I’m a dual citizen: I was born in Toronto but spent my childhood years in Pakistan. More important than a piece of paper telling me I am a citizen of Pakistan, I can tell you that I feel Pakistani in every sense of the word. Citizenship to me is about feeling and identity. I define my identity and I define what it means to be Pakistani for myself. As a Canadian (also in every sense of the word), people find it surprising that I can claim all of Pakistan as my own. The two identities seem conflicting. How can one be Canadian and Pakistani? How can someone who does not live in Pakistan claim all of Pakistan as her own? To me it’s all simple, it’s all me.
Pakistan is the nation that my grandparents fought for in order to raise their children as Pakistanis, to carve out a unique identity within many identities and to build futures based on freedom. I spent my childhood years in Faisalabad, Pakistan where my grandmother, a school teacher, had set up her life and was a strong leader in her local community and in her own right. She taught me Urdu, Punjabi and English. She taught me about the country’s history and culture, along with the history of my family. Most importantly, she taught me the foundations of what I needed to be me. Today, I continue to rely on her life story to help shape my life story. She was born in 1916 in Jalandhar, India and was part of that young generation that was to build the new nation of Pakistan in 1947.
The Pakistan I know may not be the Pakistan you know, which doesn’t discount either experience. My Pakistan is not the Pakistan we have been seeing in western media since 9/11. My idea of Pakistan is personal for me and does not merely come from impersonal theoretical definitions.
My Pakistan is beautiful. My Pakistan is charismatic. My Pakistan is hospitable, gentle, nurturing, and loving. My Pakistan is humane, charitable, compassionate and all giving. My Pakistan is full of intellect with literature, poetry and fine arts to explore. My Pakistan is resilient, strong, and progressive. My Pakistan is multifaceted, multilayered and multicultural. My Pakistan is a new country and is rapidly evolving. Most importantly, my Pakistan is about Pakistani people.
My Pakistan is not synonymous with any religion, any particular regime or even a federal government. My Pakistan is not perfect, just as any other nation. My Pakistan is not of a static singular culture. My Pakistan has an infinite amount of challenges along with its rich talents. I do not pretend that my country has done no wrong. I do not pretend that my country contains no bad apples. My personal feelings of Pakistan are strongly tied to my sacred childhood experiences with my grandmother. My early life experiences and memories of Pakistan, along with my experiences of Pakistani people as I worked there as a social worker, can never be tainted by misguided western media, terrorist scare tactics, men who continue to oppress women, and others who continue to sabotage the country.
My greatest gift to Pakistan is that I am a Canadian of tremendous privilege with a university education and social work skills and am one who can, has, and continues to, give back to Pakistan. While working in humanitarian relief efforts in the northern areas, I became even more convinced of the strength of the human spirit. This country, even in its darkest moments has given back to me. My greatest contributions are also in how I represent Pakistan as I travel the world as a pseudo-ambassador. I share this responsibility of being an ambassador of Pakistan with millions of others living outside of the country. I alone do not define Pakistan, but I certainly own my personal feelings about Pakistan. There are currently well over 180 million life stories associated with Pakistan, citizens and non-citizens alike along with stories of generations past.
As Mrs. Pakistan World, I am often asked what messages I would like to give to the world about Pakistan. There are so many messages that there is not enough space in one interview or in one article. We are a vast, diverse and large group of people. Pakistanis, those living in and outside of Pakistan, are difficult to sum up in a few words or one picture, as we are so very diverse in our lifestyles, views, opinions, languages and histories.
So importantly, to the world I say that a singular definition of ‘Pakistani’ will not do for 180 million Pakistanis worldwide. I encourage you all to explore this country and the people to discover our depths, complexities and our richness.
“Pakistani” is a national identity to a homeland which was created in 1947 out of a movement for liberation. The nation was founded by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who stated the following in an international talk in 1948,
“Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims –Hindus, Christians, and Parsis –but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.”
Like any other nation and culture, Pakistan has developed into a diverse and ever so evolving society. It is important to remember that Pakistan is both a player and a product of international and historical politics and everyone has a stake in strengthening this nation. We must all work to support Pakistan and importantly to support more Pakistani women being in positions of leadership.
We are at an interesting time and place now, where even young Pakistanis I meet across Toronto may not even be aware of the political struggle their grandparents had gone through. We are in a political climate where we are all lumped together as South Asians, our histories and uniqueness can sometimes become blurry to the naked eye. I urge young people to take a deeper look into your histories. If our grandparents, merely two generations away, were able to build a nation with nothing back then, then what are we capable of today with all our privileges as North Americans?
It is also surprising to me that the meaningful ideas and quotes from our founder, Mohanmad Ali Jinnah, are not mentioned or even discussed anymore. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, stated, “Jinnah is one of the most extraordinary men in history.” We need to keep his messages alive. Below are some of my absolute favorite qoutes by him.
“As you know, history shows that in England conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days when there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.” – Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 11th August, 1947.
“The Story of Pakistan, its struggle and its achievement, is the very story of great human ideals, struggling to survive in the face of great odds and difficulties.” –Address to the people in Chittagong, 23rd March, 1948.
“There are two powers in the world: one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women." – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, from Speech at Islamia College for Women, March 25th 1940.
"You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state." Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 1948.
These are all such inspiring messages that even today, 60 odd years later, we are still working to promote. We must continue to work to live and demonstrate these values. Here in Canada, I urge all South Asians to work together to promote unity. As South Asians we must work together and ensure that we are not divided due to internal dynamics. Pakistan needs its South Asian allies to support its development for the betterment of all of South Asia. Turning your back is not the way and such a response I feel is more of a leftover of the ‘divide and conquer’ colonial strategy. In our increasingly globalized world and with all the values we hold as Canadians, the Pakistanis and South Asians living here can serve as outstanding examples to our countries of origins. I urge all of you to consider what you can do.
About the author: Tahmena Bokhari is a professor, social worker and a community speaker.
"Pictures of Jinnah and Old Pakistan are courtesy of Images of Asia."
I love this quote… “My early life experiences and memories of Pakistan, along with my experiences of Pakistani people as I worked there as a social worker, can never be tainted by misgucomment_IDed western media, terrorist scare tactics, men who continue to oppress women, and others who continue to sabotage the country.”
informative. i am inspired by your story of Pakistan and how you have worked there. i am also very impressed by Jinnah’s quotes. i was not aware of his messages. i am one of those youth that only know pakistan from what my parents have told me and from what i see in the media. my parents have not told me much except for the little they know…they are not very educated. all i have known of pakistan is how poor and uneducated it is. thank you for your article.
I applaud your message as a dual citizen. It is people like you who are our shining stars and make our peope and community look good. But I have to say I do not have good memories of Pakistan or good experiences with Pakistani people such as you dcomment_ID. I am glad I live here in the west and frankly Pakistan is just a doomed place.
Thank you so much for being such a good ambassador for Pakistan. Our country needs really good PR right now. If we dcomment_ID not realize it before we should now seeing the low donations to floods. I read some of your other articles too and agree that every one of us speaks for Pakistan whether we realize it or not. Our behaviour shows the world what kind of people we are. Like when we don’t even say hello to our non Muslim or nonPakistani neighbors, or when we do not allow our kcomment_IDs to have friends from other countries, or when we do not join other reigious or cultural celebrations but expect everyone to make accomodations for ours.