Citizen: Being a Pakistani

Citizen, Featured
October 7, 2010 12:42

Pakistan has been in the spotlight for the last couple of years for many reasons. The war in Afghanistan and U.S.-led occupation, and its aftermath has yielded disastrous results for this nuclear-armed South Asian nation. The spell of a military dictatorship left the country reeling from political instability and deadly uprising in many parts of the country. Disastrous economic policies of the past governments and present have led to the flight of investors and increased the gap between the rich and the poor deeper than ever.

Sajjad Bukhari is an educated 32-year-old businessman who belongs to the country’s repressed and shrinking middle class. He gives us an intimate glimpse of his life which, like millions of other Pakistanis, is a mixture of problems, ambitions, traditions and hopes.

My day starts at dawn when I wake up to say my prayers and take some time to contemplate. I think about all the things I’ve got and thank the Provider for their significance in my life. This reflection helps me regroup my energies and motivates me to lead my life in pursuit of happiness and productivity. I seek to share it with everyone possible – my family, friends, neighbours, acquaintances and even with strangers. Many people find it strange in the society but that’s how I like to live my life. This is who I am…

Early morning view of a township in Karachi. Photo - Fantaz

The air outside is really fresh and clean. There is no noise and everything seems to be at peace. I stand in my terrace with my wife next to me and enjoy the early morning views. We walk or sit down and have a quiet word which refreshes both of us. One of the few moments you can really enjoy in a busy megalopolitan life…

Soon the kids are awake. They wash themselves and join me on the breakfast table. My eldest son, 5, helps his three-year-old sister get some jam on the toast or add chocolate to the glass of milk. It is really nice to see them enjoying an all important meal of the day. Not only an important part of their nutrition, breakfast is also a vital part of their upbringing and training. It is from this table they learn how to be good with food, respect their elders, be kind to their friends and work hard to learn something at school. I know they’re too young to understand many things but I’m setting the standards. The change I want to see in the world must start from my own house…

I take them to the school and all I can see this early are vehicles crammed with school children. Popping out from the vans, buses and cars, I also see the kids carrying big school bags on their little shoulders and I feel sorry for them. The schools are more interested in getting their pockets thicker. They are the ones who provide textbooks at exorbitant rates to their pupils so every extra book gives them loads of money. Then the teachers ask the kids to bring all of these textbooks despite using only a few.

Look at the burden on these girls' shoulders. Is it fair? Photo - joegoauk24

I asked one school teacher the reason for forcing to bring all the books and she said: “Well, I personally don’t like kids carrying all on them but the school wants to prove a point. The administration wants to show that all the books provided to their pupils are important and used almost daily.”

I come back home and turn on my computer to check my emails and read news. It is a fateful day. At least a dozen civilians killed in a drone attack in the country’s north-west region that borders Afghanistan. “U.S. drone targets terrorists, kills civilians” says the headline. And it is so true. Most of the people who die in these attacks are innocent civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As for the militants, they somehow manage to escape the attacks and resurface again…

Do I look like a militant? A child stands next to his house destroyed by a drone attack in the town of Miranshah. Photo - Haji Mujtaba/Reuters

And their crime? “They’re poor people who live in baked mud houses. The man in the house supports his family by working hard in the scorching sun and provides them food and clothes. He asks for a decent life and has nothing to do with the invaders or the rebels. For these people, their life is everything about home, kids and family. They seek no money, power or control but just 2 square meals a day,” a childhood friend of mine from the tribal areas often tells me in response to these attacks.

As for the ‘terrorists’, he says: “It is a bad mix. They are different kinds of people but are bound by anti-U.S. imperialist hatred. Many seek to expel the occupation army from Afghanistan, some want the imposition of Shariah and some want to topple the government in Islamabad. The only thing they don’t want is peace. And so do the American forces in the region.”

I totally agree with my friend’s assessment. People can argue about the reasons of the war in Afghanistan, why and how it happened but no one can debate the aftermath. My country is at the verge of collapse thanks to the American invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. It will never be the same again…

After some surfing on the Internet, I set off for work. I’ve a shop in downtown Karachi where I sell bonds and miscellaneous top-up cards. On my way, I see bus stops full of people, the roads full of cars and buses, and every form of transport just crammed with men and women jostling for space in the vehicle in order to reach their workplace. A typical urban morning setting you’d say but there is more to it.

