Code Red In Red Zone – Reviving Pakistan


Islamabad burns as crowds gather outside the Parliament building in Pakistan. This high security area is called the Red Zone of Islamabad with the Diplomatic Enclave, Supreme Court, President House, Parliament House and many sensitive Government buildings. The workers of two political parties Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) join forces against the ruling party PML-N. To a third person perspective, it is political enmity and nothing more. The brutal and excessive use of force by Punjab police on unarmed civilians and journalists is unprecedented. Watching history unravel itself before our eyes is a sobering experience. I have been witnessing die hard supporters of both sides arguing and counter arguing about the terms and conditions of the negotiations that seem impossible. Neither side is willing to compromise and find a middle ground.  I find myself baffled by the unfortunate turn events have taken in the last twenty four hours. Too much blood is being shed and the sanctity of police and army as institutions, Government buildings and civilians has been terribly tainted with violence. To my irrationally simplistic mind, the entire problem and solution seems far more comprehensible than it is.

We have gathered as a nation for a cause. What do I want as a citizen of Pakistan? Would our lives be better if Nawaz Sharif quits the Government and Imran Khan or Tahir ul Qadri come into power?  If yes, which one of them will be the Prime Minister and who will take the back seat? Who cares? My question to all these leaders, their followers and the neutral rationalists like myself is simple. What are we looking for? We are seeking a refuge from the myriad of problems plaguing us as a nation, individuals matter the least to us. Let us choose the change we need in our country and dictate that code of ethics to anyone who wishes to come into power. No more bigotry, no more deception, no more nepotism, period. Whoever wants to be in power needs to command that position of respect and prove his worth. No rigged elections or random numbers or power play should affect our opinions about our politicians. If they behave honorably, treat them with respect. If they disrespect our civilians and country, they can take a one way ticket to the moon.

I need clean drinking water and food for each and every civilian in Pakistan. The cost of living has to be made bearable for all not just the rich. A thirsty and hungry nation cannot go an inch beyond basic survival. I demand free basic healthcare for all and education for each and every child in the entire country. The judicial system should be impeccable and speedy justice be delivered at the expense of the state. So sustenance, healthcare, education and justice are the first, second, third and fourth requirements of good governance that should never be compromised. This should be followed by transparency of governance. The assets and finances of all elected officials and their families should be accessible to the general public. No elected official should have the audacity to misuse power or misappropriate funds. And if they do, the penalties must be extraordinary and exemplary. An office clerk should have such blind faith in social justice that he can report a bribe acceptance by his officer. We shall drive a hard bargain for our leaders but it also means that as a nation we must be willing to pay dearly. And the burden of responsibility shall be borne by every civilian. And then investing in the roads, bridges, amenities and technology will make sense to the common man. A starving citizen will be forever blind to the brilliance of building metro buses and bullet trains.

The rich must pay taxes according to their worth and make sure their money gets into good use. The landowners and industrialists must ensure the education, health and wellbeing of their tenants and workers. The poor should not be deprived of their share of responsibility either. Each and every man and woman must work to earn a living. No one should get a free ride. Beggars and criminals must be dealt with iron hands. The state must watch over the rights of women, children, minorities, etc. No man should be allowed to procreate beyond his means. If a man has ten children and cannot feed them, he should be answerable to the law and to the society. Every person must have religious freedom provided he does not force his views on anyone else.

We can start this campaign in our own homes, our work places and then, in the general community. The idea is to have a balanced, satiated society. Terrorists harbor in dark cesspools of poverty, illiteracy and deprivation. Remove these and you lay the foundation of a model society. I can already hear the cynics scoff at this utopian model of Pakistan. But I plead to their common sense. Our dreams have to be a thousand percent perfect. When we aim high, we achieve something even when we fail. I refuse to believe that we cannot achieve this tolerant, fair and peaceful country. I know people from all walks of life competing in innumerable professions in every country in the world. That is a great example of what our nation is made of. We have the choicest brawn and brains among us. What if those of us who are extra blessed by the Omnipotent decide to pass on some of our blessings? My dream is to mentor, educate and feed fifty orphans or less fortunate children in my lifetime. When I die, I hope and pray they all have prosperous families and professions. I will only ask them to return this favor by caring for fifty orphans in their entire life. My question is if it is doable, how many of us will take up this little dream and make the world a better place for our born and unborn children. In the end we are not just citizens of Pakistan but also citizens of the world, and we have to start the charity at home.

