Pakistan — an adjective

As a young adult who has lived in Pakistan for all his life, I am used to reading articles about everything that is wrong with my home country. On the path to progress, every country faces challenges; and Pakistan is no exception to this rule.

No one understands this more than Pakistani citizens who have lived through the medley of progress and chaos over the last couple of decades. Caution, hope, fear and optimism can simultaneously be felt in the pulse of every Pakistani from the mountains of Gilgit to the bay of Gwadar. However, the complexity and diversity of a modern Pakistan that has chosen to fight its challenges with partial success is often lost in catch phrase journalism that aims to reduce a country of 20 ethnicities and 70 languages to a headline.

Such catch phrase journalism has resulted in“Pakistan” often being casually used as an adjective representing multi-dimensional failure. Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than when writers criticise the largest democracy in the world; India.

“Here’s why India can never be a Hindu-Pakistan” – this was the headline of an article published on Huffington Post in September 2016. To the writer of this article, Pakistan means intolerance, religious extremism, jingoism and a complete inability to deal with these problems. To the writers of other articles, Pakistan means democratic and economic failure. This casual usage of ‘Pakistan’ as a negative adjective that depicts multi-dimensional failure raises three questions.

First, what does it even mean when a country is warned that it is ‘becoming Pakistan’? This question befuddles me because it summarises a country of 200 million people with one noun — a noun that literally means “The land of the Pure”. Since it is impossible to describe Pakistan in hundreds of books, let alone one word, ‘becoming Pakistan’ is used by writers to refer to whatever they want. And as you would imagine, these authors mostly want to refer to a selection of unwanted characteristics within Pakistan.

This brings me to the second question: What is it about the word ‘Pakistan’ that conjures up horrible imagery of something completely undesirable? This question gets an easy answer since all articles that end up using ‘Pakistan’ as an adjective make their interpretation of the word very clear; lawless, undemocratic, extremist, intolerant, feudal and resultantly hopeless. I would be the last person to claim that Pakistan does not suffer from some serious challenges that threaten the lives of citizens on a daily basis. However, if you exaggerate the same challenges and discount the significant progress being made in the country, you will get a completely skewed picture of Pakistan, which completely strips away its entire nuance.

What is it about the word ‘Pakistan’ that conjures up horrible imagery of something completely undesirable? This question gets an easy answer since all articles that end up using ‘Pakistan’ as an adjective make their interpretation of the word very clear; lawless, undemocratic, extremist, intolerant, feudal and resultantly hopeless

And finally, the last question: Is Pakistan the global yardstick for multi-dimensional failure with no examples of progress? A few facts that balance the challenges being faced by the country help put this question into perspective. Pakistan has seen stable economic growth over the last decade which is hovering around five percent this year. It has one of the best performing stock markets in Asia. It has made significant progress in the war on terror by launching different military operations ever since the Peshawar school massacre in 2014 and has resultantly seen the third largest decrease in terror related deaths worldwide. It is beginning to develop a vibrant democratic culture as it saw its first parliament that completed a full tenure in 2013. It plans to help revive the old silk route via infrastructure development across the country with China’s assistance and boost economic growth by an estimated two percent per annum. Pakistan chooses to fight on and hardly presents a picture of multi-dimensional failure.

The answers to the questions above make it very clear that the casual usage of the word ‘Pakistan’ as a negative adjective is not only unfair and incorrect, but also unethical on part of media houses and journalists. The reason behind its increasingly widespread usage, however, is not that obvious. Maybe it is because nothing makes more money than provocative phrases that capitalise on the mutual hatred of two polarised communities? Or maybe the fast pace of today’s life requires writers to condense their thoughts into oversimplification? These are pure conjectures, and only the writers who use ‘Pakistan’ as a negative adjective casually can help us understand the reason behind its widespread usage. Puzzling as this may be, the reality of Pakistan is much more complex and hopeful compared to its catch phrase depiction by media outlets across the globe.

The writer is a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has worked as a civil servant for the Government of Pakistan. He is interested in issues of political economy, public narrative, public finance and economic growth

Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2017.


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