There are fewer buses and more passengers. And this shortage is created artificially by the transporters. They milk the commuters and maximise profits obscenely. According to the city’s municipal government, there are more than 20,000 privately-owned buses and mini-buses that provide public transport but still the number of commuters is much more than the capacity of carrying passengers in these vehicles.

A study carried out by the Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, said the deficiency in the vehicle fleet is due to the fact that the majority of Karachi’s urban public transport (81%) is comprised of low capacity (27/32 passenger’s carrying capacity) mini- buses/coaches. Therefore, the ratio of available seat capacity on public transport to the population in Karachi is 1:40. This deficiency compels the commuters to travel in over-crowded buses, minibuses, and coaches, exposing themselves to serious hazards by traveling on footboards, roof-tops, and even on the rear guards of the vehicles.

A glimpse of the morning rush hour in Karachi. Almost all buses are full from as early as 6 in the morning. Photo - Ejaz Asi

I’m lucky enough to own my motorcycle. I know it is not the safest form of transport in the world but in a city like Karachi it gives me the leverage to reach my destination as quickly as possible. But I face other problems. I hit the filling station and find the petrol prices increased overnight – without prior notice. No reason is ever given for the hike apart from the excuse that oil prices in international market are on the rise. What about the decrease in international oil prices? Why don’t we get the relief from the drop? These inept policy makers have pig skin on them…

I’m about to reach my workplace and my journey is interrupted by a traffic warden. “Where is your helmet?” he growls. My God! I’m not wearing my helmet, I’m sorry I forgot. I ask the warden while pointing out some riders already on the road. “Why don’t you stop them? You should fine them too,” I quip. The warden says that he’s going to target other violators as soon as he is done with me. “Give me Rs.200 (almost US$2) and I’ll set you free,” he orders. I thought I heard a bribable traffic cop! “No thanks, I just need a ticket,” I said defiantly. He wasn’t so happy with me…

Though the cops get 30% of every ticket they book as commission but they still prefer bribes as it saves them time. Instead of fulfilling their duties and getting paid honestly, they would rather depend on bribes to make some extra income. And mind you, every bribe trickles to the pockets of the high ranking traffic police officers in the city.

A traffic constable booking pillion riders for some offence. Photo - Sureshot Shahzad

According to a recent survey conducted by Transparency International Pakistan, 56% of respondents said police, including traffic police, is the most corrupt public sector of Pakistan with 26% of them forced to give bribes in order to get their work done. The survey revealed the major reasons behind the poor performance and corruption in police department are lack of accountability, concentration of power, low salaries, interference of influential people, and red-tapism. The country itself stands as the world’s 42nd most corrupt state, according to the list maintained by Transparency International.

I now reach my workplace and the market has not opened yet. It’s hardly 10 in the morning and the shops are still closed. I like to open my shop early as it gives me an advantage over my competitors. The business is bearish these days. The economic conditions are worsening thanks to rising inflation, soaring unemployment, hike in taxes resulting in business closures and uncertainty about the situation of law and order. Since the democratic government has come into power, prices of essential goods including food items have risen at least twice. The purchasing power is rockbottom these days. If people can’t afford to spend money, let alone save it, how can they buy bonds?

The world might sing the merry songs of democracy but Pakistan has suffered badly under these ‘so-called’ democratic governments. Ask anyone on the streets and they’ll tell you how corrupt Benazir Bhutto was. In fact, the very same Transparency International survey I quoted earlier, mentions that around 49% of Pakistanis think Benazir’s government was the most corrupt government of all times and reserve ‘special’ words for her husband Asif Ali Zardari who now happens to be the President of Pakistan. The other democratic ‘hero’, Nawaz Sharif, is not far behind as 43% people also think that he was corrupt and accuse him of mismanagement.

