Times are a-changin' in Pakistan: By Ayeda Naqvi


This Sunday was as good as they get. It started with my morning paper – usually a distressing experience but, today in the weekend section, I saw pictures of people at two different events wearing the green ribbons that I had designed as an expression of support for our troops and our nation.
These are people who generally appear in the trendy "Who's Who" sections of magazines, socialising at the most upscale venues. And yet, this Sunday they looked different – for once – like they not just belonged to Pakistan but cared about Pakistan.
Amidst all the disturbing news about killings and displaced people, I saw, in another newspaper, the mention of Hum (We) Pakistani, an umbrella organisation I am involved with, that brings together more than 20 non-profit organisations to help the displaced victims of the war in Swat.
Eight million rupees (almost $100,000) worth of goods have already been sent to Mardan and other affected areas and distributed by these organisations; we will soon be sending another four million that we have just raised.
There was a report of entire villages near Swat in which ordinary citizens had taken up arms against the Taliban, aiding the army to help push them out. And there was a story of the Sunni Tehreek (a religious organisation) in Lahore, protesting against the Taliban. This one struck home because just the day before, I had seen this very group of maulvis (clerics) chanting slogans against the Taliban on Mall Road, one of Lahore's busiest streets. Wow, I thought. The times they are a-changin'.
Here in Lahore, Sunday lunch is generally a time when we eat too much and spend the rest of the day rubbing our bellies. But this Sunday, I decided to join my friends who started the Critical Mass Movement. Part of a global green movement, Critical Mass of Lahore is a group of environmentally conscious cyclists who want to stop our reliance on gas-guzzling, smoke-belching vehicles.
It was only as the 25 of us started to ride around Lahore on our bicycles that I realised there was more to this movement than the green angle; it was a way of connecting with the city and its people in a way that is simply not possible from a car. It is a way of experiencing the sounds and smells of a city we love yet experience through a bubble. But most of all it was a way, for me at least, to get over any fears of Lahore being unsafe.
While cycling through the city we came across another socially conscious group, Zimmedar Shehri (responsible citizens) sweeping garbage from a storefront. As a puzzled New York Times reporter recently wrote, "It was a strange thing to do, particularly for such students from elite private schools, who would normally spend Sunday afternoons relaxing in air-conditioned homes".
And yet, armed with shovels and garbage bags as they swept the streets of Lahore, these young Pakistanis braved the June heat – more than 38 degrees Celsius in the shade – as they sought to bring about tangible change. What they are trying to do is to nurture in people a community spirit that comes through working shoulder to shoulder with others, whether it is by clearing up year-old refuse from the marketplace or helping buy books for students.
They believe that instilling civic sense in the citizens of Pakistan is crucial, and say that they strive to bring people together, teaching them to love their soil as dearly as they love their own home.
Yes, watching these well-dressed people sweep the streets of Lahore is a "strange" sight for many, but then there are many strange things happening in Pakistan these days. Twenty-five of us cycling through the streets of Lahore must have been an odd spectacle. And I know the success of something as simple as the Green Ribbon Campaign, which symbolises our support for our troops and our nation, is a new one for many.
Watching a group of maulvis chanting anti-Taliban slogans on Mall Road was a strange sight, for me at least. And seeing a teenage girl last week in Liberty Market, Lahore's busiest shopping district, wearing a t-shirt that said, "No one's leaving home. I love Pakistan" was not something I had seen before. In fact, this whole sense of pride and ownership that seems to be taking over the nation is quite novel.
Yes, strange things are happening in Pakistan these days. And it is about time.


* Ayeda Naqvi (ayedanaqvi@yahoo.com) is a journalist who lives and works in Lahore. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author. The full text can be found at www.dailytimes.com

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