What Is A Pakistani?

By Nabeel Jafri

Many claim that Pakistan is a failed state. A problem cannot be solved without identifying it. So I sat down to dissect the problem but soon ran into a whole new one – to understand Pakistan, I had to understand the Pakistani first. In order to conduct some credible research, my Pakistani couldn’t simply be somebody I knew. It had to be a Pakistani I had no association with and someone who would be recognized by others for being a Pakistani as well. Thus, I set out to find myself a Pakistani to interview.


Unsure of where to start my search, I gave my parents a call. My mother answered the phone.

‘Mamma, I’m looking for a Pakistani. Where can I find one?’

‘I can’t hear you properly. The rain damaged the phone line. Who are you looking for?’

‘A Pakistani’

‘A Pakistani?’


Allah! Nabeel sathya gaye ho kia? Kahin tum nay pee vee to nahi?’ [God, Nabeel are you crazy? Did you drink too much?]

‘Mamma, I’m perfectly sober’

Toh kiyon aisee batein kar rahe ho. Is he liyay socha tha kay tumhay bahar parhnay likhnay bhejnay ki koi zaroorat nahi thi‘ [Then why are you talking like this? This is why I did not want to send you abroad for your studies.]


I hung up and decided to try a friend instead.

Ali, Nabeel bol raha tha. Khariat hai?’ [Ali, it’s Nabeel. How are you?]

‘Yes buddy, I’m fantastic. How are the bachis in Canada? I heard summer is quite the sight to behold!’

Yaar, yeh batao kay Pakistani kahan say milay ga?’ [Friend, tell me where I can find a Pakistani?]

‘Why do you need a Pakistani? I say find some Caucasian girl to marry. Immigration and pleasure in one package’

Nahin yaar, mein Pakistan wapis araha hoon aglay maheenay. Mulk toh apna he hota hai chahay jaisa bhi ho‘ [No, I’m coming back to Pakistan next month. It is my country, whatever shape it is in.]

‘Bro you’ve lost your mind. There is nothing here. Can you find me a job? The situation is deteriorating every day. Actually, find me a girl!’


My second attempt didn’t go anywhere either so I wondered if I could get in touch with a politician. Surely these patriotic men would know more Pakistanis than anyone else? I tried to get in touch with President Zardari but he was in Dubai in a vacation. On a personal level, I could relate because running a country must be very stressful indeed and I’m sure Zardari needed time off to recover. Imran Khan was too busy to get a hold of either, having been called to London for a charity function where his attendance was imperative. Mian Nawaz Sharif was the hardest of the three since he sat in aitkaf in the modest palace of King Fahad, and was completely disconnected from the country he was responsible for. I did get a call from Pervez Musharraf though, who offered his opinions, but not wanting to be tracked by the Taliban I had to politely decline.

Politicians led me nowhere so I chased political parties instead. The PML-N explained that they had plans to tackle the issue of defining a Pakistani but would elaborate after the All-Parties Conference. PPP talked about the sacrifices of the Bhuttos for the average Pakistanis until I questioned the relevance of their answer to my questions. It did not sit well with the PPP and some jiyalas are still camping outside my house – expenses and travel paid for by the PPP of course. PTI termed my questions a conspiracy against them and their attempts to reform Pakistan. MQM asked me to come back the next morning because it was late at night in London and Altaf Hussain would only be available tomorrow. JUI agreed to pass a fatwa on whatever I defined to be a Pakistani if I provided for them adequately – they did not have a specific preference for monetary goods and would also accept non-monetary contributions.

I still wasn’t disheartened as I had expected little from our politicians to begin with anyway. I headed out for a coffee with my friend Sam (short for Sameeruddin) who considered himself a Pakistani too. He had been born and raised in Canada, and other than the occasional summer in Pakistan, had never lived in the country he claimed to belong to. I asked him what made him decide he was a Pakistani and he proudly stated it was his country. I tried to inquire why he believed that to be true since his country, in my opinion, was Canada. He did not know the national sport and was unable to name more than five cities but since he was beginning to get offended, I dropped the topic.

