Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pakistan, in person

Pakistan, our most loved and hated neighbor! Pakistan is very similar to India yet the border between them is the most dangerous border in the world. Sitting on this side of the border, from the Indian, western and the Pakistani media, we have a mental image of Pakistan. The South Asian Youth Conference gave me an opportunity to interact with the youth of Pakistan. In the one week I was at the Conference, I made good friends with the Pakistani delegates. In fact, by the end of the conference it was very difficult to differentiate the Pakistani delegates from Indian delegates.

I had a candid, politically incorrect and real interview with the Pakistani delegates. The interview touched upon the life of aam admi in Pakistan and sensitive issues like 9/11 and 26/11. Below is the first of the two-part interview with two common citizens of Pakistan.

Note: The interview, which was in Hindi/Urdu, has been translated and transliterated below. Some Hindi/Urdu words and language specific constructs are kept as is to reduce the harm caused by translation.Please excuse the grammatical errors in this post.

Prashant: We will start with a brief introduction:
Awais: My name is Muhammad Awais Awan. I have come from Pakistan to attend South Asian Youth Conference. I am associated with United Nations' Youth Advisory Panel which gives policy level inputs for its different youth programs.
Ayesha: As-Salamu-Alaykum. My name is Ayesha Ilyas. I am from Peshawar, Pakistan. I am doing honors in communication design. I have done bachelors in mass communication. I am a political activist and a writer.

Prashant: Is this your first visit to India?
Ayesha: No, this is my second visit. Before this, I had come to India as a SAARC delegate for the National Youth Festival of India which was held at Orissa.
Prashant: So how do you find India?
Ayesha: India... India is somewhat similar to ours. I even like it a lot for things where it is different.
Prashant: What are the similarities and where do you think India differs from Pakistan?
Ayesha: The language is similar. The dressing sense is somewhat similar. To a certain extent the cuisine is also similar. The environment is similar. Values in Pakistan and India are also similar. The difference comes in religion and in the increasing western influence. The area I belong to have some restrictions. Yep. That’s it.
Awais: This is my first visit to India. I have found a lot of things similar to that in Pakistan. According to me our dressing sense, customs and culture are similar. Even religious scenario is similar to a certain extent – there are Hindus there, there are Hindus here. There are Musalmaan there, there are Musalmaan here. The difference lies in the fact that the religions that are in majority here are in minority there and religions that are in majority here are in minority there.
Prashant: So, what are the dissimilarities?
Awais: Dissimilarity lies in the way things are rapidly changing due to western influence. Otherwise, we are 95% similar.
  We are 95% similar.
Prashant: What do people do on weekends there?
Ayesha: On weekends, people like to spend time with their families. People also hangout with their friends and go to hotels. Parties and family functions are also hosted on weekends normally.
Prashant: In Bangalore there is this ‘pub culture’. How prevalent are pubs/discos there?
Ayesha: In Karachi and in Islamabad these things, along with western influence, are developing. But in other parts of Pakistan it is not considered good.
Awais: Only in the big cities, people party on weekends. Otherwise people spend time with their family and relatives. Government employees and other employees do a little household work
Prashant: So, pubs and discos are not considered good there.
Awais: No. Not considered good.
Ayesha: No.

Prashant: In India, cricket and films are religions. People are passionate about them. Is it the same in Pakistan?
Ayesha: Cricket is valued in the same way. Film industry of Pakistan is almost dead. Indian movies are taken seriously. Hollywood movies are also viewed to a certain extent. But, mostly, people are passionate about cricket.
Prashant: During the India-Pakistan semi-finals it was almost ‘bandh’ here. Offices were closed.
Ayesha: Exactly. In Pakistan, big screens were set up to screen the matches.

 Prashant: After 9/11 there is a new term that is floating in the media – ‘Islamic terrorism’. What is your take on this?
Ayesha: Apparently, people who suffered in 9/11 are the ones who started ‘Islamic terrorism’. If anyone brought Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan, then it was CIA. If anyone supported Taliban, then it was CIA. If 9/11 was done by Taliban, then America reaped whatever they had sowed. If there is something called ‘Islamic Terrorism’ then it is neither initiated by any Islamic scholar nor by any Islamic country. So, you cannot call it ‘Islamic’. It would have been ‘Islamic’ if it were initiated by us. It isn’t Islamic. The super powers, for its own benefits, have twisted the meaning of ‘Islam’ and presented it to the people. Basically, all the extremist/terrorist beliefs are in conflict with Islam; there is no match with Islam.
Awais: I don’t understand, ‘what is Islamic terrorism’? If the Taliban are doing suicide bombing, then my question is: If they are musalmaan, then why do they bomb a masjid? A mazaar? An imam bargah? At this point the biggest problem we have is that there a lot of suicide bombings happening in Pakistan. So, even we don’t know who these people are. According to me they are not musalmaan.
Ayesha: In fact, most of us think they are not musalmaan. Everyone says they are not musalmaan.
Awais: I had attended a national level conference in Islamabad. Pakistan government had arrested some 40 suicide bombers. The scholars who analyzed them were of the opinion that the suicide bombers were totally misguided. And Islam teaches harmony.
Ayesha: Islam actually means
Awais: ‘Salaamati’
Ayesha: ‘Salaamati’ means peace. There is no concept of terrorism in Islam.

