22 July, 2014 / Ramazan 23, 1435

The not so ‘quiet American’

Published Dec 23, 2012 12:10am

“Change,” read a colourful advertisement appearing for the past few days on the front pages of some newspapers.

Finally when the “change arrived”, residents woke up to discover that the big change had to do with the renaming of a local bakery. The great change in Islamabad coincided with the day when according to Mayan legend the world was supposed to end. The end of the world rumour might have disturbed people around the world, but not in Islamabad, as a large number of residents were seen rushing towards the renamed bakery.

Nevertheless, there is global change on the way and Islamabad/Pakistan is part of it, said former Ambassador James Larocco, who is presently Director at an American think-tank and was in town, last week.

The change has to do with Obama's legacy, explained Larocco. As Obama is in his second term - no re-election to worry about - therefore he plans to focus on his “legacy”, meaning: making history.

According to Larocco, for making history Obama has chosen the Middle East and South Asia – focus Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Larocco said that 2013 would be an important year for the region because there would be a decision on Iran and that could be a “game-changer.”

In the past American dignitaries visiting Pakistan have been of the quiet category, preferring to listen, in order to figure out what the “Pakistanis are thinking.”

But not Larocco. He is a talker and listening doesn’t seem to be part of the itinerary. “Is the change in physiognomy connected to a change in policy?” wonders a person listening to Larocco.

The former Ambassador has his reasons for being talkative. He is on a “talk-mission” to Islamabad and before Pakistan he stopped in the Middle East and later plans to head to India for more talk-missions. Talking, basically, about Obama's legacy.

Therefore, literary buffs - even if they wanted to - cannot compare Larocco to the fictional American character in Graham Greene’s famous Indochina novel “The Quiet American.”

A novel based on the account of a war correspondent in the Vietnam War, who meets a quiet American in Saigon - quiet only in words, not action.

From Larocco’s unquiet demeanour one can glean that Islamabad would end up on the rump side of the territory marked for Obama’s legacy.

The focus of the Americans is Kabul, not Islamabad, was the message that came from the words which were not said.

Larocco proudly announced that “Kabul is not the same place that it used to be 10 years ago.” A fact even Pakistanis attest to.

A Pakistani educationist who visited Kabul recently was amazed by the investments and improvements that the Americans have made to the city. Like Cairo and Beirut, Kabul now also has an American University. “University symbolises long-term commitment,” said the educationist who visited Kabul, adding that “compared to all the waste-of-money educational projects of USAID, the Americans never built a university in Pakistan.”

Also compared to Kabul, Islamabad is not the same place that it used to be 10 years ago. Suicide attacks, checkpoints, terrorist threats, are all part of a legacy that badly needs a historical rewrite.

One wonders if a war correspondent today embarks upon rewriting a novel on the lines of “The Quiet American”, keeping the 2014 US exit in mind, which city would be compared to Saigon: Islamabad or Kabul?

But 2014 is far away and why think of an unappetising future, when one has appetising treats from a renamed bakery vying for one's attention?

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