly.
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