LAST week I heard of a cellphone app developed by a group of young Pakistani developers called Angry Imran: similar to the incredibly popular Angry Birds, Imran Khan’s head is launched off a catapault to destroy the heads of other Pakistani politicians — Asif Zardari, Yusuf Raza Gilani, Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain — in the various cities of Pakistan.
When you finish them off successfully, the jalsa crowds roar and Imran’s voice shouts out, “Tabdeeli aa gayi hai!” Kudos to the CreatiXe team who have given us a badly needed laugh in difficult times (and good for Imran Khan who is said to have found the game “quite funny”).
I thought of this game while travelling through the UK and meeting many expat Pakistanis in different cities — London, Leeds, Newcastle — because all of them had one question on their mind: are things changing for the better in Pakistan? And they looked at me, fearful of what I was going to tell them, and I surprised myself with my own answer: yes.
Expats have a hard time because they genuinely worry about the country from far away, yet because of their decision to leave and make a life elsewhere, their loyalty to Pakistan is questioned by those of us who decided to stay. But I’ve found that their concern is real, and their wish to help has not been diminished by the actions of our selfish politicians and reckless institutions who mismanage the donations and help sent from abroad.
So my response was met with by both cynicism and surprise. How, when all they hear is terrible stories coming out of our country about the corruption, the ineptness of the government, the blatant flouting of the rule of law by all members of society, is Pakistan changing?
The answer is complex, but I believe that Pakistan has finally woken up to reality. For decades we’ve been living like sleepwalkers, asleep and unaware while our rulers led us from one disastrous reign to another. We’ve been sedated with a harmful political ideology, we’ve been restrained by the years of dictatorship and war, and we’ve been fooled into thinking ourselves indispensable to world politics, the darling of all the superpowers who can’t put a foot wrong. But over the last 10 years, we’ve had our eyes opened by the harsh conditions of a post-9/11 world, and no longer are we living like zombies, in denial and ignorance of the very deep waters in which we stand.
I see a growing awareness of the past: all the wrong steps taken over the last 60 years that have led us further and further into a labyrinth of our own making. I see a burgeoning youth, hungry for information and education, going to university and entering the workforce in exciting numbers. I see the Pakistani free press converging with the ultimate wave of information, the Internet, and challenging the political and societal narrative force-fed to us by our state and its decrepit, tattered information and education systems.
I see a powerfully aware civil society, ready to raise its voice against violations of human rights. I see a people who want answers and accountability, and a government system with functionaries who are slowly realising that it can no longer get away with disrespecting the people, no matter how hard it tries to do so.
I see an independent judiciary that is functioning with great confidence. I see a lawyers’ movement that rid the nation of a dictator without bloodshed, a revolution that was a shining example to the Arab Spring nations. I see women fighting tooth and nail for their rights and refusing to accept the status of second-class citizens. I see attempts to normalise relations with our neighbours. I see dedicated activists trying to change laws, bringing balance and tolerance into our system, despite the attempts of the uneducated and the closed-minded to continue injustice in the name of ‘tradition’ and ‘honour’.
But that’s not to say that all is rosy in Pakistan. Our political system is weak. The battle between extremism and moderation and liberalism rages on our streets, in our workplaces and schools, in our mosques and our homes. Our economy is an aeroplane that tries desperately to achieve lift but is only able to avoid crashing and no more than that. Egregious crimes are committed against women and religious and ethnic minorities every day.
Yet in this wild pendulum swinging between left and right, between one extreme and the other, is a sign that we Pakistanis are struggling mightily with our identity; we are trying to redefine it, having woken up to the monster we were becoming and realising that we didn’t want to become that particular spectre.
So with caution, I tell my expatriate brothers and sisters that yes, Pakistan is changing. It’s a slow process that may take generations, but at least we’re seeing the beginning of it now. It’s a revolution even if it doesn’t look like the ones we’ve read about in history books or watched on television. We’ll probably never eliminate all the evils in our society, or right all the wrongs of our history, or magically never make any mistakes again, but we’ll continue to struggle to tip the balance in favour of the right and the just.
The important thing is to continue to look our problems straight in the face, without denial or excuses, and work to defeat them, and never lose hope. And remember the words of Angry Imran, even if you don’t agree with his politics: ‘tabdeeli aa gaye hai.’
The writer is author of Slum Child.