Asif Ali Zardari (1st left) current President of Pakistan poses with former prime minister and current opposition chief Nawaz Sharif (2nd left), his late wife and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and Kulsoom Nawaz Sharif, wife of Nawaz Sharif. Photo - Munnatutu

But I don’t mean to say that military governments, who have ruled the country for more than half of its 63 years of existence, have done any better. However, the level of corruption is lesser than the civilian governments, in my humble opinion…

Peak business time and there is a power cut. There is no technical fault but just routine outage that we call ‘load shedding’ here. According to the government, there is a gap between the electricity generation and consumption. The electricity board has no other solution but to resort to outages in order to bridge the demand-supply difference. This seriously dents businesses as you can imagine. We’re living in the 21st century yet things around us are so medieval. It is not only the government to be blamed for the power failures. Power theft is very common especially in slums and busy commercial areas where kiosk owners resort to illegal means to save money.

The maze of illegal connections in a Karachi suburb shows the inefficiency of the electricity board to check power theft. Photo by Fahim Siddiqi

I think more people would be willing to have authorised electricity connections if the power charges are made affordable. First of all, the rates are too high for domestic or commercial consumption. Secondly, even if someone is able to pay the bills at the existing rates, the constant hikes carried out by the government force the people to take extreme steps. There is no justification to any crime but what other measure can you think of to help the working class meet their ends?

The government wants to establish more power houses under private sector and buy energy from them to meet the growing national demand. But I’m very critical of such moves. The Independent Power Producers (IPPs) are a bunch of opportunists who have colluded to fix prices and create artificial shortage to maximise their profits. The government seldom takes action against them as they threaten to wrap up their investment from the country. So easy to take our government at hostage, isn’t it?

I come out from the shop to beat the heat and start walking in the street. It is afternoon time and the market is crowded. The sun is scorching yet there is a cool breeze blowing gently. While appreciating the breeze, I wonder why don’t we tap our biggest resource, sunlight, which is unlimited and is available for almost 365 days a year. Why don’t we invest our money in solar energy research and develop cheap solar panels that can power our basic needs? Why throw money and resources on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy that create pollution and are set to run out very soon? And how about nuclear energy? What good use is our nuclear programme when we cannot produce nuclear energy to meet our ever-rising demands? I don’t understand our ‘paralysed’ policymakers…

It is evening and almost time to get back home. But I hear that situation in the city is a bit tense as there has been some political violence. I dig in more and find out that a politician belonging to a powerful political party has been shot at and injured. “Thank God he’s alive otherwise there would have been more violence,” says the neighbouring shopkeeper. I nod my head and close my shop.

Karachi is the biggest city of Pakistan. With a population of an estimated 13 million, it is the hub of shipping, trade, finance, banking, information technology, manufacturing, real estate, media and education. According to Asian Development Bank report it generates 20% of Pakistan’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while handling 95% of the country’s foreign trade. In short, Karachi is the lifeblood of Pakistan without which the country will collapse.

Anything good or bad happening in Karachi has an impact on the whole country. The city is a mix of all ethnic groups of Pakistan including the descendants of people who migrated from India to the country in 1947 or later. Other ethnic groups include the Sindhis, Pashtuns, Punjabis, Baloch, Gujaratis, Hazara and Kashmiris. Many Afghans and a small number of Bengalis also live in the city.

Any high-profile killing can trigger violence after which cars and other public properties are set on fire by miscreants. Photo - Muhammad Adeel

The city faces two kinds of tensions that explode to high levels of violence. First, the clashes between the majority Urdu-speaking group and other minority groups like Pashtuns or Punjabis. Second, the confrontation between the majority Sunni Muslims and the minority Shia Muslims. This deadly mix of ethnic and religious groups provide a fertile ground to extremists of all sides who foster on fear, hatred and misconceptions. Any untoward incident and gunmen belonging to ethnic or religious parties are out on the streets perpetrating violence with impunity. Reaction also comes in form of arson and sabotage when cars, buses and public infrastructure is burnt down by unruly mobs. Victims have always been the innocent civilians who pay a heavy price with their lives, property and taxes.

I was born and bred in this city and I call it as my home. Not only all my relatives live here, most of my friends were also born and hail from Karachi. I’ve got a wide circle of friends who come from different communities. They have a life here. Their homes, belongings, properties, families etc. is based in this city. I’ve many Pashtun friends despite the fact that I speak Urdu as my mother tongue. But never in my life did we had a single argument let alone problems. We live together peacefully, work and raise our families together.

