Wrote this for an Indian think tank that wanted an article on “a best case-worst case scenario for Pakistan from now on; is time running out or can Pakistan turn itself around, quickly?”
I don’t think they got what they wanted out of this piece since they never published it. However, I still like it. So here it is:
CHAOS WITH A CHEWY CENTER
“Pakistan is on the brink of collapse.”
“The country is about to be swallowed up by internal strife.”
“The rest of the world is running out of patience.”
“Lo I beheld a pale horse and it’s name was Death. “
Oddly, none of these proclamations create even the slightest sense of panic in the average Pakistani anymore. Instead, what you will get, is a glazed over look of boredom. We’ve been here before, too many times and we will be here again. In fact, one might argue, Pakistanis are so comfortable on the brink of chaos that we have built our house there. Laid down roots. Every morning we battle the forces of uncertainty with the same sense of routine you have when you brush your teeth.
Wake up. Make unsuccessful attempt at seduction towards spouse. Crawl out of bed while struggling with sense of self-loathing. Battle the forces of chaos that threaten to swallow the country whole. Make breakfast. Read the newspaper. Watch the sprinklers come on over the front lawn. Rail against outside forces that are influencing the future of the nation. Rail against internal forces that are affecting the future of the nation. Go to work.
That’s the greatest tragedy and the greatest strength of Pakistan. That despite it’s mismanagement and endemic corruption and continuous struggle between moderation and extremism, it somehow continues to exist. I’ve been hearing stories about how in 10 years time the country will be no more since I was 10 years old. How one approaches those stories is what reveals oneself as either an optimist or a pessimist. The pessimist sees the continued existence of this doomed narrative as a sign that something in our collective souls is utterly broken. The optimist sees it as proof of our exemplary resilience. I, myself, vacillate between the two states like a manic schizophrenic. Some days I am proud of the fact that despite the waves of extremism and suicide bombings and drone attacks, we have a thriving arts and culture scene. That I can still find the spaces to go on stage and talk for an hour about the comedy inherent in my penis and the endless male quest for the perfect porn. Other days though I feel like Nero tuning up his fiddle.
So what is the future of Pakistan? If, like Nostradamus, I gaze into my crystal ball and attempt to divine the what-is-to-come, I see a continued battle between two ideologies: The conservative elements who see Pakistan as a state built for their violent, intolerant and aggressively oppressive form of Islam. And the Liberal elements who see Pakistan as a state build for their open, understanding, passive and accepting form of Islam. Unfortunately, the former group expresses their ideas in the form of combustible humans and the latter in the form of art, poetry and literature. The pen may be mightier than the sword but it takes a beating when put up against the exploding jacket. Fortunately though, both sides are actually quite small. Their battle, then, isn’t for the future of Pakistan really, but for the immense, undecided moderates. These are the people who cheered the death of Salman Taseer and mourned the prosecution of Dr. Afia, but also want time to go on Facebook and look at pictures of their best friend’s girlfriend while scouring Youtube for Shakira videos. They are misinformed and over-opinionated. They are also not as dangerous as they look but much more frightening than they should be. What’s worse is that they will never pick sides.
So things will continue as is. 20 years from now we will still be talking about how Pakistan is on the brink of collapse and things are falling apart because the center cannot hold. It’s up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or bad.