WHO IS TO BE BLAMED?

This is an edited version of an article published in The Financial Daily

 

WHO IS TO BLAME?

 

Independence Day is approaching yet another time. Yesterday I had a sudden idea and impulsive that I am, decided to implement it at once. Throughout the year, we are busy celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. Why not have an Independence day party? Happily I started to call close family members but I was a bit confused at the reaction of the young generation, who seemed to decline my invitation politely at one pretext or another.

I called Sohail, my nephew, on his cell many times and on not getting a response rang him at his office. “What’s wrong, Sohail? Why are you not attending to your cell? And no one is receiving the phone at home?” “Oh, Auntie, my cell has been snatched a third time and I simply can not afford to go on buying mobile phones for muggers.” Sohail’s tone was very cross. “Shazia has gone to her parents with the kids. We have no electricity and so no water for the last two days. How could she manage with the children with no water in this heat?”

Warily I told Sohail about the party. “Come on Auntieji, you must be joking! What is there to celebrate about anyway? Insecurity?  Power failures? Corruption? Suicide bombers blowing up innocent people whenever and wherever they want? Or the sky-rocketing cost of living which is making a respectable difficult day by day? What has Pakistan given us anyway? Please excuse me Auntie, I shall rather stay at home and catch up on my sleep”.

Sohail continued in an angry tone, “I simply see no logical reason left for celebrating the Independence Day. Though we have got a homeland but still we have no freedom. We have to free ourselves from the shackles of religious extremism, poverty, illiteracy, greed and corruption before calling ourselves a free nation and planning any celebrations. The struggle for independence is not over yet!”

 Sohail’s outburst helped me to understand why the people of his generation were not showing any interest in my party. They all belonged to a disenchanted and disappointed generation which had seen Pakistan going on the downwards slide, year by year! Although I tried my best to convince Sohail, his arguments were so strong and he seemed so agitated, I decided to talk to him later.

I was born in an age when the people who had strived, suffered and sacrificed for the sake of independence were all around, so I felt deeply disturbed at the frustration of our new generation. In those days Patriotism was the order of the day and our parents never tired of telling us true stories about the Pakistan movement. Precious lives were lost, ancestral homes and properties were left behind but no one considered this a price too heavy for Independence. I vividly remember my mother shedding tears when she talked about Mohammed Ali Jinnah or Liaqat Ali Khan! Love for Pakistan seemed to be in the blood and everyone seemed proud to call himself a Pakistani.

I can still remember how enthusiastically we celebrated 14th August at school. The principal hoisted the national flag and gave a short speech stressing on the importance of independence and love for one’s Homeland.  As we fervourly recited the National Anthem in a chorus, it was a proud moment and the fluttering green flag never ceased to bring tears to my eyes. Sweets were distributed among the children and all of us were as happy as if it was Eid.

Sohail’s questions brought a rush of guilt to my heart. What is the reason behind this change in emotions? Have we failed to transfer this love for Pakistan to our next generation? Did we take independence for granted and did not strive enough to pass on its importance to their young minds. Or is it our poor and inept education system which is to blame.

Today our young generation has but a fleeting knowledge of the hardships faced during the movement for Pakistan, something which they have learned in the dull and drab books on Pakistan Studies! These books also keep changing with the advent of every new ruler who want the syllabus to suit his whims, trying to write a new history after every few years.

Or should we blame the greedy and incapable politicians, who are too busy filling their pockets (which are already bursting at the seams), to care for the peace and prosperity of Pakistan?

Our country is rich enough in resources. But whose purpose does it serve to keep them untapped and underutilized? Job opportunities which can be created but are not, the rain water which can do wonders for our agricultural lands but instead floods and destroy standing crops, the beautiful valleys were no tourists dare to visit due to fear of the so called religious extremist, growing unemployment and a steep rise in the inflation level are only a few reasons of the causes leading to the frustration of our young generation. These and many other such thoughts kept troubling me as I lay awake in the darkness of the night.

The next morning I called Sohail again, “Whether you come or not, I am celebrating 14th August according to my plans. You asked me many questions yesterday. The only question I have to ask you is ‘What have “We” given to Pakistan’? Nobody from the Heavens will come to change our lot. It is our choice, either we sit in our drawing rooms, sipping tea and blaming each other for our failures, or firmly resolve to strive and sacrifice, step by step, for the prosperity of Pakistan”.

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LIGHT THE TORCH! (MY MUSINGS ON THE EVE OF PAKISTAN DAY)

Gloom hangs heavy in the air as Pakistan is going through one of the worst phases of her short history! The most common emotions we are experiencing these days are of insecurity, anxiety, fear, frustration, disappointment and all other such negative feelings! Although elections are just round the corner but the common citizen does not seem to be interested in casting his vote! We have been hoodwinked so many times by the clever and greedy politicians that we have lost all hope that things will or can improve for the better! Tall promises made in the past (and which were never fulfilled) have made us doubt any new claims made by these same faces!

