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The Carletonian

Away from home as it all burns down


There are cars burning on the roads that I used to drive on every day. My friends from back home send me messages in horror as institution after institution begins to shut down amid fires and destruction in the streets. I look at the news and social media and am met with violence, despair and crushing hopelessness at the state of my country. Pakistan is burning again, and I am not even there to shed my tears.

This was only the most recent, and most extreme, escalation of long-standing political tensions between the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, a political party) and the military of Pakistan. As I type this, the leader of the party and former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested at a court appearance with his warrant signed by an army general. The reasons behind why this happened, how it happened and what will happen are beyond my current understanding and reserves of emotional energy. All that I can feel right now is the utter devastation that is rocking the spaces I once called home.

It feels so unreal. I spoke to my mother on the phone for an hour, talking about everybody’s safety, how we were going to manage if anything happened to her, talking about how we were going to manage if there was a military coup or if banks got frozen and our money seized. We talked about her will and what I was going to do in case the worst happened. And then I just went about my day, in a haze. I vaguely recall playing the piano, getting some ice cream and then starting to write this article. What else am I to do but compartmentalize?

There’s not much I could do even if I was home right now. Being there would not stop the protests or protect my family. It wouldn’t stop the mechanisms of the state from grinding the people of my country to dust and pulp to be wasted in their games of politics and power. But here, so far away, I somehow feel even more helpless. The delay in time zones means that while I may be unrestfully asleep, everything could change for the worse and I wouldn’t even be conscious to process it happening.

Pakistan has never been a stable country. Crippled from the start by the grips of colonization and generational grief, we’ve tried to make something of the resources we had. Not a single prime minister has actually completed their full terms in office, being removed or overthrown or assassinated or executed. The institutions that vow to serve the people of our nation and protect our best interests have done nothing but undermine our safety and community. The forces of post-colonization exert control through finances since force is out of vogue currently, only further squeezing the people. We borrow and borrow and borrow money, but it’s never enough, and we owe so much more than we can pay back to global financial institutions who keep saying they can fix our problems, if only we let them run our country and rule our people. There never seems to be anything left for the people, only for the ruling class and the landlords who tower over us as masters, a poor imitation of the feudal and fetid colonial rule that they swept in to take for themselves. The rains that came down in September flooded the hearts and minds of the world for the briefest moments before the world then moved on. Then all that it flooded was the homes and lives of the people born unfortunate enough to exist where nobody had ever cared to protect them. Did the floods kill them, or was it the parasitic institutions that take and take and refuse to consider giving back? Is this the country our ancestors had dreamed of all those years ago, when Pakistan was but a name on the lips of poets?

My home is burning down, and I can do nothing. The fires of the protests, the gunfire of the corrupt, the fires that burn in my city all coalesce to ignite and char to ash the country. There have been revolutions in the past, glimmers of hope and change. But the realities of the world come crashing down, extinguishing whatever we may have seen. I wish things were different, that we could overcome our material conditions and be a functional nation. Every seven months in Pakistan, everything changes, and in 75 years, nothing really does.

Where does that leave me? I’m one person, a broke college student somewhere where I feel I have little right to be. Should I not be back there, burning with the rest of them? What do I do if the worst happens and I wake up one day without my family? What do I do as my country’s economic and political crisis deepens, leaving me with no money and no future? How do I explain it to people around me who have never had an experience remotely similar to mine, the intense and all-consuming anxiety around your life and your family’s lives and having enough money to see yourself through even the next trimester, let alone the next four years here. I don’t know. Maybe this is just a shout into the void, but what else am I to do when I am away from home, as it all burns down around me?

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About the Contributor
Rahim Hamid, Viewpoint Editor
I write, I debate, I bike, I lie, I true, I draw and program and dance and all the rest. Say hi and don’t be a stranger! Rahim is a sophomore and previously wrote for the Viewpoint Section.

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