The same goes with the relationship between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam. Though there are differences of opinion and practice between the sects, they’ve thrived next to each other since the introduction of Islam in Arabia in 6th AD. When I was a child, I had no idea about the differences between a Sunni and Shia Muslim. I was treated well by my Shia friends and their families and my family reciprocated. And it still stays the same…

My father says things have changed a lot since the insurrection against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1979. Our country became the hub of illegal weapons and narcotics, thanks to the involvement of the Americans and their allies who joined hands to defeat the USSR. They withdrew as soon as the war ended in 1989 but left behind a lethal mess of drugs, weapons, mercenaries and ruthless warlords. While Afghanistan was burning in the fires of civil war from 1992-1996, Pakistan became the breeding ground for extremists of all sorts especially the religious ones. The Shia got support from Iran whereas the Sunni fundamentalists prospered on the money coming from oil-rich Gulf states especially Saudi Arabia.

The religious extremists fight with a conviction of sectarian domination and glory of their beliefs. The political gangs, on the other hand, fight to control the city by grabbing precious lands, drug trafficking, intimidation and extortion. Violence, bloodshed and destruction is the outcome when these religious or political extremists come into action. Government and law-enforcement either sit idle or intervene half-heartedly. Terrorists act with impunity while victims end up either in cemeteries, hospitals or jails…

Karachi has been marred by violence and civic problems for the last three decades with no improvement in quality of life or infrastructure. But a lot has changed when a young man named Mustafa Kamal got elected as the Mayor of Karachi in October, 2005. The 38-year-old who comes from a humble middle class background became one of the youngest mayors of Pakistan and initiated several projects to uplift city’s crumbling infrastructure. Within a matter of 4 years, he transformed the face of Karachi from an ailing city to a dynamic, modern megacity equipped with modern bridges, flyovers, underpasses, roads, hospitals, schools and many other civic facilities.

View of a unique flyover and underpass project in Karachi. Photo - Raza Khan

This charismatic leader, and I’ve witnessed it with my own eyes, worked tirelessly to ensure construction projects are completed on time and removed hurdles created by lawless elements. He not only managed to attract investors from abroad, Karachi’s local resources were used efficiently for the first time and citizens from all walks of life were involved in many projects to ensure transparency and success. In short, the Karachi before he came to power and the Karachi of today are two different stories…

I get back home and see my kids waiting in the gate for me. As soon as I park my bike and get off I see my son rushing to me and trying to reach my arms. With a shine on his face, he reports: “Dad, I am the best student in the class but my teacher did not make me the monitor today. She made some other naughty kid.” With a big smile on my face, I whispered into my wife’s ears,”This is Pakistan. That’s how you get rewarded for being good and efficient.” My wife poked her finger in my chest while returning a smile. After all, this is what happened to Mustafa Kamal as well, I reasoned…

We were supposed to go out to attend a pre-wedding ceremony but cancelled our plans due to uncertain situation in the city. The ceremony is called Mehndi where women from the bride’s family get together and apply henna to the bride while singing and dancing to music. It is mostly attended by women but now there is a growing trend of having a song and dance competition between the male and female participants from both the bride and groom’s side. The fun-filled event also includes a banquet.

Instead, I turn on the TV and start watching cricket. Pakistan is playing a one-day match against England and the situation is quite interesting. ‘How real it is’ I wonder while staring at my screen with amazement. Allegations of match fixing are no stranger in cricket. A lot has been going around in the last two decades and several big names of cricket have been banned for life when proved guilty of the corrupt practices. Unfortunately, Pakistani team got tangled in a minefield of allegations while touring England last month. While substantial evidences point out that a few Pakistani cricketers were involved in suspicious practices, media started the trial and gave its verdict: “Pakistan is guilty”.

I do not know if our players are guilty or not and I’m in no mood of defending or condemning them. I know for a fact that many officials in the government and the cricket associations are corrupt. They might have pulled a few strings which embroiled the whole team and got them into a mess. I don’t know why would they do this despite the fact that they earn handsomely according to Pakistani standards and get all the luxuries of life. There cannot be an excuse to tarnish the image of our nation and if found guilty, they should be given exemplary punishments. This is not only my voice but most of the 16 million of my countrymen are urging the same.

A TV grab from a one-day international cricket match between England and Pakistan.

