Last night, my friend from Chile showed me some pictures of her country on the Internet. She googled city after city like Santiago, Chile’s capital, Patagonia, and even smaller towns only for me to remain amazed at the captivating scenes, both natural and man-made. All the while, I kept repeating ‘wow!’, ‘wow!’, and more ‘wows!’ till it was my turn to show her some glimpses of Pakistan.
So, I started with my hometown, Quetta, the capital city of Balochistan province in Pakistan’s south west. There were couple pictures from before partition which presented some order, beauty, and peace in the then old city. And from recent times, there were a few images of a lake in the city’s outskirts and another of its widely shared picture taken in the dark from a mountain’s top.
And, then, that was it.
Rest of the images that unfolded in rows were, without exaggeration, of suicide blasts, blood-soaked dead bodies, hospitals, destroyed buildings, crying men and women, and angry, hopeless, and disorganized mobs.
Among those images was also the picture of my brother-in-law from the horrendous suicide blast on lawyers on August 8 in Quetta, which killed 73 people including 54 lawyers. The image shows him crying at the shoulder of another lawyer with blood and destruction of his dead friends in the background.
As an irony of fate, what ‘amazed’ me here was his and his friends’ resilience and courage to collect the dead and injured bodies of their lawyer friends.
Moreover, the roads, streets, and buildings of the city looked like those of a plundered, destroyed, and deserted place whose inhabitants were about to leave to never return to it.
On the whole, the city’s images presented nothing enthralling but violence, destruction, fear, bad governance, and extremely poor infrastructure.
After Quetta, I googled Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. In Lahore, except the Lahore Fort and Badshai Mosque (the 16-17th centuries Mughal emperors’s constructions), recent roads, some bus and train projects, and couple other things, nothing looked extraordinary.
Karachi, one of the world’s largest cities with 23 million people looked the most polluted and ugly of all. Again, bearing a few road projects, not much has been developed of this city. Narrow roads, traffic jams, old and overloaded passenger buses, and poverty sites were the hallmarks of the metropolis.
Then, I came to Islamabad. It was by far the most beautiful of all Pakistani cities. It was clean and very organized with wide and open roads. That is partly because it is naturally beautiful and partly because it is the country’s capital. However, Islamabad revived my confidence in Pakistan in the eyes of my foreign friend.
I skipped Peshawar because I thought it would cause more sadness and embarrassment not that I am naïve about the sources of conflict and destruction and the harsh realities of life there but because it was too much to explain to her, and also a lot for her to make sense of. However, if, for the sake of experience, one googles Peshawar, the images of bloodied and destroyed schools, terrified children, crying mothers, and much worse are no less notable on the Internet.
Therefore, from Islamabad I went straight to Giglit, Kalam, Kaghan, and other picturesque valleys in the north. One picture from Gilgit shows a foreign couple kissing against the background of the most scenic glimpse of the valley. Besides this, the beauty of the north was breathtaking. It not only restored my faith in the beauty of Pakistan but also amazed my friend, as she began to say things like ‘Wow! This is so beautiful.’
That felt really good.
However, I was still not proud of it because that was not of our own making. The north looked beautiful just because of nature. In fact, we as people and state have also destroyed the serenity and peace of nature there. You will see that in the next few lines.
After Gilgit, I searched for Swat, the hometown of Malala Yousafzai, the Noble Peace Prize winner and the girl who was shot by Taliban. People who know Malala should also know Swat as their story is one and the same.
For Swat, the search on the Internet showed four main categories of images on the screen: People, Malala Yousafzai, Beauty, and the Taliban. Swat was doubtless among the most beautiful places during my search. The images of running Swat river, beautiful mountains, and greenery were mesmerizing.
But, sadly, here too, one could not escape the glimpse of terror, violence, and destruction by Taliban. There were the images of angry and terrifying faces of Mullah Fazlullah and his men with dangerous weapons in their hands, destroyed schools and community buildings, bomb blasts, and victimized people. The most noticeable were the sad images of Swat’s brave daughter Malala after she was shot in the head by Taliban.
The story of Swat’s destruction is best presented in Malala’s recent documentary film, ‘He Named me Malala.’ It is a brilliant eye-opener for the denialists mainly in Pakistan who, to this day, naively believe that Malala is a conspiracy of the west against Islam and Pakistan.
What does this all say about us? A number of things. One, that our leaders are corrupt and have cared less ever sense to invest in the country and its people’s development. That lack of development in our cities in all respects has discouraged foreign investment and tourism in our country. The recent China Pakistan Economic Corridor, although a welcome step and not the focus of this article, involves other issues that will promote more provincialism and less integration and development or biased development.
Two, that we are an intolerant and anti-reason and anti-science nation. Those who do not know much about our country think we are a bunch of crazy Muslims killing Shias and other non-Muslims, which is not true. But, how are they going to get a different picture if violence and the killing of innocent people continues unabated. And then there are those who understand that it is a handful of people and groups which are the cause of violence, but they still ask why have we as a state and society failed to curb such groups.
Three, that we are an unsafe and dangerous country where people from other countries fear to come. I remember from my graduate school at the University of San Diego that Pakistan was on the list of countries where students did not have permission to go to for internship. And that is also true for certain games, music and film festivals, and scores of other things.
The news and images of terrorist violence and killings like in my city are the hallmark of almost all major Pakistani cities. Two days ago, four Hazara Shia women were gunned down in Quetta. If you want to know more about their fate in Pakistan, just google the words ‘Hazara Shia Pakistan.’ You will see for yourself what I mean by ‘How Pakistan Looks Like on the Internet?’
The writer is a Fulbright alumnus and freethinker from Quetta, but currently based in New Jersey. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @