Flashback Pakistan: Reverse Gear


Flashback Pakistan: Reverse Gear – Saira Ansari



Two days ago, during my usual time wasting midnight activities; which always include over-dosing on food with pointless staring of  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram news feeds, I came across this page called ‘Citizens archive of Pakistan‘. The page belonged to a non-profit organization operating from Karachi. What I found out while looking around on their page was that they really didn’t have any kind of historical archives which showed the long forgotten Pakistani history, photography, culture, literature or some sort of historical documentations of the 60s and 70s. Instead, all of the published content was related to recent events held at schools, orphanages and various art exhibitions.
Most of the time during classes, I hear my teachers talk about how times have changed. Sometimes they discuss and try to make us understand about the evolving of history by talking about their own personal experiences and the things that they could or could not do in the early 70s or 80s in Pakistan. Experiences like going to large rallies in support of a progressive and more democratic state, celebrating Basant, living in older parts of Lahore, the kind of liberal environment found in high class hotels and restaurants before the Zia era or even the excitement of going to a cricket stadium to watch our team play. So I began searching for other sources online where I could find old pictures of the open and Pakistani society which I always heard people talk about around me and I was able find out many interesting pictures and facts, some of which I have shared here.



I came across beautiful post card stamps and tourist cards from the 60s which showed parts of Pakistan or had Sufi miniature artwork on them. I found pictures of a bar, restaurant and ballroom in Swat from 1970. During the 80’s the ballroom became an arcade games hall with the very first coin-operated entertainment machines. There were Pakistani Tudor cigarette
commercials made especially for female smokers. I also found pictures of tourists visiting areas such as Chitral, Attock and Multan during the 80s.
What I saw in these images was a safe and pleasant country where foreigners were welcomed and treated as guests instead of being slaughtered or kidnapped. The local populace had the freedom(s) without fear of being stopped or ‘Islamized’. It was while looking at these images of Pakistan that I realized, yes, there was a time that existed. When my country was a ‘sane’ place to be; My grandparents and my parents did live their early years in better times…most of the time, what i experienced and grew up watching on television was operations, strikes and killings and now in an effort to shun monotony, we witness suicide bombings by terrorists. There is no direction to take, we are still and for a long time will be
in the reverse gear.




31 responses »

  1. I believe, comparing the past with present on the basis of analysis of some old photographs or ads isn’t enough. You should explore the reasoning behind it all as well. Back in 60’s or 70’s 9/11 wasn’t blamed on Muslims, Taliban weren’t residing in parts of Pakistan, terrorists wanted by a strong country like USA weren’t anywhere around Pakistan. Pakistan was in a strong condition back then because it was being led by people who actually cared about the country. The fact that corruption is sky-high and our leaders are mere puppets of God knows how many rich manipulators alters the situation drastically.
    The elite class, whether local or not, still has the liberty to do whatever they want because who is there to stop them? Sure, if you consider cases like Malala’s, a different perspective can be developed. But we cannot ignore the fact that those tribal areas are haunted by stereotypical, racial, brain-washed extremists who base their actions on the basis of sensual nights with hoor’s of jannats!
    In order to appreciate or criticize the conservative/liberal mentalities, you need to look at the bigger picture and observe the reasoning behind it all.

  2. Very well written. You’re right, anyone who grew up in the 90s can say they have witnessed the change in Pakistan over the past decade from what we believed as peaceful, to now in utter chaos. Our grandparents and parents of course can easily say they have witnessed the change from liberal to a whole lot of confusion. Pakistani identity is becoming a fragment of their imagination now. This was a great reflectory piece of writing that puts forth the concept of identity crisis as an underlying theme by walking the reader through Pakistani history.

  3. A muchneeded approach towards the multifaceted quality of our country. Hushing one extremity merely sprouts another. The country needs a balanced approach. Saira has provided that with photographic evidence.Its time we looked at all segments of the society and approached it as a collective whole.

  4. Did you just look into how Pakistan has changed over the years on the basis of a couple of pictures you found online?

    Err, I think you will also find pictures showing La Senza billboards in Lahore at least, people publicly wining and dining in various restaurants and hotels, explicit advertisements of sanitary pads, movies like Ragini MMS-2 passing the censor board now, and affairs or “marriages” of various political leaders.

  5. I actually like how you referred to the CAP not having enough ‘archives’ on their Facebook page. If you actually physically visit their office, they have treasures worth of historical records, books, images, as well as audio and video interviews. I suggest you should go visit the office! You’ll see a side of Pakistan that isn’t advertised well enough on electronic media!

  6. times have definitely changed what is nice that the youth is aware of it and are making efforts to recognize how different they are from their elders, while being similar in many aspects.
    Job Well Done *THUMBS UP*