Millions of Pakistanis are mad about cricket. Everyday you’ll see hundreds of people playing cricket in grounds, open spaces and even in the streets. This game that was introduced by the British imperialists in 19th century has become not only the country’s most popular sport but also the most played and followed game across South Asia. Such is the madness for the sport that an important cricket match can turn the streets, shops, markets and other public places deserted while cafes, tea houses, restaurants and community centres crowded with people. An India vs Pakistan match and everyone is so excited about it…

While flipping the channels, I found out that Pakistan indeed won their match with a comfortable margin. How did that happen, I wonder, while thinking about the means people employ to find out the outcome and place huge bets to make money. Though illegal, betting rackets make millions of dollars per match while lining up the pockets of higher ups in the both international and national cricket boards. This is my observation which is based on my understanding of the game that I’ve been watching since the last 15 years…

Dinner is not ready yet so I decide to watch news bulletins on different news channels. It is a painful experience to see Pakistani news channels. Extremely pathetic to say the least. Look at them…everyday they have one specific target, a politician/political party whom they love to loathe about. Day or two later its another politician/party’s turn. While the common man is suffering from shortages of petroleum, sugar and electricity and inflation sky-rocketing, these news channels have their own agenda. Tune into any given channel at any given time and you’ll see talk shows where hosts are sat with bunch a of politicians, analysts, ex-military generals and technocrats, having furious debates about topics that have nothing to do with the miseries of the common man.

TV grab of a popular debate programme on a Pakistani news channel.

You’ll see these people freely exchanging heated words, at times swearing at each other, loudly shouting on the screen and not giving their opponents any chance to speak. As soon as the mercury hits high, the television channels take the opportunity to have a commercial break and make more money. The debate never progresses from point A to B whereas exchange of accusations and point scoring hits new records. The common man, who is already confused and frustrated over the situation, has no other choice but to change the channel or shut down the TV. The so-called 5th pillar of the state is busy misleading the public like all the other institutions but who cares???

Finally, dinner time and all the family is on the table. And this time it is not only my wife and kids but my parents, my brother and his wife and the extended family that lives under the same roof. Our house is big enough to accommodate three families on three separate floors. The final meal of the day is an event where people get together and chit chat. Every family might cook a dish so the meal has the added attraction of having several delicious foods and desserts. For kids, it is the time when they tell about their day. They also learn manners, etiquette and courtesy from their elders that enables them to mingle with the rest of the family and society. It is also the time when they gain knowledge about family matters and meet members of the extended family who are often visit us at dinners.

After the dinner, kids play around while parents may hang around chatting, go out for a walk in the park or retreat to their bedrooms for rest and recreation. I decide to watch a Bollywood movie with my wife.

Bollywood movies are extremely popular in Pakistan as most people speak and understand the same Urdu/Hindi language and share the same culture. Some might argue that the culture of both the countries is totally different as India is a Hindu-dominated country whereas Pakistan is a Muslim majority country. I don’t want to deny the demographics but I find their argument pointless. We share the same culture and values with some differences emerging due to religion and castes and that is natural. However, the spirit and colour of the Indian subcontinent is more or less the same whether you live in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka or Maldives.

Renown Indian actresses Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit's dance routine from a very popular Bollywood movie song.

Indian movies are famous worldwide for colourful clothes, vibrant dances, beautiful locations and romantic plots that often involve families vying for power and influence but get overpowered by affection and kindness. No matter how hard the parents of a boy/girl oppose the relationship between their children, the romantic couple use the virtuous power of love and make the wedding dream come true. As a general rule, Bollywood movies must have a happy and colourful ending.

Another morning and another day packed with hectic activities. Tonight is the big night as we’ve to attend the marriage of my wife’s cousin. So while she spends her day in the saloon getting the beauty treatment, I’ll spend my day at the shop and buy some stuff from the bazaar before I come back home in the evening.

Life is back to normal in the mega city. Everything is moving as if it never stopped. Despite the violent events that occurred yesterday, today seems like a brand new day. People are tense about the situation but the tension of earning a living overcomes all other worries…

I reach my shop and start reading a newspaper while waiting for the customers to arrive. There is a suicide bombing in a place of worship in another city of Pakistan which claimed the lives of scores of innocent people. I’m absolutely stunned. The killers raised slogans in the name of God before detonating themselves. I cannot believe this! Dozens of questions pour in my mind while sweat streams from my forehead. Who are these people? What kind of God do they believe in? How can they volunteer to become suicide bombers and kill innocent people who are engaged in acts of worship not violence? Why would they end their lives in such a disgraceful manner?