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Reborn


I have shed my shell and here I am a new being with a new skin. I have learnt to deceive, cheat, manipulate and move on unaffected. I had looked down upon such character traits all of my life and now I have become one of them. It is a survival tactic they say, but I know I had to die partly to survive. The essence of who I was died in the fray and perhaps the biggest torment is the realization that no one noticed how much I have changed. I am numb with pain. No amount of misery makes me cry anymore and no joys touch my heart. Life has drained off and the little color that stains my cheeks is the crimson blood that has leaked into the subcutaneous vessels. No one seems to notice the deadly pallor while the world praises the rosy cheeks. I chuckle inwardly but it sounds more like a cynical snort. It is funny how people notice the slightest graying hair and the crow’s feet beneath your eyes, but when you truly deeply are hurt and tormented beyond belief, they cannot see the shattered glass you walk on every day. Blindness has taken on a completely new meaning. I live in a blind, deaf and mute world. Or so I think. I have ceased to live a long time back; the carcass has just not been laid to rest.

As I think of these dark, dismal thoughts the past year swirls before my eyes. Friends found, love lost, relationships buried and faith annihilated. It was one hell of a year. I started out as a doe eyed, hopeful utopian and ended up as a sarcastic, faithless realist. Everything in the world came with a bittersweet bumper sticker saying welcome to life as we know it. And the best part of the deal is that this transition has given incredible successes and achievements in its momentum and the loss is visible to my heart and soul only. I suffer as the world cheers my triumphs for I alone am aware of the price I paid to get here. It is a lonely place at the top. The view is spectacular though and one can count all friends and enemies accurately down to the last decimal. Unfortunately, this insight highlights an immensely sad scenario. At any given moment in life, the list of true friends will be embarrassingly minuscule and the opponents will be uncountable. People will sell off your interests for a petty price, abandon you in the smallest traces of trouble and disappoint you in ways you never thought possible. And that one person you could die for will walk away without looking back as his promises echo in your mind. Growing up is a painful, miserable process that has the capacity to drain all of your positive energies and hope, leaving behind raw wisdom.

As I begin to attempt writing about my journey, words start pouring out of my mind. There are so many things to say and so many heartwarming stories to share. The long lost friend, who stood by my side when everyone else had abandoned me. The gallant hero, who fought with me at every battlefront and protected me with his courage and wisdom. The simple peasant, who had nothing to share but refused to leave my side in the worst of times. These are people I will love and respect all of my life. Sadly, there is a long list of shady characters who lied, cheated and deceived me. They taught me that it is alright to give them a taste of their own medicine. And then I treated them the way they treated me in my time of need. Even though I am not one of them but I had to teach all of them a lesson so that the next simple hearted victim does not seem fair game to them. The most hurtful stories are of people whom I loved and trusted and they walked all over me. With them I have nothing but silence to share. Their crimes cannot be punished accordingly and the worst I can do is to remove them completely from my life. And thus I vow to hold back my love, concern and presence from them for as long as I live.

I have changed completely. I watch my reflection in the mirror. The laugh lines have been replaced by worry lines. I have a good one thousand one hundred and eleven frown now. I have lost my capacity to smile without a reason. The grays have begun to show and I look more distinguished. I have stopped seeking acceptance and have acquired the devil may care attitude. I look confident and successful in every way. I have learnt the skill of initiating instant rudeness and disrespect and have finally overridden my convent education. I have learnt to weep inwardly and my tears have dried off. And lastly, I have learnt to forgive myself for making human errors and have stepped down from the sainthood pedestal. It is truly liberating to be able to sin and not lose sleep over it. I am sure I have finally grown up and God will understand my need to be human and will forgive divinely.

Like every birth, mine has come with equal portions of pain and joy. When a child is born into the world, we forget amidst our celebrations that the fetal world was annihilated to make the transition possible. Somewhere in our genetic memory we know that the cycle of life and death is continuous in nature. The colors of fall commemorate the dying process of fauna and flora but they are not less beautiful than the blooming hues of spring. While my transition is being silently mourned by my soul, I know Providence has a journey planned for me for which I have been trained. Without this amount of anguish I would have never known my inner strength and resolve. Without being surrounded by traitors, false friends and selfish people, I could never appreciate the unconditional love of my true friends. And if I had not been manipulated and cheated in love, I could never find such liberation in uniting with my soul mate. All of the tribulations I have faced, even though they will sting time and time again, I am deeply thankful for. I may never be the same person again, but I know I can fall and rise every time life betrays me. My new skin changes colors but my core remains constantly good and I am forever indebted to God for testing my mettle and proving my worth to me.