On The Side Talking Points

What is the Pakistani dream?

Updated Aug 18, 2016 02:37pm

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Pakistani artist Mubarak Hussain puts the final touches on a statue of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan ahead of Pakistan's Independence Day | Reuters
Pakistani artist Mubarak Hussain puts the final touches on a statue of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan ahead of Pakistan's Independence Day | Reuters

Back in 1899, Sigmund Freud wrote The Interpretation of Dreams; the psychoanalyst theorised that dreams were the key to unlocking the subconscious. A nation’s dreams too reveal truths about its people, and are closely linked to identity politics. One definition of the globally recognised ‘American dream’ describes it as a “national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers”.

In a country like Pakistan, which is in a perpetual state of identity crisis, the Pakistani dream is more elusive to imagine, let alone realise. Is there even such a thing as the ‘Pakistani dream’? What are the nation’s collective desires, hopes and goals? Here, a panel of commentators deliberates.

A basic fix

If you live in Karachi, it depends on which side of the bridge you belong to. If you are from the Punjab, then south, central or north Punjab matters. And if you are an Islooite, then the “Sector” you live in is of consequence. So, the Pakistani dream means different things to different people.

There was a time when anti-US demonstrations were the norm. However, the lines outside the consulates applying for visas would always outnumber the demonstrators so that would give you an indication of what the dream is. Conversely, we have so many Pakistanis with foreign nationalities or residences still living here that you really have to wonder: “why did you leave if you still want to live here?”

It has been 50 years since the election slogan of Mr Bhutto of “roti, kapra aur makan” created hope in the bosom of the downtrodden. If you look carefully at the current promises made by politicians, only “insaf” has been added. This means we are still wallowing at the bottom of Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. So this would be the dream of the masses.

For the upwardly mobile, a foreign education and a ‘good job’ in a multinational company is what you aspire to; young women want to be fair and hope for suitable suitors. This jives well with the perception that parents want higher education for their sons and marriage for their daughters. Those without electricity want generators and those with generators want free diesel; a security tail is the new status symbol when you drive around in your four-wheeler, and ‘destination weddings’ are a must if you have ‘arrived’.

But seriously, though, think about it: we know that corruption is not the biggest threat this country faces. It is poor governance and home-grown security problems. When children are not safe in schools, we know it is time to recalibrate.

The Pakistani dream, whatever we perceive it to be, can be achieved if we just fix the basics.

By Leon Menezes who is a professor at the Institute of Business Administration.


I once had a dream

We have lost the dream, and I think we know it.

Our parents dreamt and fought for freedom, but we have not used that liberty to create a society that is just and free from prejudice. It is ironic that the country is free but the people are not; some are in bondage and others are guarded behind high walls.

Like the people, the dreams are splintered into tiny schisms. Some dream of hoors in heaven, some dream of America and others about their next square meal. But there is no longer a dream that unifies the people of Pakistan. Greed, bad governance and lack of interest by the educated elite in the political process have shaped the course of our dreams. 

My dream for Pakistan is simply to restore human dignity and respect for people across class and religion. This fundamental respect for other human beings would allow for peace and a space to build a society that is just, tolerant and progressive. We cannot wait for a leader to unify us. Each of us has to dream this dream individually and act upon it in our own spheres.

By Naiza Khan, a visual artist and researcher who works from London and Karachi.


Virtual dreams

How does one define the Pakistani dream? Should it be any different from the American dream or the Indian or Chinese dream?  I don’t really see why it should. People around the world want similar things. They want happy, fulfilling and interesting lives. They want a safe and comfortable environment. They want work they enjoy and friends and family with whom they can share their precious moments. We Pakistanis are no different.

It really depends on whose perspective you are looking at. I spend most of my time with young people who aspire to change the world. They are innovators with passion for technology. They want the opportunity to prove themselves, to show the world that we are just as talented as anyone else. They want to build things that have global appeal, which will gain recognition for them and for Pakistan. Their dream is to turn Pakistan into a country that the world will look up to.  

What they need to fulfil their dream is an ecosystem that allows them to flourish. They need government policies that will support the tech sector and its advancement. This includes free Internet, data protection, privacy legislation and tax policies that do not hinder their growth.

These young innovators need clean, fast and affordable access to the Internet. They need investment in their ideas. They need access to a network of people who believe in them and are willing to connect them with other people who can help turn their ideas and dreams into reality.

And they need much simpler things – a good public transportation system, road infrastructure, investment in education – at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, along with a supportive healthcare system and top-notch security.

When you look at countries around us, you see a lot of investment in public entertainment facilities so that people have places to go and things to do that will refresh their minds, souls and bodies. Young people here dream of a country that places a focus on all of these things… and there is nothing stopping us from delivering on these dreams but a lack of vision and resolve.

By Jehan Ara, the president of the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) and the tech incubator The Nest I/O.


To be free or not to be

Diversity: the Pakistani dream is to see a day where a mosque, a church, a jamaat khana and a mandir can exist in the same area without fear or conflict. The Pakistani dream is to see a day where  a person from any ethnic background  has an equal chance to succeed. To be a doctor, lawyer, successful actor, musician, politician or the CEO of a major firm — and one day, maybe even the president or prime minister. The Pakistani dream is to live in a place where our differences are celebrated. Where what you believe (or claim to believe) makes you no better or worse than anyone else.

To be free, as long as you are not harming anyone else; to be free to marry who you want, free to go to school if you want, free to put up a stage and play your music, and let different kinds of people enjoy themselves together. Free to eat what you want, drink what you want, apply for any kind of educational degree or job, or start your own initiative. Free to live where you want to, alone if you like. Free to not be ashamed of being handicapped or mentally challenged, a woman or a man, transgender or of any sexual orientation. The Pakistani dream is not to be rich or famous; the Pakistani dream is to be free.

By Sara Haider, a vocalist and songwriter from Karachi, training in Eastern classical vocals with acclaimed qawwal Ustad Rauf Naseerudin Saami.


This originally appeared in the Herald's February 2016 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.