If the Taliban are doing suicide bombing, then my question is: 'If they are musalmaan, then why do they bomb a masjid?'

Prashant: What assumptions did you have about South Asia – things that media has fed us with? Did you find any of these assumptions invalid and that the reality is something different?
Ayesha: Like other conferences this conference would also be ‘eat, meet and greet’. I had assumed this. If we have come here, then it’s only as a vacation and a waste of time. After coming here, I realized that it is not really a waste of time. One thing that we gained from here is that we got to know about people and we told people about us. If we have made a lot of friends here, it only means that we have shown a good picture. The seriousness with which each issue is discussed and the kind of speakers that are invited make me believe that the organizers really wanted to do something and the ‘Action Plan’ that we are making makes me believe that something positive is going to come from this conference.
Prashant: In our minds, we always have presumptions about people. This person will be like this and that person will be like that. Like, for Afghanistan, the image is that there is always some or the other bombing happening there. Because this is what we read about them. But after coming here, we got to know that there is life there. Did the image that media created in our minds change in this conference?
Ayesha: I had interacted with the South Asian people before so I was pretty clear. Neither India is what its government portrays nor Nepalis are outcast type of people. I had a good experience with them. They are good and very sincere people. I had also met the Sri Lankans before. This is my first meet with the Bangladeshis. I presumed that the Bangladeshis hated us. And even if they did so, they are not wrong. But after coming here I realized that they have a soft corner for us. This was my first interaction with Maldivians. This is also going great. They are very sweet people.
Awais: I agree with Ayesha. As you said that media portrays a different image, I was asked by people from all countries that everyday there is a bomb-blast in Pakistan then how do you people live? I hope that in the 5-6 days I have spent here, the misconception of people is reduced.

I presumed that the Bangladeshis hated us. And even if they did so, they are not wrong. But after coming here I realized that they have a soft corner for us.

Prashant: Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Bhutto - Benazir Bhutto - four great politicians in their own rights. How do people of Pakistan see them? We’ll take them one at a time. Gandhi?
Awais: We can’t take them one at a time. Benazir Bhutto is after…
Ayesha: She’s not in that league
Awais: Gandhi. Jinnah. Nehru. According to me these were our leaders who fought for our freedom. Initially we freedom from the British. The ‘do qaumi nazaria’ (two nation theory) came later. They fought for the whole ‘Hindustan’ – the concept of Pakistan comes later.
Prashant: Are they looked with the same reverence with which they are in India?
Awais: Absolutely. As I said, ‘do qaumi nazaria’ came later.
Prashant: But the ‘do qaumi nazaria’ came from them. It is said that Gandhi divided India.
Ayesha: Gandhi didn’t divide. Jinnah was in favor of united India and he trusted Gandhi and liked him till the end. Given the way Gandhi struggled for India – and that time we were all one. So, given the way he struggled for us also, he is our hero as well. Nehru was somewhat ‘with’ British. If Pakistan and India got partitioned and there were problems which arose after the partition, then Nehru had a role to play in them. Jinnah is our leader. Jinnah is our hero. It was the need of the hour that we separated and Jinnah realized that before anyone else. So, I appreciate his vision.
Awais: Jinnah is the greatest. As for Gandhi, Gandhi had his own way of doing things. He got his demands fulfilled through ‘aman’ (non-violence). Look at his campaigns. He worked his way through ‘aman’ and without bloodshed.
Ayesha: After the partition also, in the context of sharing resources with Pakistan – where Nehru and British were creating a little problem, Gandhi was the person who protest for Pakistan that it gets its resources. Gandhi, basically, was a person who wasn’t biased and understood the need of the hour. The problems were created by politicians who came after him. If the things were in his and Jinnah’s hand then the relationship would have been very good.
Jinnah was in favor of united India
Prashant: Coming to Benazir Bhutto…
Awais: She was the first female prime minister.
Prashant: What about her assassination? It appeared that she was going to come to power.
Ayesha: First of all, one thing to appreciate about her is that she took over her father’s party at a very crucial time. It was a big thing. At that time, not even in India or in the west, women weren’t strong enough to lead the whole party. What made her a ‘hero’ was not her personal capability. She started off her father’s work. She didn’t create her own identity. The first identity of Benazir Bhutto was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The government of Benazir Bhutto was one of the most corrupt governments of Pakistan. The perception of people is that when she spent her interim time in Dubai, she had changed her mind and she had become better. Maybe, if she would have gotten a chance again she would have been good. But since she didn’t get a chance how can I assume that she was good? As for her assassination… there is some confusion in Pakistan. However, it appears that though her assassination was blamed on Taliban, the current President, her husband, was involved in it. In Pakistan and India and in our region, the government which comes to power is not the one that the  'awaam' wants. The government which comes to power is the one that the super powers want. So, maybe, it was a game. Most probably, it was a game.

The government which comes to power is not the one that the 'awaam' wants. The government which comes to power is the one that the super powers want.

