Over the past two weeks, pundits from around the world have run out of adjectives to describe the Pakistani cricket team. “Unpredictable” was the clear favourite followed by “mercurial”. Then came erratic, impulsive, volatile, fickle, irregular, capricious and surprising.
Yes, we can be all of those things and indeed, we often are. But on the night that it mattered most, we were none of those things. Instead, as one shell-shocked commentator put it, our performance was “clinical, professional and un-Pakistani”.
Cynics may ask why victory in a game, and that too in a format often described as pure chance, matters so much. The average Pakistani is no richer or healthier today than he was yesterday. But that is to miss the point.
Pakistan is a country which, to put it mildly, suffers from a serious conceptual crisis. From the very beginning, we have claimed that we are both democratic and Islamic. And yet we have failed to figure out exactly how those two ideals are to be realised without conflicting with each other.
The fact that Pakistan’s birth was bloody and marked by the death of a million people has only raised the stakes in this game of existential navel-gazing. We cannot be a secular democracy because that would be no different from India, which would in turn mean that a million people died in vain. On the other hand, we cannot be a theocratic state like that desired by the Taliban because that is just not who “we” are.
Who the hell then are “we”? More importantly, is there a “we” out there or are we just kidding ourselves? Are Pakistanis a real people or, as per Ayesha Jalal, Pakistan is what we got stuck with once Jinnah’s bluff got called?
This may well be a circular definition, but “we” are the people who celebrate when Pakistan wins. We are the people who boogie in the streets when Pakistan wins. We are the people who stripped off their shirts and wiggled their extremely undefined bodies to Dil, Dil Pakistan at three in the morning outside Liberty, the same place where the Sri Lankan team was ambushed three months ago. We are the people who danced to forget that black day. We are the people who were happy last night.
The truth is that nations do not spring fully formed from the womb of history. Nations are forged, one event at a time. And in the past two years, we have come a great deal closer to defining ourselves as a people by clarifying both what we want from democracy as well as what it means to be Muslim.
On the democratic front, the grand bargain put forward by Musharraf was this: take the good times economically and put up with army control. That Singapore-style bargain was rejected because people insisted that they wanted it all, that they wanted both good governance and accountability.
The movement started with a reaction to the removal of the chief justice on March 9, 2007, crested with his restoration on July 20, 2007, swelled again with the declaration of emergency on November 3, 2007, surged further with the elections of February 18, 2008 and then reached its final heights with the Long March on March 16, 2009 and the second restoration of the chief justice.
On the Islamic front, developments have been more recent. There has been a groundswell of emotion, first rising in disgust at the tactics of the Taliban, then in reaction to the federal government’s capitulation in Swat and then in sympathy with the plight of the IDPs.
In comparison with the tightly focused demands of the lawyers’ movement, the anti-Taliban movement has been more diffuse, its tactics perhaps best encapsulated by the song produced by the music and film industry titled “Yeh hum nahin”, or “this is not us”.
To say that we are not a nation of terrorists, or to express one’s opposition to suicide bombings, may not seem like much, but it is.
First, expressing opposition to suicide bombings is a dangerous business, as shown by the assassination of Maulana Naeemi. Second, the fundamental problem with Islam in Pakistan’s public discourse has always been that the right to determine the appropriate Islamic answer has always been demanded by and granted to the mullahs. What we are seeing now is the people demanding the right to define themselves as Muslims. And Pakistan’s Muslims are a very different proposition from Pakistan’s oil-money lubricated, hate-sprouting preachers.
In short, what the public now wants is a Pakistan defined by the faith of its people, not a Pakistan defined by the faith of its mullahs. And that too is a very good thing.
So, what does it all boil down to? Who are we?
Well, we want a functional justice system, we don’t want the Taliban running our lives and we really, really like winning at cricket. At least for last night, that was enough to make all of us proud Pakistanis.