Is Pakistan the most exciting place to live in the 21st century? It’s almost as if someone has unleashed good news for the country on all fronts; economic, political and security. Over $40 billion in Chinese investmentare on their way but more importantly a bet by the world’s next superpower to tie its regional ambitions to Pakistan’s prosperity. This is a game-changing Marshall plan of sorts that appears too good to be true. On security, the army, civilian leadership and civil society are steadily taking the battle to religious extremists instead of indulging in in-fighting and appearing like sitting ducks. On politics, a stunning election took place in Karachi last month, on the hottest of seats, but the result was respected by all parties as the polls were largely free and fair. Rewind a few months back when the country was about to unravel on rigging allegations. Who are you and what have you done to my country that it couldn’t get anything right?
As a wise man once said, abhi tau party shuru hui hai. Fuel and electricity prices have steadily declined in Pakistan over the last few months and we sit on the cusp of a consumer spending bonanza that will fuel the informal economy. Both consumers and producers will see their bottomlines improving behind lower fuel prices and subdued inflation. More importantly, this isn’t a cheap credit-driven bubble that will burst anytime soon (unless fuel prices rise abruptly). There is another geo-political prize in the making. Iran and America are flirting with the idea of becoming friends. If this happens, sanctions could be lifted andPakistan could finally get cheap gas from Iran to overcome domestic shortages. A big, hungry market may also open up next door and we could potentially import cheaper oil too. If this isn’t enough, international cricket is returning to Pakistan, too. Who are you and what have you done to the country that was destined to become a failed state?
Before you dismiss me as someone in denial about the gravity of Pakistan’s real problems, let me clarify that the purpose of this article isn’t to argue that Pakistan doesn’t have serious problems. The purpose of this article is to argue that Pakistan is more than the sum of its problems. Several bright spots are beginning to emerge in the country but no one is connecting the dots. When it comes to declaring Pakistan a failed state, the mainstream media is quick to connect the dots and focus hysterically on doomsday scenarios that drive ratings. But no one wants to talk about a confluence of positive economic, geo-political, security and political factors that are setting up Pakistan for success by firmly nudging us in the right direction. How dare you, Pakistan? Who are you and what have you done to the country where hopelessness had defeated hope itself?
Pakistan may not be the richest country to live in the 21st century. It may not be the safest country to live in the 21st century. But it may just be the most interesting country to live in the 21st century. Consider this: the Pakistani people are frontline warriors in the greatest ideological battles of the 21st century, including the battle against religious extremism. With Muslim countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen falling like dominoes to extremism and infighting, Pakistan acts like it’s operating in a parallel universe, with all political parties coming together in parliament to unanimously vote against joining the conflict in Yemen, which could have sparked a broader sectarian war in the Muslim world. In the first 15 years of this century, the Pakistani people have fought for a free press, establishing an independent judiciary and securing democratic elections, while fighting enemies determined to defeat the state from inside and out. Today, Pakistan’s mainstream discourse is centred on how these freedoms should be used and protected responsibly. We take two steps forward and one step backwards. This can often be frustrating and may also be confused as a sign of weakness. In reality, this is the hallmark of a country making giant leaps forward, in the right direction. Who are you and what have you done to my country?
The reason I choose to be positive about Pakistan and paint this picture for a better future is because we cannot withstand the pressure of solving Pakistan’s real problems today without genuinely believing that there is light at the end of this dark tunnel. If we cannot imagine a better future for Pakistan, we cannot create it. How dare you give me hope in Pakistan once again? Who are you and what have you done to the country that I had given up on?
Published in The Express Tribune, May 7th, 2015.