[Stay tuned for more on dictatorship in Pakistan and on 26/11.

If you have any queries regarding lives of aam admi in Pakistan and their view on things, do drop in your question below and I'll try to get them answered. Also note that the above comments are not from any Pakistani government official. They are from common citizens ]

PS: Thanks VikramAdith Raman for suggesting the title of this post and giving inputs on the formatting!

Edited later: The second part of the interview is here


mihir June 4, 2011 at 8:34 PM  

Excellent work Prashant! Might be an enriching experience for you. I appreciate the way you have conducted the interview; it shows your research, professionalism and neutrality. All kudos to Ayesha and Awais too - they have shown remarkable maturity in their thought process.

I would like to add that I do not agree with Ms. Ayesha on her opinion about governments in both countries. India's democracy - despite all its dysfunctional aspects - is one of the most successful democracies in the world. Except for a very small patch of military rule, it has been able to sustain itself. The lengthiest constitution in the world has worked as per design in biggest crisis - local, national or international. Its people elect its leaders (well almost!) but there is definitely no influence from outside India in elected governments. Whereas Pakistan has had its share of bad luck with democracy, military rule and influence of western powers, very much unlike India.
I hope I was able to convey what I wanted. I am more than willing to learn, if I am wrong somewhere. It would be great if you are able to pose my thought and capture Ms. Ayesha's opinion on the same.

Thank you for sharing this.. keep up the good work!



alpesh June 5, 2011 at 10:30 PM  

What a well written and informative blog prashant, really loved the way u wrote it specially the format! it gives very profound insight upon the common people perception in Pakistan about India and it's people. On this very note let me add a few lines which i recollected from Veer-Zara as it fit's in very well here.

woh kehta hai yeh tera desh nahi phir kyun mere des jaisa lagta hai woh kheta hai mein us jaisa nahi phir kyun mujh jaisa woh lagta hai

Anonymous June 7, 2011 at 11:51 AM  

Well,i think the opinions here are from rational people...but do we assume that every one either Indian or Pakistani thinks the same way?? aren't most of the people are misguided in the name of nationalism and patriotism?
Also, i like ayesha's opinion on women literacy ..Education is important for a man/woman to make them wise distinguish right/rational and wrong/irrational but need not undertake a job just because one is educated unless one prefers to be financially independent

Ayesha Ilyas June 7, 2011 at 10:36 PM  

@Mihir: the point is even though India claims to be the largest democracy in the world i would say if India is actually what i experienced it, then its leaders failed to truly represent its people, as far as my experience is with Indians i cant find the slightest ray of that enmity in an educated and aware Indian which is expressed from the policies of the Indian (as well as Pakistani) government, "foreign influence" over the policies of both the governments is the reason given (to me at-least) by most of Indians in discussions upon the issues causing the hatred and misconceptions.
Ayesha Ilyas,

Prashant Mehta June 8, 2011 at 12:58 AM  

mihir ji
Thanks! I think the hatred between India and Pakistan is over-hyped. When it comes to people-to-people interaction, there is no hatred. In fact since our cultures are so similar, we bond really well.

Alpesh ji
Thanks! Just rewind 70 years back and you'd not see any differences!

Anonymous ji
Agreed. And it is these irrational people who create trouble or are used by people with vested interests to create trouble

Ayesha ji
Thanks for sharing your views!

Aman June 9, 2011 at 10:14 AM  

I agree with Mihir. And Ayesha ji I think our reps are not doing their best job and we all agree on that. But still our democracy works and it works really fine. More because we believe in it and we believe all the problems of our country can be solved by ballot and not by bullet. I can show many reps who still take auto rickshaws when the common man can afford a four wheeler. But unfortunately the experience with your country had made you all disbelieve in the power of democracy.And believe me our country in run by we the people and not by any other country. And regarding our foreign policy towards Pakistan I love your country very much so does our PM. But there are some elements in your country and so are in our ours who are creating the potholes in the road to peace. But I think we the young people much repair the road so that next generation can travel on it smoothly.

Prashant Mehta June 14, 2011 at 1:20 AM  

Aman ji
I think there are some good leaders in India and some good leaders in Pakistan. There are some corrupt leaders in India and some corrupt leaders in Pakistan. And i agree and appreciate your thoughts around young people repairing the road between India and Pakistan.

Anonymous June 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM  

"Gandhi, Jinnah, Nehru, Bhutto - Benazir Bhutto"

Anonymous June 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM  

Prashant with all due respect it was apparent that you hadnt done your homework. You should have asked questions about ZAB (The most famous Bhutto) his role in creation of Bangladesh, How do they think about the relevance of "do-quami-nazaria" given the creation of Bangladesh, General Jia-Ul-Haq and his introduction of religion in their daily lives,does it have any bearing on the mess that Pakistan is in today, Their school curriculum, specifically "Pakistan Studies" , How people from other religions are perceived in text books, How do they feel about the pre-islamic heritage of their land etc etc etc
Nonetheless a refreshing read !!

Devika June 18, 2011 at 12:31 AM  

This interview was really awesome Prashant! :) A very good read.

Prashant Mehta June 25, 2011 at 12:40 PM  

Devika ji

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