And just a quick reminder, there have never been suicide bombings in Pakistan before the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the U.S. forces in 2001…

I have no idea why they’d do this. Some say they’re brainwashed and hypnotised before carrying out such acts. And that they’re the relatives of the people who have lost their loved ones in U.S. drone attacks or security operations conducted by the Pakistani army in Pakistani border areas with Afghanistan. Many people float theories suggesting they’re religious fanatics who want a shortcut to the heavens and this act guarantees them the easiest route to the abode of God. I’ve also heard people insisting they’re not Muslims and it can be verified by looking at the charred remains of any detonated bomber. In short, it is like the common Urdu proverb that goes: “too many mouths, too much gossip”.

A would-be suicide bomber surrenders to police instead of detonating himself at an unknown place.

Despite the confusion around, it won’t take a rocket scientist to understand the basic reasons for insurgency and use of suicide bombing as a weapon. The people who have struck so far come from the far-flung areas of the country for example the tribal areas in northwest Pakistan or southern Punjab in central Pakistan that are downtrodden and neglected by the government for ages. These places lack decent infrastructure and basic amenities of life. The government schools, if present physically, lack furniture, teachers and educational material such as books and stationery. The poor cannot afford private schools due to high fees. The only option left is the traditional madrasas (Islamic seminaries).

The madrasas are another world. Most of them are run by semi-literate mullahs who have no academic qualifications apart from learning the Holy Quran by heart. They are unaware of science, take no interest in social studies and do not indulge themselves in learning maths or arts. For them, the certificate of cramming Quran is first and foremost. The rest of knowledge, most of them say, is futile and won’t bring them rewards in the life hereafter. Mind you, life hereafter is an Islamic concept which says human beings will go to either heaven or hell after the worldly life.

Now I send my son to a school which is a combination of both. He is learning the Holy Book but also studies mathematics, Urdu and English, social studies, science and arts and crafts. I make sure he gets a comprehensive schooling so that he blends into the society very well. For me and my family, it is important that he knows both about his religion as well as the world he is living in.

The life in deprived areas do not give inhabitants the chance to integrate into the wider society and become part of the developing nation. The people in these areas have poor access to water, electricity and gas while little or no access to jobs, health care and sanitation. There is no dispensation of justice as police acts both as law maker and breaker. Masses are too scared to report injustices and too suppressed to resist the nexus of police and local bigwigs which includes feudal barons and political representatives.

Such a bleak situation gives rise to a rebel voice that promises them social justice and change of the system. Have a look at the history and you’ll find that left-wing groups voiced radical change for the poor in 1960s and 1970s. Their decline gave way to right-wing groups who seek to put an end to American intervention in Pakistan, impose Islamic law and provide quick and effective justice to the poor. The Islamic militants promise to fulfil the needs of the people that is the responsibility of the government. From law and order to provision of basic amenities to healthcare and education, these militant groups have grabbed arms to bring about the change that the state of Pakistan has promised them for the last six decades. Whether they can do it or not is another debate…

I’m a common man of Pakistan. I do not belong to the elite. I do not have any power vested in my hands. I do have a vote which fails to register any change at the national level. I have few opportunities of going abroad but I do not seek them for many reasons. I earn a limited amount of money each month which is almost consumed when I pay my bills and buy necessities for the family. The state provides me no access to cheap healthcare, quality education or reliable transportation. I have to pay the taxes by hook or by crook but I seldom see the return. I see, in front of my eyes, how the elite get away with their petty or hefty crimes while the underprivileged get heavy punishments for little mistakes.

Pakistani elite, especially the ruling class, enjoy unlimited powers and stay above the law. Photo - Reuters

So, for a man who is slowly dying on a crucifix, is it not appealing to have a quick death that promises to bring some material gains for the family? Mind you, it is said that a suicide bomber’s family is given cash rewards for the bombing by militant groups. Is it not appealing for an oppressed man if someone guarantees him a quick eternal success and God’s blessings while his sacrifice of life bringing the change that he dreamed all his life? He may not be so willing to commit a suicide and take the life of the others but what about the government that leaves him with no choice? A corrupt, Western-supported and World Bank/IMF installed government that is bent upon sucking every single penny in his pocket and leaving him bleed dry. What other choices has he got?

