First, dear reader, may I wish you a Happy New Year.

And then, let me ask: what is the most important thing to make the year happy? It can be many things, of course; such as security, livelihood, food, shelter, health and all the basic things that human beings need – and not all have it in a world which is again becoming more unequal. Some have so much that they don’t know how to use and spend all they have, and they become more and more separate from the rest; while others suffer because they cannot fulfil their basic needs. Rich and poor alike may lack good human relations with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and the others we depend on in our everyday lives.
There are people, maybe all of us, regretting things we did or did not do, realizing that it is too late to redo or change what is in the past. Let us pray for forgiveness, and hope we did as well as we could under the circumstance, and also promise ourselves that we may do better in the future. Let us also forgive those who may have trespassed against us.
These are some of the important things we all reflect on when we take stock of the calendar year that ended yesterday. Today, we have a clean slate before us. The most important is that we meet the new year with optimism and confidence. Although it is not likely that it will be entirely different from last year, we will also have new opportunities and possibilities, as we have every day.
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend a walima wedding party in Islamabad. The groom had come back from Sweden to wed his new wife from his home country. A large group of Pakistani-Swedes had come along, as well as other Pakistanis who had studied in Sweden but had returned home, out of duty to family and country, or for other reasons. The groom’s father, my old colleague in a UN organization in Pakistan, was a proud and happy man, as all fathers and family members would be on such a day. Well, with some sadness, too, because the young couple would go to live in a far away country.
What was so interesting though, was to observe and listen to the dozen or so Pakistani-Swedes. They were not only proud of Pakistan; they were also proud of Sweden and had in a decade or less become partners in the new land. They had in them the optimism and confidence that is so essential to succeed in this world, or just do well for themselves and others.
The only woman in the Pakistani-Swedish ‘wedding delegation’ was born and bred in Sweden of Pakistani parents, visiting Pakistan for the first time to be introduced to her fiancé’s family. She was observing it all and taking part in the conversation in a reserved way, what we often think is typical for Scandinavians. She too had the confidence that they all seemed to have, and yet also modesty, knowing full well that they were just ordinary, clever, hardworking young students and professionals, having the fortune of residing in one of the world’s most advanced and equal countries. They had graduated from good Pakistani and Swedish universities, including the prestigious Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, ranked amongst the best in the world.
Sweden balances the local with the international, with about twenty percent of the close to ten million citizens being immigrants. In spite of a new right-wing party, with xenophobic tendencies, 80-90 percent of the Swedes from right to left are all positive to the immigrants and their integration in society like anyone else. “The Swedes are better than people in most countries,” one of the Pakistani-Swedes said, and he expressed worry about some Pakistanis saying that the Afghans living here should be pushed harder to return home. “I think we should learn a few lessons from Sweden,” he said. “I feel welcome there, and I am also glad to pay high taxes because I know the money is used for good schools, hospitals, and so on. They are innovative and have also managed to handle the recession very well.”
The young Pakistani-Swedes spoke about their experience in their new or second land in such positive ways that I, and my American friend who was there, who is a specialist in change and development, were impressed and puzzled too. We thought highly of their positive outlook, and their analytical ways of discussing issues. We also thought their opinions would be valid anywhere in the world – in Sweden, Pakistan, and beyond. My friend said she wondered if they were already smart and clever from home in Pakistan, or if they had learnt it in Sweden? And since I, coming from Norway, with studies in Sweden in my youth, felt that I was close to an expert on it all, I answered her question like this: they were already clever and unique, but the new land with its democratic and professional institutions must have released their potential and energized them.
Since young people have it all in them (more than those of us who are getting old), the Swedish educational and work environment can only lead to success when clever young people Pakistanis reach there. Well, unless they are unfortunate and get dragged into antisocial activities. This is also a universal lesson. And then we should add that there are many young people also at home in Pakistan who do very well. Yet, it is easier to succeed in Sweden, I believe, even for foreigners.
What can we do to borrow some of the Swedish ways of thinking, that spirit that the Pakistani-Swedes at the wedding party in Islamabad had?
We can do many things, and the most important is to tell every young man and woman: you can make it; you are clever, innovative and smart; do your best and play fair! That will lead to the most important quality that every youth needs: self-confidence. Not to become over-confident, not to be arrogant, just to develop a feeling of being able to make it, and that everyone would like you to succeed too. That is the basis, and most of the rest can only be made by those who walk the road, such as finding out how to cooperate with the authorities, labour unions, employers’ associations and others.
It is our future; it is our new year. We must do what we can do to make it the way we want it to be. We can learn from Sweden – and from the Pakistani-Swedes at the wedding party. Yet, we also know that the road must be made by those who walk it, where they are. The rest of us should do what we can to the help the young find their way and embark on their journey, so they may all have many happy new years.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid. He can be contacted at atlehetland@yahoo.com