Thought for the Day - Professor Mona Siddiqui - 15/05/2013

When my parents came to Britain in the late 1960s they like many thought that after a couple of years they would return to Pakistan, to Karachi back to their families and friends and continue where they had left off. But it was not to be. Education, opportunities and economics kept them here and we all became British citizens. England became our new home and our lives went in a new direction.

Raised in a family which seldom returned to Pakistan, I grew up feeling more and more distant from the country of my birth, a feeling compounded over the decades by hearing of wars, extremism, corruption and religious intolerance which seem to define so much of this state and its struggles. From the outside Pakistan appeared to be a country caught in a relentless circle of poverty, corruption and youth disenchantment. Last week’s elections came down to a contest between a former cricketer, turned serious politician Imran Khan and a political leader exiled in Saudi Arabia for the last 8 years, Nawas Sharif. This election saw two giants return to the political battleground. However contested the elections and the victory might be for some, the headline story had a positive spin which is that after 65 odd years, power had been handed over by one civilian government to another. Yet all I could think of was where were the new faces of Pakistani politics, if the younger generation had been so keen to vote and to make its voice heard, why were there no new faces at the forefront of this political landscape? Were people scared, apathetic or can the older politicians still sell the dream of a better Pakistan?

What happens in Pakistani elections may not continue to matter much to those of us who live in the west. But I think we should remain concerned. We are fortunate to have freedom and security here, our lives are far removed from those who face the same daily challenges of poverty, food and electricity shortages. We may not even see ourselves as diaspora anymore, simply British citizens, but our heritage means we remain connected however tenuously through language and culture and occasionally even some emotional pull.

Pakistan sees itself as an Islamic state but sadly it is a country blighted by those who continue to use religion to divide and terrorize. Unless people have real hope in their country and their future, religious rhetoric will continue to fill in the ever widening gaps. The Qur’anic verse `God does not change a people until they change what is in themselves’ is known to many Muslims. But it poses a fundamental challenge. That people don’t just demand a new kind of life but have the courage to develop a new way of thinking about life itself.

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