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People not governments: America and Pakistan


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My recent posting, “An over diagnosed nation” received more hits than anything I have ever written. Yet ironically, scrolling down the 62 comments left you will see that many continue to diagnose. The problem is….was the opening line of many emails I received as a result of the blog.

The diagnoses continues: it’s the population rise that is the ultimate cause of problems; weaponisation is to blame; corruption; India; Jinnah; the British; climate change; some even suggesting that Pakistanis are genetically flawed and are therefore a hopeless case (I kid you not).

One frequent theme is to blame the Americans: The CIA’s involvement in propping up the ISI in the early days; drone attacks; their involvement with India; their involvement with Afghanistan; using aid as a political bargaining tool; the Raymond Davis killings; and I’m not even going to begin to prise open the Bin Laden case.

In researching public opinion in Pakistan last year I discovered that “Americans” were viewed negatively by 85 per cent of the population (we Brits just a few points behind). When I was in Karachi recently a friend advised me to point out to people that I wasn’t from the USA in order to maintain my safety. I realised then that perhaps there are people about who would attack me because of the passport I carried. Being who I am, it made me want to pretend I was American – to confront such feelings in people.

One of my main research interests is in picking apart public perceptions – and with a background in diplomacy, perceptions of nationality at the fore. My first trip to Israel over 20 years ago taught me to separate “Israeli people” from “Israeli Government” and an understanding that whilst everyone was individual, commonalities across borders frequently occurred (there are many less talked about commonalities between Israelis and Palestinians). I also understood that I would hate my own values as a human being to be judged solely by the actions of fellow countrymen, or by the actions of my own government (as I am sure would many Pakistanis).

Some of my email traffic has responded to my request for dramatic examples of cooperation – although sourcing stories around this still remains a problem (continue to send them please). One particular message moved me because it was from an American girl – who appeared as frustrated as I about the media perception of Pakistan.

Cynthia first visited Pakistan to help with flood relief in 2010. “I came to experience a people, a nation that was contrary to what the media portrays,” she told me. And without getting too sentimental about it, the aid worker says she “fell in love with Pakistan” and decided to relocate to Islamabad permanently. 

She describes her travels “all over this beautiful country” as being a pleasure and an honor. Cynthia says she is welcomed in communities that non-Pakistanis and even many Pakistanis would be “afraid” of traveling to, and claims that everywhere she goes (yes, even remote tribal areas) she is treated with “courtesy and respect” - with perhaps a little curiosity and a degree of suspicion. 

Reading her story, I understand that I too have prejudices brought about by ill-informed and frightened whisperers. She addresses these, “it seems unlikely that a single, American girl with no children would be able and willing to live a reasonably normal life here. But I do”. She puts it all down to her belief in treating people with kindness and respect whilst at the same time expecting Pakistanis to take the lead in developing their communities. “It doesn’t matter that I am not fluent in Urdu, Pashto, Saraiki, Sindhi, etc...people recognize the language of expression. And compassion is a language we all understand”.

Cynthia’s story is not dramatic, it is sweet and heartrending, and maybe I wouldn’t have included it in this article if I didn’t have something more to share about the American/Pakistan people-to-people friendship (as opposed to the government to government one). 

I was contacted recently by a group of American passport holders who have recently set up an organization called MiWorld.  MiWorld by-passes the mainstream media and helps real people tell real stories. I was delighted to discover that one of their first MiWorld stories is set in Pakistan, for these are not Pakistani Americans, simply Americans. The story is told by another American passport holder, a Texan man called Nadeau, who was robbed at gunpoint travelling between the northern territories back into Islamabad.  It may sound like a bad news story, but it is the telling of this story that is inspirational. It has all the ingredients that a nasty tabloid headline writer would love: Pakistan, floods, American, violence – and yet the MiWorld team have managed to turn it into something very dynamic and poignant. I’m not going to say any more – read The Execution That Wasn’t for yourself – and ensure you scroll down and watch the short film. 

So without sounding too much like a diagnostician myself, the problem is….. there are not enough stories like these and voices of people like Cynthia being shared more broadly – despite our connected world – we still turn to mainstream media channels for “news” that often breeds hatred and mistrust. Surely it’s time to rise above it – and at the very least see a human being for what they are, not for what passport they carry.

Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy.  She writes regularly for Muslim Voices and the World Bank blog, and a book about her time in Iraq is being launched in October 2011.  More about Caroline’s work and her contact details can be found on


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and international relations. Her main research interests are in the perception of places and people as presented in the media. Her book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (21) Closed

