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Interest in Pakistan


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BELIEVE it or not, the world is fascinated by Pakistan. This may come as a surprise to many in the country who believe that Pakistan is the victim of an evil western/Indian/Jewish conspiracy to destroy the state and undermine its values.

But in fact the opposite is true: Pakistan, with its multiple facets, stark contrasts and colourful, complex realities intrigues and fascinates the rest of the world. Admittedly, the interest Pakistan generates is not always on a par with the largely positive global focus on China’s turbo-charged economy or India’s status as a rising power. The world media and analysts follow the twists and turns of China’s upward trajectory in open-mouthed wonder. The China obsession is not surprising: as the West grapples with multiple crises — financial, political, social — China marches to a different, self-confident and upbeat tune.

The interest in India is similarly understandable given the country’s new global assertiveness — and optimistic economic prospects. The current international scrutiny of Pakistan is due to different reasons. Yes, there are concerns about Pakistan’s links with terrorists, fears that the nuclear arsenal could fall into Taliban hands and the general rise of intolerance and extremism across the country. In addition, tense relations with India and Afghanistan prompt fear.

But as illustrated by the countless books and articles written about Pakistan and Pakistanis, the worldwide consensus appears to be that despite the squabbling politicians, a ruthless army, immoral security forces and fierce militants, the people of Pakistan are what make the country special — and intriguing.

Whatever the problem, no matter how acute the crisis, Pakistan and Pakistanis muddle through. Of course, that’s not how a country becomes an object of worldwide admiration — or joins the G20 group of emerging nations. But it does mean that even as they lash out against Pakistan’s two-faced military and political leaders, American and European policymakers raise their hats to the resilient, strong and upbeat spirit of the people of Pakistan. That’s the message I have received over the years from the likes of the late Richard Holbrooke and others.

Member of European Parliament Sajjad Karim who is also founder and chairman of the assembly’s Friends of Pakistan Group, says that Pakistan is lucky to have a vibrant civil society which has “developed by default”. He told this correspondent recently, “Because the state has failed the people, the people have decided not to fail the state.” He added that one of the most promising — though difficult to quantify — features that Pakistan has is the sense that, when seemingly insurmountable challenges to the country rear their head, “a glimmer of hope invariably appears, not from government structures or authoritative bodies but from the people”.

“Individuals or civil groups provide the glimmer of hope that allows the country to pull itself out of adversity,” he insists. Karim is not alone in admiring the resilience of Pakistan’s civil society. After having worked almost exclusively with state institutions in the past, the US and the EU are also turning their focus on civil society groups to nurse the country back to health.

The general impression appears to be that while many in Pakistan are unable or unwilling to rock the boat and have decided to stay silent in the fact of repression and oppression, there are others who are ready to stand up and be counted.

This is the case for the many hardworking human rights activists who stand firm in the face of attacks on minorities, women and children. The international press writes about such people regularly as it did about the Ghairat Brigade rock band which so successfully mocked the seemingly conservative morals of many Pakistanis.

The decision by Samaa TV to fire Maya Khan for her unforgivable witch-hunt of couples seeking some much-needed private romantic downtime also secured worldwide attention.

(Actually I would also like others in her posse of self-appointed vigilantes to be taken to task.)

There is interest of course in the latest mass rallies organised by Imran Khan and the sulks of both the president and the prime minister as well as the strutting of the army and security chieftains. But while these men and women come and go, the people of Pakistan are increasingly being viewed as the country’s main asset — whether living at home or abroad.

The truth is that while China and India have been successful in establishing strong ties with their diaspora communities, Pakistan maintains an awkward love-hate relationship with its brothers and sisters abroad. This correspondent fought for many years to secure Pakistani passports for her children. The request was initially refused because their father is Spanish — although Pervez Musharraf did introduce legislation which allows them to be recognised as non-resident Pakistanis.

Sajjad Karim is angry that Pakistan is considering legislation that would ban Pakistanis with dual nationalities from standing for office in Pakistan. “It is quite clear, looking at China and India, that the diaspora has had a huge role in their economic revivals,” he says. In each of these cases, the countries reached out to their respective diasporas and helped bring them into the fold. In the same way, Pakistan needs to harness the resources and energy of its citizens abroad as a starting point for its own revival, he says.

