September 4, 2009
By: Laila Khan
During the ostentatious weddings and dinner parties thrown by the affluent segment of Pakistani society, no polite conversation is complete without the discussion of what is wrong with Pakistan. The conversation usually revolves around the corruption of Pakistani politicians, instability of the current government, presence of poverty, lack of safety especially due to terrorism, and the increased presence of pollution. Criticism of one’s nation does not automatically equate to disloyalty. Instead, such criticism demonstrates a lack of indifference to the nation’s prevalent conditions. However, it is unfair to criticize without also participating in civilized discourse to brainstorm tangible solutions to the various problems confronting Pakistan. Patriotism cannot solely be shown through criticism and celebrating Pakistan’s victory in a cricket match. Love of one’s country also needs to be shown through the will to act.
This past May, when one could only be bombarded by media reports prophesizing the eventual disintegration of Pakistan, the New York Times published an article titled, “Young Pakistanis Take One Problem Into Their Own Hands”. Upon reading the article I realized it had been a significant length of time since I had read about Pakistanis being socially responsible. Who were these Pakistanis? They certainly were not the elder elite who monopolize the coffee table discussions on the deficiencies of Pakistan. Instead, they were the elite youth, whose visionary views were usually dismissed without reason.
A group of young Pakistanis organized and created a movement called Responsible Citizens. Their mission was simple: Picking up trash. By using the social media website Facebook.com, 21 year-old Shoaib Ahmed got his friends together to spend their Sunday afternoons collecting trash in Lahore’s Ghalib Market. Ahmed stated, “Everybody keeps on blaming the government, but no one actually does anything. So we thought, why don’t we?” (Tavernise). The motivation behind creating Responsible Citizens, as the article explained, was partially due to the recent success of the lawyer’s movement in Pakistan and to an extent due to Ahmed and his friends’ exhaustion of hearing elders complain about the incompetence of the government. In response to why the movement focused on trash accumulation, Ahmed stated it, “is this most basic thing. It’s not controversial, and you can easily do it” (Tavernise).
The reasoning behind the New York Times’ keen interest in the social mission of Responsible Citizens is concluded in the author Sabrina Tavernise’s statement, “The idea was simple, but in Pakistan, a country full of talk and short on action, it smacked of rebellion.” Tavernise’s observation made me ponder why had Pakistan become a nation of more talk and less action? Why had Pakistanis formed a habit of constantly discussing the nation’s pressing problems and blaming others for them rather than implementing any changes?
As I thought about this matter, a quote by the late US President John F. Kennedy came to my mind, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”. This quote is significant with regards to the mindset of privileged Pakistanis who rarely ever ask what they can do for their nation. On the contrary, they ask what has my nation ever done for me. Due to this egocentric mentality, the outside world views a group of students collecting trash in Pakistan as a rebellion, when it should be viewed as a mere act of community service.
As Pakistanis, we must stop expecting the government to be the only source of change in our country. It is agreeable that Pakistan’s past has been filled with corrupt and unstable governments, which are partially responsible for the state of the nation today. However, the citizens are also to be blamed by becoming trapped in a cycle of hopelessness lead by individuals who have made careers for themselves by continuously bashing the nation. Maybe these dubious entities, hiding behind their newspaper columns and blogs, filled with conspiracy theories justifying the nation’s downfalls, should focus their energy on making their community a better place. They might find themselves having a little less to rant about and a bit more faith in Pakistan. If we desperately want to see a change in our political environment, shouldn’t we first initiate a change in ourselves?
It would be erroneous to say that Pakistanis have never been socially responsible. In times of disaster, such as the 2005 earthquake and the recent crisis in Swat, Pakistanis have demonstrated an immense sense of initiative and humanity. If this could be applied on a more regular basis, the privileged classes might find a slight improvement in their surroundings. The simplest act a wealthy citizen could do is reevaluate their expenditure. For example, instead of spending millions of rupees on a decadent wedding or a posh sports car, spend those funds to support a local NGO or an educational institution. Yes, this might not change the fate of the country over night but it is a small step towards it. I am not claiming all the solutions to the nation’s problems lie solely in the hands of the citizens but they certainly have a significant role to play. My humble suggestion to Pakistan’s wealthy class is the following: Since you have been blessed with the means to make a difference, please remember that actions speak louder than words.