Naheed Jul 25, 2011 12:40pm
Thank you so much Caroline for such a true and thoughtful blogpost. Well, media sometimes exaggerates issues. It is really needed to separate people from the government and then we will be able to know each other better.
Muhammad Imran Chaud Jul 25, 2011 01:01pm
To live in an ideal world - it is a good article. Democratic governments are made by majority votes therefore government actions are generally considered supported by majority of that nation – a point where your passport comes into play no matter how good or bad individual views you have. This is the reason that the individuals when meet with each other had already a default-understanding, as reflected by majority of its nation, unless individual’s behaviour or attitude reverses it otherwise. In a real world, passport, or even go beyond that whether you are a first or second migrant to that country, will remain a strong starting presumption of that individual’s character, behaviour, thinking, attitude and general perception.
Forbidden Fruit Jul 25, 2011 02:08pm
The mainstream media has become a machinator that routinely cashes on hatching conspiracy theories and spicing news up. "Governments" are the focal point of media, people are only the audience! There's a dearth for people to connect on a human level. Only that can save the soul of our countries - violence would not.
Hasnain Ahmed Jul 25, 2011 02:17pm
We Pakistanis, really are lovely people. I really do appreciate for such a positive thought provoking post. One word, " Awesome".
Sharma Anil Jul 25, 2011 03:25pm
Crowd is the problem. Individuals are always nice to deal with. Once several such individuals come together and starts searching for a common theme, the trouble starts brewing. The group will not have any of the characteristics of the individuals who formed it.
Anjali Bhushan Jul 25, 2011 04:09pm
we need to screen films like WEST IS WEST for wider audiences to understand the basic fabric of Pakistan as a people. Why just Pakistan, people are the same every where, loving and entrenched in human relationships.
A.Bajwa Jul 25, 2011 05:22pm
The best thing is to ignore the Media. Unless we hurt them financially by shutting them off they will not come to senses.
Sameed Jul 25, 2011 05:42pm
Thumbs up for the author. We,Pakistanis, are frustrated by the negative media campaign being run against our country. Yes, there are flaws, but the largely peaceful and compassionate image of the Pakistani nation is rarely highlighted. Maybe people like you have a part to play. = )
Bharat Jul 25, 2011 06:21pm
I am sorry Caroline - Governments do matter , remember they can decide on what people should think though the textbooks printed especially for schools . They can decide on who to favour in extreme situations, such as floods. governments certainly make a difference.
Imran Jul 25, 2011 08:49pm
Good article, and very much reality. Fear is spread for pursuing agendas, but people are human beings, with the vast majority being good. There is a lot to say for being kind to others and treating them with respect, and you will receive similar in return. Pakistan will be just fine in the long run as these immediate pressures reside, but more importantly these pressures are a good time for people to reflect and mend their lives for the better.
Maulana Diesel Jul 25, 2011 09:44pm
Well said!
mkd Jul 25, 2011 09:55pm
Good observation. Crowd is like herd.
Bashir Jul 26, 2011 01:39am
The individual experiences of a few persons cannot/should not be extra-plotted to infer societal attitudes. Anyone interested in learning about a society should start with studies in global attitudes done by Pew Organization.
jawaid Jul 26, 2011 03:58am
world is beautyful,so is pakistan needs world sincere moral and material support more than any one else as it needs it today to make world better tomorrow.
bilal Jul 26, 2011 04:24am
Indian bloggers/readers, I don't know why but mostly try there best to enhance differences between Pakistan and West.
Shakeel.Quddus Jul 26, 2011 08:16am
When former priime minister Mr. Bhutto went to Lincoln Inns in Oxford University to study law, he intended to finish it in two years rather than the required three years. An approval from the academic adivisor was needed. He told the ambitious student that since the best boys of his race are unable to do it, what gave the man of Sind the confidence to do it. He told the advisor that he would beat the best of Great Britain on their turf. To the advisor's surprise, he did what he had set himself to do. He was no exception to the rule. There are Pakistanis in leading postions in both Wall Street as well as the Silicon valley in the United States. The question is why Pakistanis are able to flourish in Liberal democracies in the West but floundering in their own native land? In the blog there is a reference to over-population. This problem of over-population is only aggravating the most prevailing and persistent problems, the problem of poverty and illiteracy. Pakistan forever looking for monster all around to slay. But the real monster swelling exponentially from within oddly remains invisible. This is one of the main reason why Pakistanis work for Goldman Sachs or opening up new start-up companies in America.
AK Jul 26, 2011 03:19pm
Great work. Please keep on doing what your doing.
Awais Khan Jul 27, 2011 11:29am
In simple words, administration of both countries is to be blamed for the mistrust, which exists. Compromises and confidence measures will have to be taken to eradicate the distrust and the presence of hate within the public.
Friend_of_Pakistan Jul 31, 2011 11:02pm
Forbidden Fruit, do you realize that Pakistan has not a single leader who can unite Pakistanis to make Pakistan a peaceful country on the world? And now Imran Khan wants to be savior of Pakistan but look at his records: "Sit-ins", "Protests", "Blockades" and there is a good possibility, he supports militancy. The leaders on present govrernment take billions of dollars in aid from America but they do not trust America. This is hypocracy. May Allah save Pakistan from incompetent leaders. Insha Allah.
rafay Aug 01, 2011 08:51am
what this country needs is a good education so that awareness is spread, and a minimum standard of understanding is established in peoples way of thinking so that they can finally stand up to those officials who repress them to the extent that they dont have time to think about life. Our people are so talented and cultured..except our plate is full of flies!
Beta Aug 02, 2011 12:50am
As a Indian I would like to say that you guys are great.I like pakistani food and people. It's really interesting and good article. I suggest u write such more articles..