Being a Pakistani abroad brings upon you a set of responsibilities that you might never have volunteered for when you applied for that passport—at times you realise you have been reduced to performing the duties of a quasi-almanac of all things South Asian for the greater community. I have noticed that the frequency of queries posed to me have increased substantially in the past month—perhaps the flurry of announcements in the media for a season of programmes devoted to our 60th year anniversary is one reason everyone has “woken up” to our part of the world (or it could be that people do listen in to the US Presidential Debate after all and want to know more about us before we are bombed to kingdom come). However amongst all these queries—some quite irritating, there are the occasional “gems of wisdom” which make me examine my assumptions and come up to clichéd as it sounds some “light bulb” moments of my own regarding the state of affairs in Pakistan.
One such question was the ubiquitous query regarding the life of women, single women at that in Pakistan. The particular “pollster” was quite keen that I do not refer to women in Karachi, Lahore and the cosmopolitan centres but single women living in small town Pakistan and beyond, where the veneer of civilization fades and our tribal loyalties become paramount. Could women have functioning (as Pakistanis define it) lives on their own, he asked? Could they live independently? Would their community allow them to earn as they please and spend it on their selves? To sum it up how self-sufficient could they be? It is obvious that there could only be one response to that question—and how it would be interpreted in turn by the investigator and what he could derive about the state of affairs for the Pakistani woman in 2007. But then these questions did set me thinking and I had to rephrase my initial response. In Pakistan today—and the way our society functions who can survive as an individual? Do our communities allow for anyone to make it on their own? Is an individual’s opinion ever taken seriously and at the risk of repeating myself is personal initiative ever encouraged? Where is the respect for reason, where is the tolerance for someone who wants to march to their own drum, and where is the assurance that every individual can have an equal opportunity to excel? This is something that cuts across gender and therefore one has to realise that before evaluating the state of (women) affairs in our country.