The Pakistani Narrative

"Where are you from, " Vasu asked and then himself responded "India." I corrected him. A smile erupted on his face, he stood up and walked over from behind his desk. It was an extended handshake. In a voice quivering with emotion the elderly security guard at the Asia Center reception whispered "Oh then you are a special friend. Pakistan has always helped us." I smiled as this elderly man from Eritrea continued, ?You know Sir Zafar ullah Khan he spoke for us at the UN, we know him in my country." Overwhelmed and steeped in national pride similar stories of Algerians, Tunisians and Palestinians raced through my head. An enthused Vasu was still saying something about how even now Pakistan was one of the few countries that stood by Eriteria.

I stayed with the stories I had heard in my school years from the many Boston-based students from the Maghreb. Deep in their consciousness was etched the Pakistani role in their freedom struggle. Surely hundreds and thousands of other Pakistanis too must have heard countless such stories. Pakistan’s support to other post-colonial movements was the story of a people who, led by the indomitable Jinnah, had dared to dream the impossible. Their dream turned to reality. They then helped others to struggle for their dreams. The Tunisian and the Algerian liberation leadership traveled on Pakistani passports while our ‘stars’ like Sir Zafarulah Khan and Patras Bokhari became their forceful advocates at the UN. Such was the confidence and conviction of this new-born nation struggling to survive. For example for the Palestinians the Quaid himself wrote to President Truman. In his May 1948 letter the he declared that "history will never forgive those who have committed this si! n against the Palestinians." Fortitude was not lacking in the frail father of a struggling nation. The Quaid minced in communicating his outrage to the president of the United States.

Such were then our ways; awe-inspiring, setting our own rules as a new entrant on world stage. The stories of Pakistan’s early years , of the sacrifices of the million that created the country , of the many that who steered it towards survival , security and self-assurance, indeed make the Pakistan narrative. All nations need narratives. Narratives are the stories that settle in the hearts and minds of successive generations. It forms a nations spirit and it bonds nations together. Narratives is what spurs people to cross the limits of ?human nature?, to opt for the collective over the individual good and to pursue the powerful intangibles like dignity and honor. Narratives give a nation a reason to ‘be’ and a reason to believe.

Narratives come from no diktat. They neither follow nor flow from authority. Narratives are about the ‘ebb and flow’ of a nations life as told by the people ; by writers, artists, analysts, playwright, the poet, the singer, press etc. Yet in their narration of the Pakistan story all these narrators draw upon the condition of the State, they are deeply influenced by the terms of interaction that the State sets with society, the government with the people. The State therefore plays the central role in determining the context within which the story teller gives her or his story a meaning. This is then the power of the State, of the virtual hold it has over the story-teller’s emotional state. A relatively satisfactory relationship between the State and its people will produce hundreds of positive minded and ‘happy’ story tellers. Happy story tellers tell the happy story. Unhappy ones have unhappy, even angry narratives. Feeling? takes precedence over ‘facts. The heroism! of many hundreds and thousands of muslims at the time of Pakistan?s creation and during the struggling times of the early years is often documented in the spirit of a "Dream gone sour." One of the pillar?s of Pakistan?s establishment is not alone in defining his narrative in these words. He titled it so. Others speak it such. The thrust of the many narratives of the fifties sixties onwards has been no different. While there is much to be proud about as Pakistanis but the absence of a happy and a positive narrative is undeniable. We have to ask ourselves why ? Why are so many story tellers , the best minds and hearts among us angry, why does the Pakistani narrative not tell the million ‘Vasu stories,’ why do many of us have no room in our hearts to repeat the heart warming and spirit-lifting ‘Vasu stories’ ,why do many among us instead find energy time and inclination to tell the angry, the bitter and even the sad story. Indeed narratives are defined by the ?state of being?! of the narrator. Narratives are a subjective activity. You ‘see’ and you recall as you ‘feel.’

Significantly the relation between the Pakistani State and society has dictated the nature of the Pakistani narrative as we now experience it. It is the narrative told by the disillusioned. Ordinary mortals , the heroes of their times and maybe of their own limited context, find the interface with the Pakistani State difficult and de-sensitizing. It turn their positive energies into a negative drain. The State which abandons credibility and legitimacy for expediency can never build national morale or a positive narrative.

The ‘betrayed’ and the disillusioned will not tell the happy narrative and the narrative of the heroes and our heroism. Theirs will be the reactive and th ugly story; of bitterness ,betrayals and of failures. Such is the yield of how power and politics has been conducted in independent Pakistan. It has created distrust , antagonism and resentment across so much of society. Bad politics destroys the soul of a people like bad habits do of an individual. It’s a weary existence. One that looks at the glass always half empty. Too much of negativism is stifling for the soul, we have to abandon the draining negativism that so many of us are virtually steeped in. Yet the State must take the first step.

The State, for most part has evolved almost in seperation from society. AN angry intellect has evolved as an off-shoot of this reality. More than half a century later we have to reclaim our soul and spirit. Fortunately the enriched soul and the tenacious spirit of Pakistanis still survives. The onus is on State has to take the first step. It must seek legitimacy. Without this a much needed Pakistani narrative will not flow. That alone will give us the collective energy to pursue beautiful dreams.