12 August, 2013

Pakistan - A Visitor's Viewpoint

An Echo of the People's Voice

I have been visiting Pakistan for many years to meet friends, and catch up with my extended family in Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad.

My recent trip there was truly an eye opener on how the situation has deteriorated in the country since I last visited. Political instability and a corrupt government have led to a crime-ridden society, that happens day and night alike, with criminals having no fear of being caught or punished.

When I visited last, bomb blasts were happening daily in some city or the other and in remote areas as well. But this trip made me sad in more ways than one, and I wonder when these people, who harm their fellow brothers and sisters, will ever stop. 

Since it was Ramadan I was attending iftaris every evening and the common topic under discussion was who was robbed, whose house was broken down by thieves, who was held up while driving, whose jewels were snatched. Most horrific were frequent discussions on who was shot, and were they saved?

I enquired about my friend Farid who always comes to visit me with his wife and daughter, on his absence at the iftari party. I was told that his father in law was murdered, and thrown in the garden of his house, the murderers had ransacked his home, and were never found.

Two days later I called Iqbal, to wish him for Ramadan; he also apologized and said his sister was murdered so he could not come. What a horrific reason! I could only condole with him. I also felt that though he viewed the death of his sister as a gory happening, but yet as one of the things that happen nowadays in Pakistan.

I was staying with my friend Amina in Karachi whom I have known since I first visited. Usually she adorns herself with elegant jewelry, but this time her hands were bare. She wore no bangles, not even the famous Pakistani chudis available in the Ramadan chudi bazaar, no watch, no earrings, not even a chain in her neck. Armed men had come to her home and taken her gold bangles and all the jewelry she had worn. Since then she does not keep jewelry at home but in the bank. Though she keeps just a little cash at home in case the armed men come again, so she can give them the money lest they kill her.

She also mentioned, that she was stopped while driving and her beautiful jhumka earings were snatched. Since then she does not wear jewelry even when she goes to visit people and very rarely does she even go to her locker in the bank. She said she has been robbed four times, and now was planning to sell most of her property in Pakistan and invest in UAE or Europe or may be even USA. She plans to settle abroad in the future like many others who want to safeguard their life as well as wealth. She loves Pakistan yet feels compelled to leave.

Amina spoke of corruption being so rampant, polling agents being harassed, voters being openly attacked and the police and media also being corrupt, so barely any people complain of theft and crimes. They just bear this injustice in order to stay alive.

My other friend Shahin was preparing for the marriage of her son. She mentioned, the week after she purchased a gold and diamond set for her daughter in law, her house was rampaged by 10 men. They rung her door bell and when her servant opened the door he was shocked to see two men with machine guns and sturdy gangsters behind. They were well dressed, smart looking and knew exactly what they had to do. They entered and asked about the jewelry, but since nothing was in the house they hit her husband and the servants on the head and left them bleeding. The gangsters took laptops and the mobile phones, reassuring my friend that they were good people and would not touch her. They said they had information about jewelry in the house. Within 30 minutes they had dismantled the furniture, opened and checked all the rooms and cupboards and left; all this in broad daylight. Shahin said she did not bother to file a police complaint, as it would be a painstaking ordeal and she thought since it was so well planned, the police may well be involved.

I also spoke to Nafeesa who told me of the time when her and her old and frail mother, whose car was stopped while they drove back from the airport. Their glass windows were broken, and men with guns asked them to give them all their money and valuables. They did that, without thinking, and said that their life is more precious than money.

Fear and helplessness, forced them to accept that things are not the same in Pakistan. They live in worry, and anxiety about the days to come.

Taliban, bomb blasts, corruption and political instability, is a well-known fact, and now I see more and more daytime burglaries, murders in homes and fearless looting in public places.

Amongst all this I saw a ray of hope. I interacted with a lot of people some social workers who were working selflessly to uplift the society. I also met young dynamic politicians who wanted to bring a positive change in the system. Some media people also wanted to help citizens by promoting human values in talk shows. And I met some people that were practicing meditation and yoga. Meditation and yoga is not only popular but is used as therapy for stress laden people. Parents also want their children to learn to meditate and practice yoga as well and they are on the lookout for such workshops.

This was not only my view point as a visitor but also an echo of the voices of people who live in a politically unstable Pakistan where violence & looting is a common happening. Pakistan today has become a land where citizens are uncertain of what the future holds for them and their country.

Heena Azim (Names have been changed to protect identities)