  7. I believe things are not as simple as they may seem in pictures. The writer should remember that there’s always another side of the story, and pictures, to me, have always been nothing but a single captured moment of time; we never really know what happened and what proceeded after that one click was taken. My another critique is that the writer has solely focused on the elite class to base her comparison and argument on, whereas the problems of extremism today are specifically prevalent in the under-privileged and ignorant parts of our society, so may be these problems existed then as well in the same class of people but weren’t documented as well as they are today due to our thriving media? Not to mention that the general theme of the world back then was not terrorism, especially not “Islamist terrorism”, nor did the US hold the power and influence on the world through media and globalization to implement it’s campaign “against terrorism”, so Pakistan was not a “hot zone”.
    We also need to remember that Pakistan was a fresh country back then, spirits were still high, people still remembered what it felt like to fight for your rights and to earn yourself a country of your own, which prevented them from being self-destructive. Today that gap is too large, and that nationalism barely exists, and optimism flows downs the drain with every tragedy (which are usually very avoidable if it weren’t for the government’s incompetence).
    And my biggest critique of this article is that would you really blame “Islamisation” as the sole reason for the downfall of this nation? Is that really the only reason you believe people have become more intolerant towards tourists and new ideas? Because I believe a religion, which was the first religion to actually bring more rights and freedom to the oppressed and considered revolutionary in it’s nature, can not be something that can cause so much damage to people. The writer should have focused on many other reasons that trample a nation, starting from most importantly – lack of education, basic rights, free health care, security, insurance, resources and support. It is the lack of these things that trigger people to turn towards radicalism, because no education = no self respect, no ability to make choices for yourself, no ability to resist being brainwashed.and that’s when I believe Islam gets dragged into the matter and then used as the head banner for their retaliations. II think “Islamisation” was always political and never a religious thing. May be people had more rights back them, and more equality which never gave them a reason to turn to extreme methods of expressing their opinions. Or may be the writer should compare the Pakistan today with the more developed country today and try to find out what makes them so different? But going back to my initial point, it is never as simple, only a very elaborate study into history, sociology and a clear look at the build up of the events including as many side factors and contributors that have lead us to the Pakistan today will help us understand exactly what went wrong with our nation.

  8. This is just so depressing. To see that our country was once so culturally rich and now everything that relates to the past is frowned upon by extremists! Let’s hope we can tackle this issue in the future and go back to the glory days!

  9. What we lack now is patience and tolerance. I guess we’re just not the same any more because people are more concerned about judging and labelling others than doing anything for this country themselves.

  10. I believe this is a pretty poignant piece of writing, that rambles on with a touch of nostalgic plight. Our generation is constantly being labeled as non-conformists who are deliberately being stereotyped as a part of a minority that has been and will continue to use religion as a tool to advance their own agendas, due to which the deep seated resentment that has settled its way around the globe regarding the idea of being a “Pakistani” or a “Muslim” has become close to an abuse. Our ancestors have experienced much more in the social movements context but our generation is being subjected to a new pressing social matter, and that is of identity and not being accepted and being labeled as “others”. Its very refreshing to see that once, what we were and who we were was accepted. The tolerance and patience that once existed between people of different ethnic background seems to be largely missing and the need to not mingle with the “others” is increasing with a magnitude far beyond any measure. Things are never simple, they never have been but to some extent things they were tolerant, or at least people once did have the sense to think objectively and not force their opinions over others, something which our society is clearly devoid of now. There is no respect.

  11. Looking from a neutral eye, these pictures and comparisons of eras seem quite cliche. There’s no denying the fact that the previous upper class generations of our country have enjoyed far more luxury in terms of security and peace of mind. However, picking out a bunch of pictures from the internet don’t quite depict the entire story. Today’s generation has outdone more or less every aspect of financial luxury than before, and skim reading through webpages can even support this claim, if nothing else. I agree with the part that this piece of land might not be as welcoming to foreign skin as it used to be back in the days. To be honest, this might go on for good as the greater part of the youth is now aiming for studies and careers abroad, rather than building a future for themselves in Pakistan and working towards a broader vision. Who are we to blame when we ourselves neglect the history? Ourselves, is the answer to that.

  12. Well written indeed. However, I do feel like you’re generalizing on the basis of a few pictures that represent the elite class, which pretty much lives life in the same way they did back in the day, perhaps they’re more westernized than they ever were.
    The main problem with our society now is that everyone who has the resources or the skills just leaves the country, goes abroad in search of a well paid job or an education. The upper class no longer wishes to settle here which is tragic. Kids these days are too westernized; they don’t loves Pakistan and nor do they understand the hardships our forefathers and our Quaid went through to bring this country onto the world map.
    It is the lack of patriotism, and the extreme self centeredness of most our citizens which has led to this current depressing state of our nation.

    • There is no second opinion about it as far as the downfall of our cultural, moral and religious factors are concerned. I feel happy to find this article because it has been written by youth of this country, which means that we still have hope to see the dawn of Pakistan once again. The thing we need this time is awareness and nothing could be better if it comes from new generation. Youth of any nation is the pride to carry the legacy of his/her country.
      Keep up the good work.

  13. Well-written,,, We were civilized nation and accepted such norms as part of culture and everyone was minding their own business

  14. truly said. we’ve descended into the most dangerous and difficult of times compared to a Better Past. now, the difference between today and then is greater then ever before. Yet, I don’t think so that these few pictures can totally represent what Pakistan was in the 60’s and the 70’s. They might even give anyone an image of a non-traditionalist elite society of Pakistan. Yet, the fact remains that we’ve lost the peace and stability that once existed in our country.

  15. It’s always easy to look at the past and feel nostalgic. It’s easy because you can pick and choose the things you liked about it, and ignore those that you didn’t; unless it involves great trauma and then you try and forget it all together. Paksitan will continue to evolve and change until it finds its own bearings….set neither by the extremes of the political spectrum nor by forgotten and dead powers…be it the British Raj or some dreamed up version of an Islamic utopia. If the past had been so perfect, the present wouldn’t be so desperate. There have been problems of discontent, elitism, economic and political inopportunity that have led to the current radicalization, hopefully in the coming years the Pakistanis will be able to look at their present and not have to look to the past to find beauty in their country.

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