MY previous experience in Pakistan included looking down on Peshawar from the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan and receiving some rocket fire from the eastern side of the border while in Asadabad.
Despite this, I was aware that the media’s portrayal of Pakistan was not entirely accurate and I was looking forward to my stay at the Command and Staff College in Quetta. However, I never could have imagined how great an experience it would be.
The remainder of my career in the US Army will be spent working in South Asia. As part of my introduction to this career path, I had the opportunity to travel throughout Pakistan for a year, during my stay at the Command and Staff College. The purpose of the travel was to learn as much as I could about Pakistan, and South Asia, from political, economic, security, and cultural perspectives.
I discovered many things about this great country; primarily that the Pakistan represented in the global mass media is not an accurate reflection of the real Pakistan. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to experience the hospitality, beauty, and intrigue of this proud nation.
My travels and experience included most major cities, from Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, and Islamabad, to the hills of Murree and Abbottabad, historical sites in Taxila and Ziarat, and the breathtaking beauty of Gilgit-Baltistan. I drove on the impressive and modern Motorway and on roads that have never been paved. I shopped in Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore and Park Towers in Karachi. I stayed at some of the finest hotels and spent a few nights in places that were not so nice. I met and dined with politicians, artists, shopkeepers, students, bishops, and others from almost every walk of life.
Every person, no matter where they are from, will look for and find comfort in things that are familiar. This familiarity helps to ease feelings of isolation and ‘homesickness’.
As a white, Christian, Westerner you may wonder how I could find any comfort and familiarity in Pakistan, yet it was easy. I found many aspects of the culture and values in Pakistan to be quite familiar to me, and how I was raised. The mountainous, wooded areas near Murree and Abbottabad reminded me of my home states of Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The activities that I was able to engage in, such as playing sports in the Quetta Cantonment, fishing in Rawal Lake, having dinner at a nice restaurant in Karachi, or watching children play at a park in Lahore, are the same things that I would do at home in Virginia.
Despite these similarities, the most important aspect of familiarity was the military life. The fraternity of soldiers throughout the world is a close bond, and no matter what country, religion, race or creed they are from, soldiers will always have common stories, experiences, and struggles that they can share. All soldiers have experienced the cold, hunger, fear, loneliness, boredom, pride and patriotism that others could never comprehend. It was these aspects that made this year in Pakistan so easy and enjoyable.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my year in Pakistan was the opportunity to meet and interact with the Christian community here. I was surprised by the vibrancy and range of the Christian population. As a Catholic, I initially looked for a church in Quetta where I could attend to my spiritual needs. I was fortunate to find the Holy Rosary Church where I could attend weekly mass and meet many of the families and clergy from the local Catholic community.
Through this frequent interaction I was able to meet several families who incorporated me into their lives. This made the holidays enjoyable, as I was able to participate in the celebrations with the families who adopted me. Through these acquaintances, I was exposed to parts of Pakistani society that I would otherwise never have encountered, including soldiers from the army, teachers from local schools, doctors and nurses, labourers, and almost every other field you could imagine. These interactions were not only rewarding and enjoyable, they also furthered my belief that our cultures are very similar and the separation of continents, language and skin colour do not change the nature of human beings.
Despite the travelling and multitude of adventures that I had throughout Pakistan and South Asia, my home during this stay was Quetta. My experience at the Staff College and time with the Pakistan Army are where my most treasured memories remain.
I was duly impressed with the professionalism and expertise of the army. The advanced curriculum, modern capabilities, and forward thinking at institutions like the Infantry School and training centres demonstrate where the roots of success for the field formations lie. There is no doubt that the Pakistan Army is among the finest of contemporary militaries in the world.
I recognise that this experience can never be replicated. Although I missed my family every day, it was certainly the best year of my army career and one of the most fun, educational, and interesting experiences of my life. I was truly blessed with the friends I made at the Staff College, the Quetta community, and other places in Pakistan. God willing, we will meet again and I look forward to spending more time in this wonderful country of Pakistan.
The writer is a major in the US Army. The opinions expressed herein are his, and are not necessarily representative of the US Government, Department of Defence, or the US Army.