Whose ‘Pakistan’?


A nation can only be as great as those to whom it belongs. Partition created it but politicians and generals governed it. Citizens suffered the consequences and fought to live another day in their Pakistan. Those branded with a 13 digit national identity card number belong to this land of the pure. They vote, drive and own pieces of the ground. It is their country and so they have an inherent right to be the voice of Pakistan; to criticize the laws, to praise the lakes and mountains. But nations are ideological structures which exist beyond constitutions and government stamped documents. Taking away the papers will not stop people from identifying themselves as Pakistani, blurring the lines between insiders and outsiders. The question we must then ask is: to whom does Pakistan belong and who has the right to speak for it?
American communications consultant Cynthia Ritchie has lately garnered much attention in attempting to promote a positive image of Pakistan. A photograph of her openly riding a bicycle in conservative Peshawar rightly caused many to question our society’s double standards along with her white privilege. Her views on the plight of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan also received heavy backlash on Twitter. Given her work for the ISPR, some even went on to label her as a double/triple agent. In both instances however, the crux of the argument against her thoughts and work seemed to lie in her white outsider status with no right to speak to the world on Pakistan’s behalf. But in this day and age why must the color of her skin and passport continue to overshadow her public display of love and fascination with Pakistan?
The wounds caused by colonialism are yet to heal. It may be decades before orientalist ways of seeing the East (Orient) as inherently inferior to the West (Occident) can be undone. In order to rewrite these epistemological structures post-colonial critics like Gayatri Spivak aptly insist that the subaltern must speak; we must tell our own stories. But this should not mean suppressing or competing against the voices of white westerners arriving in Pakistan. There is space for both Irfan Junejo (a citizen) and George Fulton (a foreigner) to speak about the same country they love; the insider and outsider can tango together. However, at some point the British journalist ceased to be an outsider; Mr. Fulton lived in Pakistan for 9 years, married a Pakistani woman and had a son named Faiz.
In today’s globalized world the ‘us vs. them’ binary is no longer as concrete. Despite her American roots Ms. Ritchie is considered a ‘woman batting for Pakistan.’ Given America’s aggressive stance towards Pakistan post 9/11- bullying us into fighting a war that was not ours to begin with- the pervasive anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is no surprise. But why would just another condescending American spend time trying to show the world the positive aspects of Pakistan and write a column titled ‘When will the US do more?’ Let us momentarily believe she does have some ulterior motive- although there is no proof of this- is it still fair to snipe at her for speaking about a country she calls her second home?
Who belongs in Pakistan and to whom does Pakistan belong? Who then has the right to be a voice of the nation? According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Pakistan housed the second greatest number of refugees in the world during2017, i.e.1.39 million people. This includes Bengalis who did not flee in 1971 when we lost East Pakistan and Afghanis who did flee during the Soviet-Afghan War between 1979 and 1989. While individuals like Cynthia Ritchie possess visas which authorize their stay in Pakistan, these refugees have no documentation proving their right to be in the country despite living within its borders for years. They have spent decades finding a way to earn a living in Pakistan. Their children know no other country and culture which they can call their own. Do these Bengalis and Afghanis also not belong in Pakistan? Will they also not be permitted to speak for Pakistan?
It is ironic for a country, where the sales of Fair & Lovely never go down, to hate a woman for being white despite her efforts to paint the very same country in a positive light for the world to see.
It is even more ironic to applaud occurrences like the first Muslim women of Palestinian and Somali origins being elected to Congress, while attempting to push out narratives of foreigners who see Pakistan as a home. One can strongly disagree with the views put forward by Cynthia Ritchie but to criticize them because she is not ‘one of us’ and hence not entitled to be a voice for Pakistan, is simply unfair. What happened to believing in the sweet old saying: ‘home is where the heart is?’