Pakistani. The exhausted LUMS student struggling to pay attention after 12 hours of travel. Pakistani. The girl from Hazara, Quetta narrating the story of her life in the constant shadow of fear and discrimination. Pakistani. The students from the KIU nimbly jumping across the hill of Pir Chinasi and throwing snowballs at each other. All Pakistani.
Between October 17-19, 2018 students from across the country convened in the halls of The University of Azad Jammu & Kashmir for the ‘Fourth National Youth Conference on Peace Building and National Integration’, a four-day conference meant to create a platform for the youth to inspire and be inspired, to share and to hear stories, to sing and dance and represent, to celebrate their differences and to celebrate the fact that we are still all Pakistani.
The conference was set into motion on the first day by a series of talks by key figures of the area who riled the audience up with their passion filled words. These included the likes of Shehrayr Afridi, Minister of State for Interior, who so captivated the audience that he was called upon to deliver a second speech on the same day.
On the second day however, the microphone was passed on to the youth. The overwhelming, palpable energy of this segment of Pakistan’s population truly brought life into the various activities planned for the day by the societies of LUMS including LUMUN, LPS, EMS, LCSS, IEEE and PhotoLUMS. During the panel discussions, the students laid their claim not just to Pakistan’s tomorrow, but its today as well. During another talk, girls from BUITEMS laughed about being mistaken for Chinese and talked about their precarious lives in a city they’re targeted in. In the parallel discussions, all the students brought their heads together to discuss and present solutions to the multiple issues being faced by the country; from the lack of ethics shown in disagreements to the role of youth in reconstruction of the national culture. From there, the students divided into two batches. One headed to the beautiful, serene Red Fort sitting proudly by the river side. The other headed to SOS Village where they spent their time running on the grassy lawn with the kids. In between the laughter and the awe, the disparities between the groups slowly but surely began to dissolve.
Once the sun went down, the grounds of the university slowly began to echo with a mix of traditional and modern tunes. The much-anticipated Cultural Night finally commenced. In the ensuing activities the vibrant cultural spectrum of the country shimmied to the spotlight. Students from UAJ&K took centre stage with hair-raising musical performances and an eye-catching fashion show. The students from Gilgit presented one of the most zealous performance of the night with their traditional music and dance. Students from LUMS recited a few self-written ashaar (poetry) coaxing warm applause from the audience and put on a play inciting roaring laughter.
After the play, one of the actors spoke a few words that stayed with me for the rest of the night, “Through this play we wanted to show characters from different backgrounds, different languages, different personalities. The fact that they can do still pull off a good comedy, theatre’s most difficult feat, means they can do something as simple as living together, accepting each other, tolerating each other and respecting each other's individuality.”
And in the warm glow of the bonfire, it all seemed so obvious. Our dances and gestures might differ, the style of our dress may vary, our music might clash but in the end, the lines blur and the colours and the tunes seep into each other till all that remains is the most beautiful blend of such unique composition that the it leaves the world in awe; the blend of Pakistan.
The next day, participants were able to truly witness this blend as they were let out of the four walls of the university and into the green valleys of Pir Chinasi. In the cool breeze, the students finally found the space and time to open up and connect as individuals. As we trekked and talked, we wove a web of similar hobbies, thoughts, concerns and fears; a web that connected us vastly different individuals from vastly different backgrounds. Who would have thought? We were ordinary students talking about ordinary things in the most extraordinary settings. It was surreal.
And then, just like that, it was the end. Three days of a rollercoaster ride, with management hassles and cool winds and long speeches and hearty laughter and creamy chai. We were at the end. As the bus rolled down the hills, I felt a void opening up inside me. We have been told we are Pakistani. We have been told we are brothers and sisters. But we have never been given a chance to feel that, to live it. We are all missing something we’ve never had; a chance to connect. A chance to speak up and talk and listen and brainstorm. Three days is not enough. A lifetime might never be enough to learn all that has passed or all that still exists. But we need to at least begin. And the youth needs to take these steps. The youth needs to step up and create these opportunities, these platforms. Our energy, our talent is unparalleled. We need to take the reins and conquer not just tomorrow but today as well. And we need to do it standing together as Pakistanis.
Write up courtesy: Sanha Tahir, Class of 2020, Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences (MGSHSS)