I have attended many lunches and dinners where visiting Pakistani leaders waft in and out, begging bowls in hand, asking for contributions from ‘loyal’ Pakistanis living abroad to bring prosperity to the motherland. The truth is that many members of the diasporas are working very hard to ensure the development of their country of birth. But to partially quote the late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, most would rather eat grass than trust a Pakistani politician with their hard-earned euros and dollars.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels.

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

Comments (12) Closed

hamid nawaz Feb 04, 2012 08:38am
This article could be considered the voice of those Pakistanis, who are strong enough to sail out the country from hot waters but unfortunately having no say in governance, cold not utilized their strong inner potentials. At the same time this is the answers to those, who are fantasizing their self imagined count down of Pakistan's life.
Ben Feb 04, 2012 09:19am
The fascination with Pakistan can be compared to the horrified revulsion with which someone would look at a leper. There are many countries that evoke this kind of interest. Somalia, Iran and N.Korea to name a few.
sarita talwai Feb 04, 2012 09:32am
Yes Pakistan fascinates me in peculiar ways.My daughter is always eager to listen to my childhood stories.She is fascinated by incidents that have shaped me and so,shaped her.That's how I feel about Pakistan.Much as we deny the connection,the inevitability of a shared history and an unchangeable geography binds us.Whether these are bonds or a bondage is for us to decide.As for me I hope my daughter can regale her daughter with happy stories from across the border.
shazada zahid mahmou Feb 04, 2012 12:13pm
The writer has captured very eloquently the feelings of the Pakistani origin people living abroad. They have been neglected for so long that it is time that they reasserted and took control from the begging bowl Pakistani politicians. I myself remember attending a little rally in Manchester in the late 90s when Nawaz Sharif raised the slogan “krz otaro Pakistan sanwaro”. Well we all know what happened to that slogan – no one listened because people did not trust Sharif brothers, especially since he was running a very corrupt government – based on patronage. Well the writer captures spirit of the Pakistani people but unfortunately no higher up will take any notice – the embassy staff will still operate the way they have done and Pakistani living abroad will take the same cynical view of helplessness.
starnebula Feb 04, 2012 12:53pm
This is very well written and there is humor in it as well. The author makes excllent points about about reaching out to the Pakistani diaspora to reconnect with them. The hilarious part of the article is the last sentence that partially quotes Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on eating grass for thousand years. Funny thing though is that Pakistanis loved every bit of that grass statement those days - they truly believed it, but did not practice it at all.
Igloo Feb 04, 2012 04:44pm
Pakistanis are making trememdous progress given their circumstances - often despite the government. Pakistanis also get respect for their attitude to the elderly - who in part of Europe are amongst the most vulnerable group.
Yogesh Feb 04, 2012 06:45pm
Though the article is very good, I would like to state only one sequence of event to prove contrary point. *Governor of Punjab was killed by his body guard. *No lawyer was willing to take from prosecution side while many were eager to defend him. *Killer was showered with flowers on the way to court. *Judge who passed judgement punishing killer had to leave the country. *There was hesitation to perform last rite of Governor. *Even today nobody is willing to take up the cause for which late Governor died -afraid to take up that cause. Yogesh.
Noor Feb 04, 2012 07:05pm
I feel this is another of series of propaganda driven obsessions. Somebody claiming to be a Pakistani & getting impressions of Halbrooke types so seriously, needs to spend some time among common Pakistanis. Halbrooke was also part of the international players to prove that the Pakistan Armed Forces are to be fixed because, infact, they're considered as a threat to any aggressor. I am joined by most patriotic Pakistanis, the suggested legislation, to allow Office holding by only those Pakistanis who have their life n death in Pakistan & no assets abroad. PS: I've given my honest opinion & I declare that I myself have many dual national relations, living abroad who will be affected by this legislation.
Sri1 Feb 05, 2012 01:24am
That is because you do not understand the country or the people who do not have any choice but to somehow exist under such leaderships and 'establishments'. The part where the author mentions, "Pakistan is lucky to have a vibrant civil society which has developed by default” I wonder, this vibrancy is due to Pakistan's roots in the Indian subcontinent or due to the Arabic pan-Islamic influence?
MOHAMMAD Feb 05, 2012 05:45am
Hardip Feb 06, 2012 09:21am
Pakistan! Civil? You must be kidding. Watch tv or you tube hatred is everywhere, and after that watch any other nation on you tube you will see how civil the world has become while you boiling in hate.
Kamath Feb 06, 2012 08:53pm
Agreed! Only Allah can help.