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A year in Pakistan


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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.

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

Comments (59) Closed

Imran Feb 18, 2013 10:19pm
What about it? This article is not about those killings.
ragu Feb 18, 2013 08:13pm
Optimism brings hope; Hope is a must to tackle most challenges; Peace is the true path to Pakistani prosperity. An inward facing society that leaves other nations alone is achievable in Pakistan.
DaulatHaldeaMD Feb 18, 2013 06:56am
You cannot be serious! Pakistan is falling apart. Muslims butchering Muslims, majorities killing minorities, feudal lords abusing bonded labor,ubiquitous armed forces dictating domestic,foreign and terror policies and on and on. Pakistan is a democracy on paper only. I hope you occasionally watch the domestic Telly or peruse the the front page of this great paper. Mayhem is the major topic on a daily basis. Have you also become desensitized like the suffering masses? Are you really a true American? I am an Indian who weeps for the misfortune of our lost family- pakistan .
Ahmer Feb 19, 2013 07:35pm
Pakistan can still become a paradise on earth that it has the basic potential to become provided it elects an honest leadership or a genuinely honest and sincere general steps forward.
feeltheplightofanimals Feb 19, 2013 01:20am
until the time i was growing up ...even until 2005..pakistan and quetta was a great place to live...but..unfortunately words to comment...don't know the country's gone to the dogs...
SM Feb 19, 2013 01:25am
All places he has mentioned have nothing to do with Cantonments dear. I wouldn't generalise his individual experiences but he has given a fair picture of Pakistan.
Avtar Feb 19, 2013 01:06am
Fellow Canadian - it is not the media that portrays Pakistan it is what the social, political and other incidents that occur daily. Likewise, media also portrays the US in a different light compared to when you deal with ordinary Americans.
Bbbb Feb 18, 2013 11:12pm
For sure, you will fall to that level, but not US or us -;)
Tahir Saleem Feb 18, 2013 10:56pm
Someone has taken the trouble to write down his thoughts in an honest and sincere way. We can all respect this effort. If I were to visit America (which I hope to do) I am sure I will also write a similar experience. In the final analysis we are all human beings and what makes us happy or sad are universal feelings. I hope that the article will find itself distributed in the small towns of America.
Akil Akhtar Feb 18, 2013 11:35pm
can't take anything positive about Pakistan..
Imran Feb 18, 2013 10:21pm
You've obviously never been to Pakistan.
Imran Feb 18, 2013 10:20pm
You have no idea Raj.
Imran Feb 18, 2013 10:23pm
No need to weep and no need to dislose your nationality. Indian nationality is very obvious from what you guys write here, no matter what name you choose for yourselves.
Arif Feb 18, 2013 10:40pm
Thanks Mr. Joe Evans. I wish all the best to you and your family and I hope next time you come back with your family !
Iqbal Feb 18, 2013 02:53pm
What a lifeless and vapid article. No anecdotes, nothing to keep the reader engaged. This is how I write when I have not experienced anything for real but am supposed to do that.
Different View Feb 18, 2013 10:02pm
Mr. Evans, you must be the most generous white Christian ever.
Cynthia Feb 18, 2013 09:54pm
Major Evans, Thank you for the positive commentary. I appreciate your efforts and all of my fellow Americans who work to help portray a more accurate, optimistic view of Pakistan and its peoples. Yes, there are many challenges in the country, but there are many wonderful things too- just as there are in most countries around the world. There are few Westerners who have the opportunity to travel across the country and experience the hospitable nature of the people. My two years traveling through and living in Pakistan were some of the best of my life as well. It is clear that we have both grown from our experiences; with continued, similar efforts we can contribute to more positive people-to-people relations. May both the countries continue to benefit from professionals like you. Thank you for your service. Cynthia Ritchie
Ahmed Feb 18, 2013 05:34pm
While many Indians have in private reported similar positive feelings after visiting Pakistan, it is too bad on the internet too many Indians can only betray (as you do, albeit not as explicitly as too many other Indians) their resentment against Pakistan which is fundamentally a result of a refusal to accept the reality of partition.
ahmed41 Feb 18, 2013 10:46am
Thank you Mr. Evans for a positive report.~~~~~~~specially about the tiny Christian communities.
pathanoo Feb 18, 2013 02:44pm
Thank You, DaulatHaldeaMMD. My sentiments exactly. This definitely is no American Joe or may be he was in another country and mistook it for Pakistan. He makes Pakistan like a place one must visit. I like to ask him if he is still there and how freely he goes out ?
anonymous Feb 18, 2013 07:06am
can the author or some one else explain "I discovered many things about this great country". How Pakistan can be considered a great country?
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:37pm
As it is everywhere in South Asia...Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indian, BD...nature of the beast!
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:36pm
Great of him to take the time to pen his own opinions.
naveen Feb 18, 2013 12:59pm
Very myopic view when yu live in a protected military cantonment. Yu have no idea whats happening outsied
Zalim Singh Feb 18, 2013 11:29am
You are a army-man and a diplomat too.
sk Feb 18, 2013 03:42pm
Indeed there is other side of Pakistan that is very hospitable, friendly and ever welcoming to all people in spite of the troubles and tests this country goes through on a daily basis, only because of a ridiculously incompetent and corrupt government. And if you are impressed with Pakistan army professionalism it must be as good as you said. Thank you Major for putting kind words and please visit again to experience many (good) things that you may missed in this visit.
tariq rashid Feb 18, 2013 08:26am
Thank you very much for sharing such a beautiful peace. Perhaps the world should discover the inner beauty of Pakistan.
Shah Feb 18, 2013 07:50am
This was a fantastic read. I wish you all the best with your future endeavours.
irony Feb 18, 2013 07:42am
