Plan B

'Tis the season of government shakeups and blasphemy trials. How are you coping? By Fayes T Kantawala

Plan B
We are in the throes of Plan C. Or is it Plan E? I don’t know, surprised as I am that people are still listening to news of “plans” after so many failed attempts. Though it sounds like a morning-after pill for mutant embryos that just won’t kick it, Plan C is in fact Imran Khan’s third attempt at breaking Pakistan in order to make it. You know, in his own image. No one is precisely sure what plans A and B achieved, other than mass distraction, multiple delusions, and major ratings for certain TV channels, so let’s all just elegantly step past those failures.

Considering the wild trajectory of Imranism, my money is that after exhausting every other avenue for change, IK will eventually launch Plan J, which has his photogenic ex-wife Jemima Khan return to the country’s courtrooms in a haze of money, publicity and AIDS-awareness to distract the judges and populace while someone throws a coup. For the time being, though, Plan C means shutting down the country because that’s what crashing economies in the middle of a civil war are apt to do. Duh.
It's really sad that we can't have a peaceful protest in Pakistan, but it's not the saddest thing by a long shot

Lahore apparently shut down for a day, though no one in Lahore seemed to notice that. This week they also shut down Faisalabad. Unfortunately a PTI protestor was killed in that city. The immediate reaction was despair at how awful it was that we can’t have a peaceful protest in Pakistan. They are right. It’s really sad that we can’t have a peaceful protest in Pakistan, but it’s not the saddest thing by a long shot.

It’s also pretty sad that we breed intolerance, hate women, detest Christians, Hindus and Shias and are rallying behind the only national leader who genuinely believes the Taliban should have office furniture to go with their hateful crusade. It’s not terribly surprising that people arrived armed to protests in a country where whole marketplaces can be blown to bits or schoolgirls shot or governors killed.

Last week I wrote to you about Junaid Jamshaid, the hypocrite-cum-singer-cum-preacher who was accused of blasphemy and released a recorded apology in response. My argument was that if we can extend forgiveness to JJ for “ignorance” (after preaching about Islam professionally for 17 years, mind you) then why couldn’t we do the same for others accused of blasphemy, like Aasia Bibi? The short answer was “because he has a beard”, but the even shorter answer is “We don’t care.”

What many of us didn’t realize when opining about the Jamshed case was that in the back of our curdled hearts, we had assumed he was going to be pardoned. That was the crux of many arguments. If you let him off, people righty reasoned, then you have to let them all off. Turns out not. His case has carried on, he hasn’t been let off and, predictably, has escaped to London and is releasing more tearful statements expressing his shock that the people of Pakistan could cause him so much pain.

Shut. Up.

After 17 years of preaching about the glories of Shariah, the virtues of an Islamic state in Pakistan and the inherent evils of western secularism, JJ has the audacity now to hide out in London from the very Hell of Intolerance he and his ilk have actively created. Just to be clear, it has come to the point where this place is so suffocating that even Junaid Jamshed – the (re)incarnation of born-again righteousness – has had to flee for fear of religious persecution. Think about that.

Several months ago, at the end of my summer travels, I declared that I would have an answer about my future in Pakistan by the time of my 30th birthday. Indeed, when I turned 30 this week (please save your congratulations, I’m still curled up in a ball watching re-runs of the Big Bang Theory) my phone sent a bright little message asking “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” This would have been remarkably more disturbing had I not programmed the reminder myself some months ago. Still, it was not the best way to wake up.

I have been pondering my phone’s question for a while. I have found my answer: I’ve decided to move away.

Now before we do an emotional rukhsati scene, remember that I don’t know where or when or how I will go. I have been living in Lahore going on four years now. It hasn’t been easy. We take in our stride the usual developing world problems of no electricity, mass corruption, genetically-coded laziness and religious conservatism and bigotry. My Moroccan friends deal with those things too. But living here we have all had to deal with so much more, so much more than any generation of Pakistanis has ever had to before. And I am angry about that. I am very angry. It’s unfair that each us has to live in a volatile warzone that is also in a state of gradual implosion.

I have admitted to myself that kernel of truth that I suspect all of us know: You’re fine in Pakistan until you’re not. I’ve noticed in several young people I know that they’ve stopped making plans. I don’t mean birthday parties or holiday destinations, or having the having of babies or building or houses, but the kind of dream-plans that are inspired by favorable environments and span decades. How could you? No one can accurately predict if the country will remain secure, let alone intact, in five years, and so many have stopped trying.

Personally, I can’t see building a life here as a creative professional that isn’t under the constant threat of either kidnapping, death, blasphemy charges or all three. This is not a joke. I cannot see living here in a state of near-constant outrage for the next twenty years, harping on about tolerance, or freedom of religion, or the rights of minorities, if there are any left. I can’t fathom how people aren’t more disgusted by the fact that Imran Khan has never condemned the Taliban in any of his speeches, not once, but think he has the answers to their future.

It’s repugnant to me, as is so much of our kneejerk intolerance and performative religiously and half-baked morality. I am not sure what point there is in telling you what many of you already know for yourselves, but I felt I owed you my decision. It hasn’t been an easy one, but it’s my answer to the question all of us will inevitably have to face: is it worth your life?