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Militant, non-militant

May 1 2013




The dust gathers on you, moving up slowly. Feet. Ankles. Knees. You try to wipe your face with sleeves and before you realise you are re-rooted into the soil you left behind so many years ago.

We moved from rally to rally, PML-N, PTI, PPP and JI. All noisy but smaller than previous election rallies. The PTI rallies are bigger than those of others, at least in the cities in Punjab and KPK.

Despite the bomb attacks that have prohibited campaigning in parts of KPK, Balochistan and Karachi, people want elections. And they want it now.

It is so different from what we had expected while returning to Pakistan after a long gap.

Terrorism scares people but it has not paralyzed life, at least not in Punjab. People go about doing their daily chores with a nonchalance that surprises all.

Our fears – although not false – were exaggerated. The country is not about to disappear. It is not about to split into small pieces. No foreign troops are ready to move in to seize its nuclear weapons. And the Taliban are not about to take over Pakistan.

I grew a beard before coming here because I was told that those without are vulnerable. They can be mobbed, lynched and kidnapped. I was wrong.

The overwhelming majority is not bearded. And they move about freely.

I convinced my wife to cover her head while landing at the Islamabad airport. I also asked her not to go out unless it was absolutely necessary.

My fears were unfounded. The number of women working outside their homes has increased dramatically and many of them do not wear hijab. Only few go to professions that are considered safe for women, teaching, medicine and dress-making.

Most go to non-conventional sectors, the air force, army, police, media and law. I also saw women working at gas stations, something unthinkable 10 years ago.

I had also forced my children – all boys – to wear full-sleeved shirts and had hidden away their shorts. But since returning to Pakistan, I have seen hundreds of boys in shorts.

I also saw hundreds of private schools, even in lower middle class neighborhoods. All use English as their medium of instruction. Most of them have more girls than boys.
Also, there are more women than men at Pakistani universities.

The Pakistani middle class is alive and well. And while moving in middle class circles, you do not just meet Punjabis and Urdu speakers. There are as many Pashtoons too.

Sindhis and Balochs are also noticeable, although still a small minority. At a recent concert in Islamabad, they outnumbered the Punjabis, although the singer – Arieb – was a Punjabi too.

But this does not mean that all is well. The unemployment is high and under-employment is even higher. There are hundreds of thousands of educated unemployed. They can be recruited by terrorist groups, and some are.

The national economy seems non-functional. The underground economy, which some say is larger than the national economy, is thriving. Smugglers and drug traders have opened new outlets in all major cities for distributing their goods.

This ill-gotten money is then used for constructing new buildings and for making new investments. Some claim that this wealth is also invested in the country’s larger than life electronic media.

The fear of terrorism is always there, even when it is not mentioned. Bomb attacks happen at regular intervals. People quickly move away from the scene and try to forget what they saw.

Their silence is like the silence of the lamb. The butcher moves in, selects a few and slaughters them. Those left behind, quickly fill the gap and continue munching whatever the butcher gave them.

Chairs and tables occupy the place where Punjab’s former governor, Salman Taseer, was killed at Islamabad’s Kohsar market. People admire parrots and parakeets kept in a large cage nearby.

There are no reminders of the assassination that happened two years ago.

While the governor’s murderer, who was once his guard, is still alive and well in his prison cell, Taseer’s son is in the custody of the militants who support the assassin.

They want the governor’s family to forgive the murderer if they want their son back.

This is Pakistan, both weak and strong. Safe and unsafe. Militant and non-militant. Long live Pakistan.

Originally published by Dawn Pakistan

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