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Letter From a Wretched Pakistani

by SHAFQAT HUSSAIN

Jab zulm-o-sitam ke koh-e giran

Rooyi ki tarah ur jayenge.

When the weighted mountains of tyranny

Will fly off like cotton whisps.

— Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

This memorandum is addressed to you. You know who you are. You are the “international community.” You watch us on television, or not. Either way you have ideas about us, fears about us.

We, the Pakistanis, feel under siege. We feel under siege from our government policies at home and by how you see us, as worthless and terrifying. We feel directionless and lost.

Our rights are violated, our expectations dashed. You scorn us for these miseries. We have lost all dignity in our own eyes. We ask, “how can this go on? How can the masters of our country take us to ruin? What is it that they see that we do not see? Whose interests do they serve if not ours?”

We find no answers. We realize that no one is listening.

Our rulers and masters are powerful; their power comes from their ability and authority to control us and keep us poor and wretched. Tragically, or ironically, our rulers’ rulers don’t even know that they have us in the small of their hands. We are so insignificant, that our tormenters don’t know we exist. We are like ants beneath the feet of a giant who cannot even see them.We have been fantasized and re-fantasied as part of other people’s world.

We, the Pakistanis, are of no interest to anybody. We are poor, dangerous, disorganized, unfamiliar and chaotic. We can’t control geopolitics and we don’t have any overlapping interests with the superpowers. We want to have peace, security and dignity.

We have lived and we can live under difficult times, we have endured the burden of poverty for a long time, but we have never been so thoroughly condemned and humiliated as now. Compared to our current moral bankruptcy and shame, our past, albeit full of poverty, seems like a golden age.

The power of global politics and control is a glamorous and seductive business. We neither have the acumen nor the perspicacity nor even the desire to appreciate it. But we are still part of it.  We are like the extras in Hollywood and Bollywood movies who spent all their lives thinking that one day they will get a break. Their lives are full of false hope and optimistic explanations, but deep down their hearts they know that they don’t have control over that great leap into Success.

Just like them, we too will perish nameless. We will be talked about and written about in historical narratives, but only as objects of other people’s histories and destinies. We have no destiny.

A text message whizzes around the social media in Pakistan: “Pakistan has become so dangerous that even OBL is not safe here.” OBL. That’s Osama Bin Laden, who lived his last days in the cantonment town of Abbottabad. Even refugees from war torn Syria would refuse exit visas to Pakistan.

But we hope. We hope that in the end, everything will be all right. Or at least not as bad as it is now. We hope that the drunken stupor of the powerful will result in a hangover of reconciliation – that they will see the error of their ways and somehow treat the rest of us with some decency.

We endure the shame and denigration today in the hope that someday, in the near future please, our leading families will stand up for us. Dil, Dil Pakistan, goes the anthem from a band whose name reveals our hopefulness, Vital Signs. Reading the signs, we hope that from some corner will emerge someone who can emerge and take us out of this bad period, our champion.

Our national policies and priorities are set by the military, or what Ayesha Siddiqa calls Military Inc. (it has vast business interests, selling us oil through its Fauji Oil Terminal and running computer training workshops through Fauji Soft – Fauji being soldier). Dislike for the civilians is promoted through an army culture in which anyone who has had not gone through the discipline of army training is deemed an idiot and unprofessional. Professionalism comes from disciplines and discipline means obeying order and doing the training.

Intellectualism is abhorred and looked down up as a sign of free ranging thoughts. Intellectuals who are not yoked to the Fauji Foundations are seen as out of control and in need of discipline (either through the seduction of grants or the mediation of jail). These idiots are to be controlled and made subservient to the interest of the military. Proxy wars, defense contracting, and arms trading are some of the main functions and interests of the military. The Military creates an aura of perpetual decay of all national institutions, so that justification for the pursuit of their interests can be presented as a solution to all of these failures. They present their interests to us as ours.

You indict us, us, who are wretched, broken, dis-reputed and disenfranchised. You tell us that we hate you because we hate your freedom. You may be wrong but not totally. We don’t disagree with your freedom; in fact we would like to have nothing to do with your freedom.

We only hate you when you support dictators and a dictatorial structure that take away our freedom: our freedom to determine our values and our interests. You support those who decide our values and interests, without ever bothering to know what they are.

Both you and they call it the best thing in our interests. But the interests are yours, and theirs. You make alliances on interests, we want alliances on principles. You align interests of everyone with yours. You never think of aligning your interests with others. Your principles are slave to you interests. You support democracy, a principle, when it is in your interests. But you also topple democracies when it is in your interest.

You watch us on television. We create anxiety for you. But we have interests too, desires too. We, the wretched, do not feature anywhere in the scheme of your interests.

Shafqat Hussain teaches Anthropology at Trinity College. He likes to spend his days in Gilgit, chasing after snow leopards. He created Project Snow Leopard, an insurance scheme in several valleys of northern Pakistan that compensates farmers for goats killed by the big cats. It has saved the lives of between 25 and 40 snow leopards.

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Shafqat Hussain teaches anthropology at Trinity College. He is the author of Remoteness and Modernity. Transformation and Continuity in Northern Pakistan. Shafqat is the recipient of the National Geographic Society’s Emerging Explorer Award.

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