Yesterday, I visited an IDP resource center run by a local non-government organization in Rawalpindi. There, I met several Swati women and children who were still living with host families. In Pakistan, many of the people displaced from the offensive have already returned home, but some remain, wary of the tenuous security situation up north. Waqar, a man displaced from his home in Buner and who acted as a translator for me [since I don’t speak Pashto], explained to me that many of these women have stayed behind, despite living in poor conditions and having little or no money, because they constantly fear for their safety while at home. At least here, he told me, they don’t have to worry about a militant [or even a soldier], banging on their door late at night.
As a Pakistani woman from a progressive, moderate family, my life is relatively worry-free [mash’Allah]. And yet, 45 minutes away in a small skill-building center in Pirwadhai, women my age and older live such drastically different lives. One mother told me her daughter couldn’t attend school for nearly two years because of the Taliban. Another said they didn’t have enough money to pay their electricity bill, let alone come up with rent for her and her ten family members living in cramped quarters.
It is easy to forget that we are all Pakistan. A politician from an affluent family, a child selling flowers on the street, a prominent fashion designer, a soldier fighting in an ongoing military offensive, a young woman displaced in her own country. Our lives exist as different planets, orbiting around one another without ever touching. We are too often caught up in our differences rather than in what makes us all the same.
Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of our country, said on August 15, 1947:
The creation of the new State has placed a tremendous responsibility on the citizens of Pakistan. It gives them an opportunity to demonstrate to the world how can a nation, containing many elements, live in peace and amity and work for the betterment of all its citizens, irrespective of caste or creed. Our object should be peace within and peace without.
August 14th, Pakistan’s Independence Day, should be a time to reflect on such a statement – to consider our mistakes and what still unites us as a nation. In the 62 years since Pakistan’s birth, we have been torn apart by violence, civil strife, political turmoil and intolerance. And yet, in the face of such adversity, we continue to be resilient. Sitting across from those women yesterday, their courage brought tears to my eyes. Their story taught me how important it is to reach outside one’s comfort zone to help fellow citizens in need, regardless of their caste or creed. At the end of the day, we must remember that we are all Pakistan. Hum ek hain, [“We are one.”].