Saturday, August 27, 2011

Waiting for a Messiah to save Pakistan

We should outsource Pakistan’s governance to China for the next 30 years, argued a close relative at a recent dinner table conversation. “China can turn around our economy and restore law & order in the country,” he said with a straight face, without a sniff of sarcasm. “We could never do this on our own”.

Pakistan’s troubled history is no match for the resilience & resourcefulness of the Pakistani people, many of whom believe that Pakistan can be saved if we’re able to find the right “savior”.

This is how death & hope co-exist in Pakistan; as long our own loved ones don’t die, we fool ourselves into believing that we’re just bidding time until our chosen savior comes to rescue Pakistan, waves his magic wand and makes all our problems go away.

Our life is made all the more easier because there are so many saviors vying to save Pakistan.

We can pick our favorite savior from an open buffet of options. The business elite prefer the stability & security of military “saviors”. Elements of the religious right prefer the “Shariah based justice system” & “freedom from American hegemony” that the Taliban “saviors” promise us.   Disillusioned youth believe a new face like Imran Khan is the answer to our problems, arguing that a new leader could change Pakistan’s future just like a new ball can change the outcome of a cricket game.

This pervasive savior mentality didn’t just drop from the sky in Pakistan. We’ve been taught to believe that only our leaders can help us; that we cannot collectively help ourselves.

Let me engage in some historical blasphemy to make my point.

Whenever we talked about the unfortunate death of Quaid-e-Azam during history class in school, our teachers would almost always wistfully remark that Pakistan would have been a different place had Quaid-e-Azam lived longer.

There is an almost universal belief among Pakistanis that Quaid-e-Azam would have saved Pakistan (from our future problems) had he lived longer. We need to shatter this mental barrier to realize that one leader cannot single handedly change the fortunes of a country, not matter how honest & intelligent he may be. It’s only when a nation collectively decides to improve their fortunes that true progress can be made and honest, intelligent leadership can flourish.  

For over 60 years, this “savior mentality” has wreaked havoc in our country by diluting our sense of responsibility as citizens.

“You shouldn’t pay taxes in Pakistan,” were the words of wisdom I received from a friend, right after I filed taxes for the first time in my life. “The money’s only going to end up in some corrupt official’s pocket,” he argued. “The system is corrupt. The system should be changed first”.  

Unfortunately, the onus of changing the “system” is conveniently placed on our “savior” of choice so we don’t have to take responsibility for our actions. This helps us sleep at night: I don’t pay my taxes because the system is corrupt. When the system changes, I’ll become an honest man. And the system will change when (insert savior name here) comes to power and rescues the country from the mess we’re in.

As a nation, we find ourselves repeatedly clinging to the mirage of a promised savior, who’ll make our problems go away with minimal effort of our own.

The hard truth is that Pakistan doesn’t need saviors; Pakistan needs its citizens to take responsibility for their country. As a society, we can’t put off doing the right thing in our daily lives (honesty, obeying laws etc) until our chosen messiah descends from heaven (or Washington) and decides to change the “system”. We must do the right thing now and consistently if we want to genuinely save Pakistan.

No one else will save our country, with our best interests at heart, unless we take responsibility for this beautiful, broken nation that we call home.