u should be lucky ur alive vising a church in
Fuzail Z. Ahmad Feb 18, 2013 07:13am
Thank you Major Evans. Please do come back again and we will make sure your stay is even better than this one year stay you wrote about.
Qureshi008 Feb 18, 2013 07:10am
What about the killing of Christians and other minorities?
AwaisKhan Feb 18, 2013 06:31am
Hi Joe, It sounds great . Indeed Pak Army is among one of a finest armies worldwide. But you didn't describe what did you learn during your visit with respect to our political, security and economic conditions. All you told was cultural perspective
agamjd Feb 18, 2013 06:29am
Thank you Major Evans, Pakistanis and Americans have more in common in our culture, mores, and values. As a Pakistani I am grateful, that an US Army Officer found the truth about Pakistan, which the US media has still to discover. Blessed are the peacemakers...
Talat Ali Hamdany Feb 18, 2013 05:54am
Thank you Major Evans for painting us with these wonderful words. I'm sure that it was you too that made people like you and interacted well with you. We would like you to come again for longer period.
BRR Feb 18, 2013 05:14pm
This is called pandering. Almost condescending - I did not know you people can breathe. WOW.
Cynthia Feb 18, 2013 06:59pm
Major Evans, Thank you for the positive commentary. I appreciate your efforts and all of my fellow Americans who work to help portray a more accurate, optimistic view of Pakistan and its peoples. Yes, there are may challenges in the country, but there are many wonderful things, too- just as there are in most countries around the world. There are few Westerners who have the opportunity to travel across the country and experience the hospitable nature of the people. My two years there were some of the best of my life as well. It is clear that we have both grown from our experiences and with continued, similar efforts can contribute to more positive people-to-people relations. May both the countries continue to benefit from professionals like you. Thank you for your service. Cynthia Ritchie
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:23pm
Give it a break! I know its very hard for people like you to find anything positive to say about Pakistan.
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:24pm
Its certainly not what Pakistan's detractors always try to make it out to be.
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:25pm
Have lived with Christians for the better part of my life in Pakistan, and despite threats from minority crazies who attack Muslims alike, the Christians in Pakistan live normal lives.
Atif Feb 18, 2013 06:36pm
No. Important thing is it human being lives in this country. disappointed?
Canadian Feb 18, 2013 04:15am
Nice article....Pakistan is really a beautiful country...what media portrays about Pakistan is totally injustice.
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:28pm
Unlike Joe Evans, you have never seen Pakistan with your own eyes, so your opinion is a borrowed one, you are certainly entitled to it, but like your many Indian chums who are falling over themselves to give you thumbs up, your views remain consistent with what one typically hears from the Indians. Almost everything on your list can be found in Indian newspapers so lets not kid anyone here!
None Feb 18, 2013 03:53am
omg..white christian guy finds Asians almost humans.. thanks lord sweet Jesus Christ *sarcasm dripping*
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:30pm
Great opinion! Thanks for having visited Pakistan. I personally have extremely fond memories of Staff College Quetta and can relate.
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:30pm
Its truly disgusting to see so many Indians thumbing down objective and fair portrayals of Pakistan. I know it causes extreme angst to Indians to see an Americans say something kind or fair about Pakistan, but reality does not remain hidden. Your efforts to vilify Pakistan and Pakistanis don't always work.
AA Feb 18, 2013 06:12pm
Stop generalizing the acts of few!
khanm Feb 18, 2013 12:05pm
Everything that is beautiful and noble is the product of reason and calculation.
Bakhtawer Bilal Feb 18, 2013 12:12pm
I appreciate the kindness of words. Yes, it is true the actual picture of the society is not as bad as depicted by the media in large. After having said that, let me admit. Yes, we are not there yet, but all indicators are that we will fall to that level. Why I say this. I have seen the good days in Pakistan. I am seeing carnages happening almost everyday now. It is certainly leading to that hell hole. Unfortunate, but true
Raj Feb 18, 2013 12:23pm
Wow! Pakistan must be a paradise!
Cyrus Howell Feb 18, 2013 08:29pm
Major Evans chose Pakistan. There are two dozen other military colleges he could have attended instead. Pakistan was his own choice.
Ali Feb 18, 2013 12:30pm
Wow! A year in Pakistan traveling the length and breadth of the country, lucky you... most of us Pakistanis don't even get a chance to do that. I hope you kept a diary or a picture journal, it would make a great snapshot of the country.
Javed Feb 18, 2013 05:59pm
Dear Dr. FRCS. FACS, The footnote is the government policy in the US, not only for the military but also for all the civilian institutions. Even an agriculture extension employee will write the same thing at the end of any such article.
Assad Feb 18, 2013 05:38pm
What about the killings of Muslims alike? A war next door will obviously have repercussions for Pakistan in general.
Dr Kadar Khan FRCS. FACS Feb 18, 2013 10:48am
''The opinions expressed herein are his, and are not necessarily representative of the US Government, Department of Defence, or the US Army''. I like that footnote. It says it all doesn't it?
Zaki Khalid (@zakikhalidtx) Feb 18, 2013 10:42am
What's the writer's name? It isn't mentioned anywhere!
Rashid Sultan Feb 18, 2013 09:56am
And yet there is so much turbulence and violence.
Imran Feb 18, 2013 10:10am
Thank you Maj Evans, for stating what we in Pakistan know only too well. We are not as bad as our perception is. Our enemies constantly try to portray us as evil and dangerous thats why when people like you visit us they are always pleasantly surprised. Thanks for the write-up.
Syed Feb 18, 2013 10:12am
I would like to express my gratitude to Joe for portraying the real picture of Pakistan. Hope lays in optimism and I am certain Insh Allah, our country will see good times again, Aameen. Thanks again Joe.
Sarbland Malik Feb 19, 2013 08:25am
Jon, thank you!