Sadly, I see in front of my eyes the flight of all things good. Our genius brains leaving for other countries. Our capital disappearing from the exchequer. Our manpower escaping from the borders. Our assets sold cheaply to foreign consortiums. Our national sovereignty violated by imperial powers. Our respected people humiliated by scum of the land. Our sanctity disfigured by faceless people. Our strengths turned into an enslaving weakness. Our…I’m afraid is not ‘ours’ anymore…

A trip to the fruit and vegetable market on my way home as I need to do buy some groceries. And if my mood was not bad enough, the hike in prices of basic vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes and green coriander ruins it completely. What was selling for Rs.50 (60¢) last week is available for nothing less than Rs.100. Ask the reasons for the price hike and you’ll hear excuses of all sorts. Some blame the rise in petrol prices while others blame the recent floods and its impact on agriculture. There is no price control mechanism so anyone can sell the goods at any price they please. And it is not one or two traders involved in this practice, it is the whole marketplace. Our government, as usual, sits idle unconcerned about the situation…

I come home in the evening with grocery bags and other items for home. My kids and wife are already waiting for me. As a man, I don’t have a long procedure to get ready for the special occasion so the only thing I need to do is to shave, have a shower, put new clothes on and I’m ready to rock in the wedding.

Marriage is an all important affair in Pakistan. In a cosmopolitan metropolis like Karachi, a wedding defines one’s social status and financial strength. It also provides the setting of a social gathering where friends and families meet each other, mingle and network. And from the bride and groom’s perspective, it is the occasion when they’re in the limelight and things revolve around them, at least once in their lifetime.

A Pakistani wedding is all about lights, colourful clothes, sumptuous meals and traditional customs. Ceremonies do not start until the bride and the groom do not come to the marriage hall from the beauty saloon where they’re ‘polished’ for the occasion. The would-be couple sign the nuptial contract under the lights and camera flashes to become the legal husband and wife and then the event shifts its gears. The air is abuzz with Indian wedding music while relatives of the wedded couple embrace and congratulate each other. The kids are busy collecting wedding packets that consist of dried dates, mouth refreshers, toffees and dry fruits. The guests go to the stage to wish good luck to the newly-wed couple, give them a present and take photographs. Usually there is a band that plays wedding themes and tunes of popular songs.

A young couple tying their wedding knot in a colourful ceremony in Karachi. Photo - Manar Hussain

It would be a big lie to say people come to the weddings just because of the importance of the occasion not food. Food is one major attraction that draws huge audiences and brings ritz and glitz to the nuptial event. From Biryani to Qorma to mouth watering Kebabs, the main course is the jewel in the gastronomic crown. And as if the delicious meals are not enough to please your taste buds, sweets and desserts are presented to treat your delights.

But there is a downside to the whole wedding sagas. Most newly-wed couples borrow huge amounts of money to hold a one-of-its-kind wedding that will boost their social status. While they may achieve to woo the crowds, they trap themselves in debts that often spiral out of control and ultimately axe the wedding knot. If, on one hand, marriages bring love and hospitality on the surface, they also breed envy and ostentatiousness, on the other hand. Living beyond the means, it seems, is the new social adventure these days…

So my friends, this is the glimpse of life of an ordinary Pakistani citizen living in the biggest city which is dubbed as ‘mini-Pakistan’. We are a country often dubbed as failed state by our western benefactors. But we, the majority of the people of Pakistan, are hardworking people who want to have a decent life with our sovereignty respected and borders protected. We want to get on with things that happened in the past and want to forget the betrayals of big powers who imposed and supported civilian and military dictatorships and squeezed us through the World Bank/IMF monetary regime.

We hope to get rid of a corrupt establishment that is provided safety and security by western governments. We demand to see the return of the money and assets looted by our politicians, bureaucrats, generals, feudal barons and industrialists. We want to have a progressive and democratic government that respects and represents all the ethnicities and sects of Pakistan. We aspire to live up to the meaning of our country – Pakistan – which means Land of the Pure in Urdu. May God help us all!

Views expressed by Sajjad Bukhari are written, edited and published by Moign Khawaja – Editor,

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