If one bothers to look beyond the sensational headlines, one sees that Pakistan is undergoing an uncharacteristically positive time in its history. The economy is growing at a somewhat steady pace and Chinese investments are coming in rapidly. This is happening irrespective of the political turmoil in the country. An elected government will soon complete its tenure, two terms in a row, a first in Pakistani history. Following this, we the Pakistani people will determine this country’s future at the ballot box, an opportunity which we have only had a few times since the country was founded. All this is happening in a country which was considered an almost failed state just a few years ago.
Like the unpredictable Pakistani cricket team, this country is emerging from the dustbin of history. Just a few years back, extremists were slaughtering Pakistani children and holding us hostage at the barrel of their gun. Unlike Syria, Iraq or other Muslim countries who have had their back broken by extremism and civil war, Pakistan has broken the back of terrorists in the country. The battle isn’t over as we see quite well in the headlines every day. But the trend lines couldn’t be clearer: Pakistan may be the first country in the world to physically and forcefully turn back the reign of terror unleashed on its people in the aftermath of 9/11.
It’s not over. And we take no pleasure is seeing other Muslim countries — or any country — be harmed by extremism and terrorism. But Pakistan’s wise position on Yemen and neutral stance on the geo-political games between Sunni and Shia powers in the region, is a testament to a country whose people and state are beginning to mature and learn from their mistakes.
The Chinese see us as a strategic ally in controlling India’s influence in the region. Cue, CPEC and the rise of Gwadar. This will be China’s century, and Pakistan will stand with it, shoulder to shoulder
Now, turn your attention to the economy. Exports are down and foreign exchange reserves are lower than my bank account at the end of every month. But we are on the right side of history — or geo-political power — once again. The Chinese are coming in droves. There is little doubt that China will be one of the world’s next global super powers. And the Chinese see us as a strategic ally in controlling India’s influence in the region. Cue, CPEC and the rise of Gwadar. This will be China’s century, and Pakistan will stand with it, shoulder to shoulder.
More good news: Pakistan is a food surplus country, which is on track to become an energy surplus nation too. With one of the largest middle class populations in the world — who love to spend — fusing together with CPEC’s infrastructure revolution, Pakistan is poised to continue growing.
Here are three things we need to do to keep going. First, we must continue to wage war against terrorism, in addition to extremist. Extremism is a mindset, which says my way is the right way and I have the right to impose my opinion on you. Pakistan’s extremism isn’t just religious. It’s political, social and economic too. If you disagree with my political party, you are a jahil. If you don’t get married by 35, you are a failure. If you work as a maid, you can’t use the same toilet I use. This is extremism too. And Pakistan needs public awareness, civic education and literacy programs to enable people to be more tolerant and learn the art of respectful disagreement.
Second, we need more empathy. There are people who aren’t rising as the country rises. Those who are left behind because of their religion, economic background or ethnicity. We need to help them sincerely. Not when they stand in streets to protest but before they are forced to come out in protest. If you can’t help someone directly, talk to them. Empathize with them. Give them a voice on social media.
Lastly, Pakistanis need to be more positive. We are a country on the rise. We need to lift each other on our shoulders. Over the last few months, I’ve been trying to interview extraordinary Pakistanis, ordinary people like you and I, who choose to serve the country quietly, instead of complaining loudly. Talking to them has transformed my world view. We can walk around wearing dark glasses all day or we can take them off. The difference is night and day. Pakistan is pivoting from a failed state to a state on the rise. Let’s take a moment to savour Pakistan’s rise.
The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani
Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.