I still haven’t forgotten a story that my father told me about eight years ago. We were sitting outside one late night, reveling in the midst of family & friends, smoking the traditional hookah and dining the night away. I don’t exactly remember how we reached upon this topic but suddenly I found myself listening to my father reminiscing the days when he first flew to Saudi Arabia in the 60s. He spoke of that time with such admiration and fondness. He recalled how when he first mixed in with the locals, the first question he would be asked was where he was from. The moment the Saudis heard Pakistan; they would follow up with another question, asking him whether he was a doctor or an engineer!
Recently I was sitting in a cab in Dubai. Now I must mention here that I have this habit of always conversing with the cab drivers throughout the trip. I don’t know why I do it but it is something I find very soothing, especially by seeing the joy it brings to the faces of the cab drivers, who long to converse with someone while driving around a foreign city day and night, far far away from their families. These cab drivers always vary in nationality. Sometimes I meet an Egyptian, sometimes an Indian, sometimes an Afghani, sometimes a Yemeni, sometimes a Nigerian and sometimes a Pakistani.
On this particular day, the cab driver was from Pakistan’s region of North Waziristan (FATA). He told me that he had come to the UAE about 4 years ago. I asked him where he lived before, to which he replied by saying Saudi Arabia. At his mere mention of Saudi Arabia, my head flooded with the thoughts of what my father had told me that one night, about eight years ago. As minutes passed by, I found myself retelling that story to the cab driver. Once done, I enquired from him about his own experience of interacting with the Saudis. ‘Terrible’ he said. ‘They don’t respect us. Sure, they respect our leaders when they fly there to do their umrahs but they don’t respect the aam Pakistani (everyday Pakistani). And it’s not just the Saudis; it’s the same with the rest of the Arab World.’
By this time, we had reached the destination of my trip. As I pulled out my wallet to pay the cab fare, I asked him what in his opinion were the reasons behind this change of perception of Pakistan in the mind of the Arabs. ‘Money’ he swiftly replied. ‘In 60s Pakistan was the Asian Tiger. Our entire country was growing like Dubai. Now we don’t have money and the drones don’t help either.’ At that instant I realized that the man I was speaking to was from North Waziristan, the center point to the majority of the US drone attacks that take place in Pakistan. I asked him what connection drone attacks have with Arabs losing respect for Pakistan. ‘Har kuch (everything)’ he said. ‘How can anyone respect a country, the only Muslim nuclear power at that, which gets bombed by a foreign country every few weeks and does nothing about it?’ he enquired. I said nothing. As I placed the money of the cab fare into his hands, he refused to take it. After much difficulty, he accepted the money and I walked out of the cab with more questions than answers.
Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in his address to a gathering in the city of Ahmedabad (Gujarat province of India) in 1946, a year before Pakistan’s creation, had said that “Pakistan is destined for greatness. It is a Muslim ideology that must be protected for time to come”. Sadly, today Pakistan is being drowned not by its enemies but by it’s own leaders. Corruption, nepotism and radicalization due to lack of education plus poverty lay at the heart of Pakistan’s ills. From being the country that other Muslim nations looked up to, Pakistan has become a country that other Muslim nations look down at. It is imperative for the country to shrug itself of its ills, lift itself from the shadows of darkness and capture the greatness that it’s founder envisioned for it. Otherwise the country will continue to lose its dignity, one drone at a time.