The media is crying its throat hoarse on the intensity (read hopelessness) of the situation. Day in and day out, we witness participants of TV talk shows spell doom. The hosts of these shows invite people at the helm of affairs, people who have influence as well as authority, to discuss on the various issues troubling our country. But these people do nothing except fighting like wild cats, slinging allegations at each other and behaving like a bunch of spoilt brats! No one is ready to come forward and take responsibility, the best that they do is comfortably placing their opponent responsible for the quagmire we are stuck in. Problems are discussed and defined, but no solutions are offered.

I am just a face in the crowd, an ordinary woman in a country of millions. But like every educated and dedicated Pakistani, I feel depressed by the state of affairs and often ponder on means and ways to come out of this situation. I strongly feel that every one with an iota of patriotism should do his/ her share. It may be a drop in the ocean, but with time, effort and dedication, eventually every drop will count! Because every contribution (however small it may seem at the moment), towards a better society, may make some difference tomorrow! According to Shahzad Roy, founder of the Zindagi Trust, “To go big, we must first start small. Alas there are no shortcuts!”

 I and my readers are lucky, in the sense that we had access to quality education. We went to good institutions and had sincere teachers who brought out our abilities as best as they could. We know what our rights as citizens of a state are, and what duties we hold in return. We are leading a relatively comfortable and respectable life and can only imagine the sufferings of the down trodden masses. The current state of affairs strongly demands that it is our turn to pay back to our Homeland and not take our good luck for granted. We must understand that holding discussions over a cup of coffee, comfortably seated in our drawing rooms will not change our lot. We have to do something urgently, nay, on a war footing, to save our country from total turmoil.

The crying need of the hour is to create awareness among the masses. People must learn to identify their rights as well as be aware of their duties! And this mind-set comes only with education. We in Pakistan have a very low literacy rate, although official figures paint a brighter picture of the situation, as they declare near half the population literate. But their criterion is indeed pathetic; as a person who can read and write his/ her name is called literate in Pakistan. We have a dismal education system, teaching a listless curriculum by teachers, majority of who lack any sense of dedication to the cause of “Education for All”. Some of Pakistan’s problems like the rise of the crime graph, unemployment, hatred, intolerance and poor health conditions due to poor hygiene, are created by the lack of education.

Successive governments have failed to work for raising literacy levels in Pakistan (134th position in the 180 countries of the world and 31st out of 35 Islamic countries). Our selfish and greedy politicians realize that mass literacy will give people dignity, self respect and the courage to fight against their oppressive policies. Because with education comes enlightenment and the will to fight tyranny!

In the past Punjab government did come up once with the slogan Parha Likha Punjab. (I beg to state that the name is suggestive in itself of the political motives behind it as Parha Likha Pakistan would have been a more patriotic slogan). But it was rolled back after millions of rupees were misspent. So whatever tall claims they may make, education has never been on the top in the priority lists of our governments.

Whoever is in power, in every budget only meager funds are allotted for education, while much bigger chunks are spent on the luxurious spending of the government high-ups. Although the outgoing government had announced that over 80% literacy would be reached by the year 2015, but with no note worthy efforts in this direction, this proved to be only a verbal claim. We can easily understand how sincere their claims were by the fact that approximately a paltry 2% of the budget was been allocated for the educational sector. (UNESCO has recommended increasing this to at least 4%). In which I call only a vote gaining tactic, a resolution to implement free secondary education was passed in the National Assembly a few months back, but every educated Pakistani felt that this was “Too little, Too late!

In the rural areas, the situation is worse. The influential landlords consider it against their interests that their Haris or their children get educated. They know that their uncrowned kingdoms will have to face a down fall once awareness is created amongst their domains. To keep their powerful tentacles firmly rooted, they discourage their Haris and threaten them with dire consequences if their children are sent to school. They forcefully have schools shut down, using them as their Autaqs, or worst still as their cattle pens. As most of our feudal landlords have a strong hold on the country’s political power, they can easily have their way. So majority of the population continue to live on as illiterates, in abject poverty and unaware of their basic rights to a minimal quality life.

          NGOs, philantropists and private trusts are working in the education sector and doing a lot to provide free or affordable education to the poor children. The parents are urged to pull their children out of child labor and sent to schools; something they are often reluctant to do, as the children help out their parents by bringing in additional income. But the problem is so enormous that these efforts can not be enough to tackle the situation and bring our country out of this culture of chaos, corruption and confusion. Each and every educated person in Pakistan should come forward to do his/ her share.

