COST OF PLAYING CATCH- UP
Pakistan will try to match India on all indicators. But the effect of the arms race and the social cost of religious extremism may consign it to the ranks of also- rans.
I loved your gift: The bright, deep- cut ghagra- choli. Pity, I can’t wear it much. In fact I wear it underneath my hijab, and take off my hijab when the men aren’t around! My new Abbu doesn’t know that I have one, I’ve hidden it along with Ammi’s other clothes in the attic.
I have thought of you daily since Laila sent me your essay on how you see your country in 20 years. It made me want to imagine how Pakistan might be in 2032!
You have shown so many numbers to explain your predictions, and I wanted to do the same at my end. Ammi helped me get a lot of interesting bits on the Internet about how our countries will be 20 years hence. She was an economist at Cambridge, after all. She became quite interested in my fantasy too!
Especially because some big and important people keep saying that we must keep pace with your country, because only equals can respect each other. Ammi tells me it seems that we are more or less equal today. You rank 134 and we rank 141 on some Human Development Index, though I don’t know what that means. But Ammi also says that if we stay like this, in 2032, we will become very different from each other. But in 20 years, your GDP will become four trillion dollars by
my calculations, almost 10 times as big as our $ 0.43 trillion. This GDP, something we both make is our real power— it is not a bomb, Ammi tells me.
Ammi tells me that each Indian makes $ 1,055 of GDP while each Pakistani makes $ 975 worth of it. That’s not too much of a difference, only five dollars a month. But in 20 years, each of your people will be making twice as much GDP as mine. When I ask her why, she told me that the big difference will be due to how we invest in our women, our education and our armies.
It seems we spend a lot more of our GDP on our army than you do. Ammi says that if we both continue to spend the same to match each other, you’ll be spending one- fiftieth of your money, but we’ll end up spending one- tenth of our money to keep an army like yours. It’s going to bleed us a lot more, because we must borrow more and cut back on many other things I miss already. Isn’t it a pity that by 2032, both countries would be wasting $ 100 billion buying guns?
But Ammi’s biggest concern is how different our women may fare. She says that a lot more of your women will get to study and go to work; and her biggest fear is that fewer of us may get to study and go to work. She says that there will be as many women as men at work in your country, but here, we will have only one woman for four men at work. She’s also very scared about the new type of schools that are forming everywhere. She worries even more about the new rules about dressing up and other things, that are coming in each day.
Everyone is having more babies, and Ammi is on to her fourth one as well— the first from my new Abbu. I’m still getting used to him, so is Ammi. She tells me my real Abbu and his men in power were killed by new Abbu. Ammi saved us by deciding to move into his house under the swara: Now we are his property, and he must protect us. It was the only way to save our lives and bring back peace among the two warring sides!
I’ve started staying at home, as she needs me around to help with the house and with my youngest sister, she just turned two yesterday. I really miss International Convent, my old school, the skirts, the English books, and the lovely foreign teachers. Abbu doesn’t want me to study after next year. Fortunately, the Net works very well and I take online lessons from a school in London, arranged by Laila.
It seems so different there with women! We’ve started getting Indian satellite TV, and I hear a lot of Indian films are shooting here. You won’t
AMMI SAYS THAT IF WE BOTH CONTINUE TO spend the same to match each other, you’ll be spending one- fiftieth of your money, but we’ll end up spending one- tenth of our money to keep an army like yours.
believe, I was lucky to see Kareena Khan Pataudi when she visited Islamabad. Still so beautiful. She didn’t have a hijab, and she danced with all the men here!
For my brothers Dilawar and Farid, it is a good time. There’s work these days, for they are rebuilding the roads, power stations and other things. Many people are visiting these days, for business as well as tourism. Mostly Indians but also others. Things are looking good; some new shops have sprung up.
And we will have elections again this year. I don’t know what it means, but elders are very excited, as if it’s a cricket festival. The speeches talk about the real world and it is time for Pakistanis to catch up. The new leader has promised scholarships to study in foreign countries in schools and colleges just as all other people do. But Ammi tells me plenty of people are leaving to work in the West now.
Ammi has been happy of late. These days, she keeps humming an Indian song about a bird waiting to be freed from her cage, so it can soar high in the skies of freedom. I constantly see her pat her stomach and say, “Naseeb wala ho to London mein ankhen kholega!” Let me share the secret. Ammi’s friends have already applied for immigration for my family. She tells me that the swara will help get us asylum.
So, 20 years later, we must open these letters to check how we’ve grown as equals, and how our women and our armies feel about their status and power. And I hope I can make my children wear your ghagra- choli!
( This “letter” is fictional)
GIRLS ATAMADRASA IN PAKISTAN