“Oh, Pakistanis read these books, too!” an astonished ill-informed foreigner exclaimed when he saw a physics book with my younger brother. The foreigner, my brother and I met in an elevator in a five-star hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city. The foreigner was so scared of Pakistan that he couldn’t venture to walk outside the hotel since he came to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s image is now too terrible abroad. Most of it is because of the corporate commercial media which sells news of terror and deals in sensationalizing.
True, Pakistan for more than a decade has been through a terrible crisis of law and order. Yet it has another side as well. The Pakistani people have not yet yielded. One example of their enviable resilience is the recent elections where people came out to vote while terrorists threatened them. This election saw a record turn-out.
The idyllic Swat Valley was one of the most dangerous places in Pakistan in terms of security. The Taliban attacked a 15 year old schoolgirl there. The valley has also undergone the worst floods in Pakistan’s history. Despite all these bad attributes what is encouraging is the growing influx of domestic tourists to the valley.
However, foreign tourists, who were very frequent to Swat before 9/11, have yet to make it to Swat.
A few weeks ago the Islamabad Literature Festival was held under the banner of Oxford University Press and other organizations. The festival was refreshing. It attracted almost all the intellectuals and writers of the country.
Pakistani expatriate writers such as the acclaimed young novelist Kamila Shamsi from Britain also made it to Islamabad. There were books, talks, debates and dialogues for two consecutive days. The talks on Pakistan’s future, Pakistani English literature and contemporary fiction were more fascinating. People flocked the halls and rooms. Latest books by foreign writers attracted most visitors. Before this a similar event called the Karachi Literature Festival was successfully held with writers from all over the world, especially from India.
A two-day Children Literature Festival was arranged by a Pakistani NGO Center for Education and Consciousness with the support of Oxford University Press, the Open Society Foundation Institute and many others.
Over 20,000 children and thousands of adults participated in the festival. Luminaries of media, stage, showbiz and intelligentsia actively interacted with the children and built their confidence on their future. Girls constituted the majority among the children and students.
There were diverse sessions on critical thinking, textbooks, poetry, science, performing arts, music, language, education policies. There were activities of children cognitive development, drawings and peace.
The special children’s moving performance was an inspiration. An eight year old girl from the turbulent Balochistan province sang songs of peace, love and progress. She was everybody’s doll.
These are just few examples of life in Pakistan. We do not mean that Pakistan has no problems. Of course, it is suffering from severe ills. Yet we have hope that Pakistan has the ability to recover because it has not given in to terrorism yet.
Zubair Torwali is a researcher, linguist and human rights activist. Born and raised in Bahrain Swat, Pakistan, he heads the Institute for Education and Development, a civil society organization working for the conservation of cultural, lingual and natural heritage among the linguistic communities in north Pakistan. Zubair was recently awarded the Prof. Anita Ghulam Ali Award of Teachers and Education in Emergencies.