Upon returning, I resumed my quest with new vigour. I called up my high school history teacher who explained in great detail that Pakistan was meant to be a free Islamic country as per the constitution. He dodged my question about the constitution coming in effect a few years after inception and claimed that it was an Indian conspiracy to make the youth question their identities – India had actually pulled the same tactic to great effect in 1971 to tear Pakistan into two. My English teacher from high school argued that Pakistan was meant to be a liberal country that had been hijacked by the religious fundamentalists. I questioned whether his elite upbringing in an exclusive part of the city had anything to do with his perceptions about the days gone by but he insisted on talking about why a secular Pakistan was beneficial for all and sundry. He had to run, he said, for his chauffeur was ready to take him and his dog to the park for a walk, but would be glad to discuss this over some high tea.

My last resort was the government. The first few calls went unanswered and when I finally got through to an operator, I had to stay on hold forever. He patched me through to the Sindh assembly first, where a legislator screamed into the phone that everyone who had been west of the border before 1947 was a Pakistani. I guessed this particular gentleman was not too fond of the Muhajirs. I then tried my luck with the Baluchistan assembly, where my call was answered by an army official. He grilled me on my intentions and inquired about my ties with Baluch separatist groups. I hung up in fear after I had heard enough clicks on the line to convince me the call was being monitored. My attempts to reach the KPK government were met with a strong Islamic greeting and a speech which claimed that to be a Pakistani was arbitrary and therefore unnecessary, but becoming a good Muslim was the real and tangible prize. I would read in the papers later about the Taliban who had casually taken over the assembly for a day while the real provincial government dirtied its hands slinging dirt at the previous provincial and the current federal government. Calls to the Punjabi assembly were answered right away – the government insisted that I would find the perfect Pakistani in Lahore. If not, I was always welcome to enjoy the express bus service to Islamabad to find more Pakistanis.

Giving up, I turned on the television to watch some news instead. Aamir Liaquat was on and the adoration he enjoyed from the audience motivated me to explore him in a patriotic context. However, I was distracted by the news scrolling through at the bottom of the screen. The television station had just been alerted that multiple bombs had gone off in Parachinar and the death count was in double digits. The attacks were reported to be on a Shia gathering so, while disturbing in nature, it did convince me that surely the Shias can’t be Pakistanis if they were being slaughtered so mercilessly. I then crossed the Ahmedis off my list since the constitution has already taken away their right to religious freedom. I remembered Christian neighbourhoods being burned and Hindu members of the society being indicted on questionable blasphemous charges and thus I eliminated these two groups from my list of Pakistanis as well.

My list, through a process of elimination, now kept getting shorter and shorter. I eliminated the Balochis for they wouldn’t argue for separation if they were Pakistanis and I separated the Punjabis because they were too detached from the realities of the rest of the country. I crossed off Karachi because it was a country in itself and the Taliban jumped off the list since they are predominantly Islamist, not nationalist. I took off rural Sindhi for still being ruled over by feudal lords and I took off Kashmir because it had never really been Pakistan’s, despite our government’s claims. My thoughts were racing now – a real Pakistani wouldn’t have continued with a live show if there had been another genocidal attack and a real Pakistani wouldn’t have insisted the attack was a Zionist/Indian/Western conspiracy against Pakistan when it was painfully obvious that it wasn’t. Misguided historians couldn’t be Pakistanis either because they lied to the country, but neither could the romanticizing liberals who lived, ate and socialized in a world of their own. The Army was more of a political establishment and constantly interfered in the matters of the state, while politicians were more entertaining than our cinema, so that ruled all of them out.

I kept eliminating different ethnicities, groups and religions until I had nobody left on my list. Everybody had been scratched out and I could not find a single name left. After much contemplation, I was tempted to label Jinnah as the only true Pakistani but I realized that it would be ironic in itself. The man who created this country was relegated to Ziarat soon after Pakistan’s inception. Even though I wasn’t there and have no idea of knowing what really transpired, I’m positive it would have been a completely different story if only Jinnah had been a real Pakistani himself.

As of the writing on this post, the author’s research is currently on an indefinite hold.


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