The actions of our government representatives in the country — from a certain Mr. Davis to those Navy SEALS in Abbottabad — have produced heaps of hostility. Yet more unsettling is how private American citizens have run into trouble. We’ve been enmeshed in scandal (think Greg Mortenson), detained (remember those photo-snapping Chicago hip hop singers?), and abducted (development worker Warren Weinstein’s captivity has now lasted nearly 18 months).
Even giving lectures can be perilous. Several years ago, the scholar Clifford May had a shoe thrown at him during a presentation at Karachi University.
Making matters worse are the powerful media narratives and hostile public opinion that constantly call into question American motives and actions. (It often seems every US aid worker in Pakistan is reflexively assumed to be a CIA agent.)
Despite this all, many Americans are making remarkable contributions to Pakistan. I present, in alphabetical order, 10 of these people here. They’re not motivated by any sense of duty arising from ancestral ties (on that note, I’ve written previously on the efforts of Pakistani-Americans). Rather, they’re simply driven by an abiding interest in and concern for Pakistan. Some names here will be familiar, others less so. Yet, they all deserve equal recognition.
A Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, Adams has spoken of her love for Pakistan’s people, culture, and fashion (she wore a Pakistani dress at her wedding). She has served as an ambassador for Bags for Bliss, an NGO that empowers rural Pakistani women by teaching embroidery. Adams is now immersed in a project rarely pursued by Americans — she’s writing a novel about Pakistan, set in Lahore.
Though this Code Pink activist’s tactics are sometimes questionable (last year she disrupted John Brennan’s controversial Wilson Center speech), the determination with which Benjamin opposes drones strikes in Pakistan is remarkable. Last year, shrugging off great security risks, she joined Imran Khan’s anti-drones peace march. She has written of her encounters with civilian drone victims during the march.
A medical doctor-turned-entrepreneur, Bernstein’s Eniware company is developing inexpensive and portable sterilisation technology that would allow medical equipment to be sterilised when energy isn’t available. Pakistan is one of the target countries — and such an innovation could be invaluable in a nation with widespread power deficiencies and immense public health challenges.
4. Ethan Casey
A travel writer and journalist, Casey has authored two acclaimed non-fiction books on Pakistan (Ahmed Rashid and Mohsin Hamid, among others, have offered rave reviews). The work of Casey, who has spent extensive time in Pakistan (including a semester at BNU), is neither starry-eyed nor deeply cynical — the dominant characterisations of much of the then on-scholarly American writing on Pakistan.
5. Teresa Lister
Many Americans engage with Pakistani Fulbright students (after all, Pakistan constitutes the scholarship’s largest program). However, Lister took the exchange to new levels. After hosting students in America, she visited them in Pakistan. She chronicled her trip in a CNN blog post, which describes her joy when offered the gift of a goat in a small Sindh village. Lister plans to return to Pakistan soon.