The Pakistani identity is one that is deeply ironic. In the recent past we have tried to disown our noble laureates and celebrate killers and absconders from the law. From the outside, the choices we have made as a nation are unfathomable; that we would spit venom towards Malala who was shot in the head, begrudging her success after that, and celebrate a convicted killer like Mumtaz Qadri.

The more I read comments online and social media debates the more my opinion seem like minority viewpoints. My political opinions prefer those how have worked for science, education and against violence against women and minorities to those who are powerful and ostensibly “pious”. Rather than opening myself up to hateful responses, online and otherwise, it might be better to leave some of these issues open-ended. Hitting someone on the head with a string of opinions ends debate and creates undue animosity. So here is a list of questions that have been bothering me, the answers to which can determine who a Pakistani is and how much (or little) space there is to be different and critical. So here’s a first choice: Do we want to be a country obsessed with religious piety (outward and hopefully inwards too)? Or do we want to grow scientists, artists and educators? What if we couldn’t have both, and just had to make a choice? Would we choose conservative traditionalism over better quality of life and universally recognised progress?

What if Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy was a man and not a woman? Would that impact how we perceive her work on violence against women?

How many Pakistanis who think Mumtaz Qadri is a hero, the US is the devil incarnate, and Pakistan is only for Muslims, would be happy to receive a British or US passport and move?

Why does Dr Abdus Salam’s religious affiliation matter at all? Do people like Captain Safdar, who speak up in parliament on such matters want to make sure minorities who have talent and hard work to offer emigrate away since their contributions to science and economy will never be recognised? Do non-Muslims and “deviant” sects have a weaker claim to being Pakistani?

Why can no one in the entire police state of Pakistan catch Khadim Ali Rizvi? How much power and political clout does he even have? Are we okay with having another dharna? Why is Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah tolerated and given space to protest and the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement isn’t? Do members of the former have a bigger claim to being Pakistani than the latter? Who is a Pakistani? Who defines who is a “good” Muslim in Pakistan (a.k.a the Sadiq-and-Ameen incongruity)?

If Imran Khan is the next model leader and our saviour, why does he never come into parliament (quite like Mian Nawaz Sharif)? Why are we so lax with the mistakes our heroes make? How do Hamza Ali Abbasi or Amir Liaqat get away with being hypocritical (and even bigoted), while women like Gulalai Khan, Muneeba Mazari or Reham Khan can never regain similar respect or status after their snafus?

Why are men so confused about what constitutes sexual harassment? Can its definition and content not be googled? Why is it assumed that because a man has a wife or children, that he is incapable of sexual harassment or cheating? Why are women blamed for their own harassment? Do they not have a right to be in public and professional spaces? Do they need to wear a full niqab for men to behave professionally to them? Can civility to women not be learnt? Women have to be cut down to size and accused of being wrong so often- so what constitutes a person and a human at all and why does she fall short? Why is it believed that a woman’s purpose is to rear children due to her biology but a man is never defined by his reproductive organs?

Is a person who has saved lives, but lived an unreligious life, bound for hell?

Who is a Pakistani? Can she be a woman? If yes, must she have a dress code? Can he be a Baloch nationalist? Can an Ahmadi be patriotic? Can a Pakistani critique Pakistan? Are dissidents traitors?

Is there any redeeming quality to our values, traditions and politics that someone not already a Pakistani would want to migrate and become Pakistani?


The writer is studying South Asian history and politics at the Oxford University and is the former Op-Ed Editor of The Nation.