Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Conversations from Pakistan

The feedback to my last blog post was overwhelmingly critical.

A close friend slammed the post as overly sensationalist and not representative of life in Karachi. “Unfortunately, much of the local media people have used cheap tactics to gain sympathy and build a reputation for themselves at the expense of the country,” he commented on Facebook. Karachi is not a war zone, millions of people live and work here.”

I wasn’t attempting to be sensationalist while writing my previous post but a critical mass of people felt it was unrepresentative of life in Pakistan. My original intention was to raise questions about our lives in Pakistan and whether we’ve grown too accustomed to the “abnormal” being our “normal”. Since that didn’t quite work out, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to sharing a montage of diverse experiences and conversations from Pakistan over the last 30 days.

The purpose of this montage is to offer an insider’s glimpse into a country that is clearly misunderstood. The purpose of reporting anecdotal news is not to hide the bad news that emanates from Pakistan but to place that news within some context instead of adding to meta-narratives about militancy, illiteracy and poverty in Pakistan.

Young businessmen bullish on Pakistan’s future: An overwhelming number of young Pakistani businessmen I’ve met are excited about business prospects in Pakistan. They point to the market fundamentals: a large young population, a consumption oriented society and an out flux of the business and intellectual elite of the country.

The majority of the 180 million people in this country aren’t going anywhere they argue, no matter how many bombs go off in a day. These people need to be fed, housed and clothed. Those businessmen who stay back in the country will do very well because they’ll be in a position to leverage these market fundamentals to their advantage, with less competition from other businessmen.

F-16 versus Youngsters: I was recently mentoring a group of school children in Muzaffarabad (Capital of Azad Kashmir). The kids, aged 9-12, wanted to play something fun so I taught them how to play hang man.

When I asked them to split into two teams and propose names for their teams; the first team unanimously named themselves “F-16” without even discussing it between themselves. The second team also wanted to be called F-16, but had to settle for another name; “youngsters”. I always thought shiny, unaffordable fighter jets had a constituency within the military only, but I was wrong…

When I asked the children what they wanted to do when they grew up, they said they wanted to become Doctors, Politicians, Scientists, Engineers, Imams and Army men. One encouraging common theme in all their discussions was a well articulated and visible desire to serve their country.

In search of good news from Pakistan: As part of the feedback to my previous blog post, I was advised by many friends to highlight and report good news from Pakistan. There are many significant and insignificant positive stories that can be reported from here. For example, there is a bustling new food street in Karachi doing roaring business, which shows the resilience of Karachi-ites to go out and have a good time despite the lack of security, electricity and water. There is a gleaming new 3-D cinema in Karachi as well, playing to packed audiences.

In more significant positive news, the security establishment is being held accountable for the first time in the country’s history by political leaders like Nawaz Sharif, who are saying the unthinkable out loudly (how much longer will he be allowed to speak up before he's silenced forever?). The media has rightfully made a lot of noise on Saleem Shahzad’s case. And heads have rolled (or atleast been transferred) for the appalling murder of a man in broad day light by the rangers. This is certainly progress and a positive affirmation of the strength of the civil society in the country. After all, that’s how things progress in Pakistan; one step backward, one and a half steps forward!

The decency of the Pakistani people:
While driving into Islamabad airport, the incredibly relaxed security protocol at the entrance forced a friend to comment that our country was surviving only on God’s grace. There used to be a popular saying that Pakistan was surviving only because of three A’s: Allah, America and the Army. The Army and America are struggling to assert their influence on the country right now. God’s grace is continuing to help us survive. But another factor helps keep this country together; the decency of the Pakistani people.

Think about it. We’re a proxy play ground for the great ideological battles of the day. Militant ideology spread & funded by the Arabs is wreaking havoc in our country via suicide & non-suicide bombings. We’re simultaneously fighting a war against these militants, funded by the US, which helps the militants justify their attacks on us.

On top of this, we have all the usual problems of corruption, illiteracy, poverty & lack of basic amenities like electricity. And yet, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis remain law abiding citizens who try to make an honest living instead of taking up arms or resorting to violence. This is a remarkable testament to the decency of the Pakistani people. 
As my uncle jokingly says; God will arrange a special VIP line for Pakistanis on the Day of Judgment. “You’ve been through enough stress in your lifetime,” God will announce to Pakistanis. “Today, I’ll let you off easy for all your trouble.”

1 comment:

Uzair Sukhera said...

I thought journalist from Columbia wont follow populists demands :)

Keep writing anyway. Why dont u cover the social media topic that we discussed? and that debate of society vs technolgy... which has to develop first?