My slogan is “Each One, Teach One”. If each educated Pakistani vows to impart education to only one illiterate person, young or old, soon we will see winds of change blowing. By adopting just one person as our student, be it our maid, chowkidar or their child, the boy selling tidbits at traffic signals or the Chota at the motor mechanics or Pan shop, we have to coax and urge these people and take them under our folds. By sparing a couple of hours of our free time and making all out efforts to impart education from the basic level, we can change the destiny of at least one person, as our student will not just learn to read and write his/her name to be called a literate, rather would have the awareness and vision only education can create. Making only one person literate by the educated ones, will double the literacy rate of Pakistan in no time. And the only repayment we may ask from our student is to ask him to pass on his knowledge to someone else in his circle.

Being a firm optimist, I believe that there is light at the end of the darkest tunnel. Every educated Pakistani must come forward to light the torch of literacy and to make sure that this torch keeps on burning. It may take time, patience and endurance but in not- too- far- off days we shall see hands coming out of the darkness; hands which shall pick up this lightened torch of education and awareness and march ahead, spreading the light of literacy to each and every part of our country! In Sha Allah!

 

The Real makers of Pakistan’s Future

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August 14, 1947, is the most important day in the history of Pakistan. In 1947, this was the day when, under the inspiring guidance of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and after a long struggle, the Muslims of India achieved a free homeland.

We celebrate this day in a befitting manner. The official festivities begin with flag raising ceremonies in Islamabad and the provincial capitals. Most schools hold special Independence Day programmes, flags are hoisted on rooftops and terraces, and children wear badges on their arms.

But sadly, over the passage of time, all this has become a sort of norm. We all do these things not from patriotism or love for Pakistan, but because everyone around us is doing the same. The fervour and love for our homeland and the fierce sense of ownership, which should be the essence of the celebrations, seems to be missing.

I was born to parents who had witnessed the Pakistan Movement. When Pakistan came into being, they, and most people of their generation, gave up their ancestral homes, properties and friends without a second thought. Their hearts filled with hope, they happily migrated towards the land of their dream.

For them Pakistan, ‘The land of the pure’, would be the country where peace, honesty, dedication, tolerance and justice would be the order of the day; where the Muslim majority would lead their lives in compliance with the teachings of Islam and also let non-Muslims freely follow their respective religious beliefs; where the three golden principles of Quaid-i-Azam, Unity, Faith and Discipline would form the base of society and where the law would rule supreme!

Tragically, after the initial few years of Pakistan’s creation, things began moving in the wrong direction. Greed, lust for power, corruption and putting personal gains over national interests started gnawing into the roots of our new found homeland. There was a total lack of will on the part of the people at the helm of national affairs to root out illiteracy and poverty from Pakistan.

And the resultant downslide in the conditions of our country has not stopped to this day!

Today, Pakistan is facing multiple troubles. Religious fanaticism, political instability, ever increasing foreign loan burden, corruption, illiteracy, inflation and an immense shortage of electricity and gas are only a few of these problems. The Pakistan that our forefathers dreamed about and the one that our great leader envisioned, is no where to be found!

Friends, our Quaid had great faith in us. On one occasion he said, “My young friends, I look forward to you as the real makers of Pakistan, do not be exploited and do not be misled. Create amongst yourselves complete unity and solidarity. Set an example of what youth can do. Your main occupation should be in fairness to yourself, to your parents, in fairness to the State, to devote your attention to your studies. If you fritter away your energies now, you will always regret.”

Talking about the importance of education our great leader stated, “Without education it is complete darkness and with education it is light. Education is a matter of life and death to our nation. No sacrifice of time or personal comfort should be regarded too great for the advancement of the cause of education.”

This year, on August 14, when we hoist the national flag on our rooftops and terraces let us resolve to work hard to raise the prestige of Pakistan in the world. When we pin Pakistani flag badges on our dress, let us pledge that we shall use these arms to root out corruption, injustice, greed and illiteracy from our homeland.

I feel that I and the people of my generation have failed miserably to put our country on the right track. By giving up the teachings of Islam and the guidelines our Quaid gave us, we have contributed towards the downfall of Pakistan.

But I am pinning my hopes on my young friends. Children are called the architects of the future of a nation. With your concentrated efforts, you can pull out Pakistan from the quagmire it is stuck in. By adopting the guiding principles of Unity, Faith and Discipline, and with dedication and hard work, you can guide Pakistan towards a bright and prosperous future.

Friends, let’s join hands and vow to strive and sacrifice with dedication and love for our country, just as our forefathers did.

In the end, I would again like to quote Mohammad Ali Jinnah, our visionary leader, “We have weathered the worst storms and the safety of the shore, though distant, is in sight. We can look to the future with robust confidence provided we do not relax and fritter away our energies in internal dissensions. There never was greater need for discipline and unity in our ranks. It is only with united effort and faith in our destiny that we shall be able to translate the Pakistan of our dreams into reality.”

Long live Pakistan!