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22 August 2010

Oh, Pakistan, We Hardly Know Ye

Somewhere, I read that due to the recent floods, one-fifth of Pakistan is under water.  And, the response to the call for aid has been a trickle.  There have been many theories voiced (these are ably summarized in a commentary piece by Mosharraf Zaidi on NPR) on why this is so, for a disaster that has affected more people than the Haitian earthquake in January, the tsunami of 2004 and many other natural disasters combined, all which might be true, and may not even be all inclusive of true reasons why and reasons given.  Let me elaborate on one.

We have no good idea who or what Pakistan is, who or what Pakistani are.  And, as Zaidi concludes, at the very least, that reason is a falsehood and to put it more squarely, it is an excuse, not a reason.  Americans, Indians, Brits and others around the world may know nothing else about Pakistan or Pakistani, except that these are fellow humans suffering from a natural disaster.  But, while compassion is a part of much of what distinguishes humans from other species, so is the ability to rationalize action and non-action.  In the Haitian situation, we can rationalize that this country had not been able to pull itself out of poverty in the best of times (with so much aid!), so we must do what we can to help them out, because what else is new?  I have always suspected that the tsunami-affected areas of Thailand, Indonesia, etc, were seen as these charming, sun-soaked, picturesque locales with rice paddies and bamboo-thatched roofs and wooden fishing boats pulled up alongside resort beaches where hardworking people work and with a little help, would be back on their feet in no time.  Pakistan, however, is neither.  It is betwixt and between, neither mineral nor vegetable nor animal.  We cannot understand them while they persist in needing to be understood.

Writing and reading has always been a good way to transfer knowledge of different cultures, whether that be gaining understanding of Pakistan by the United States or between New York and the rest of the world.


Per Wikipedia entry:

General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq was the sixth President of Pakistan from July 1977 to his death in 1988.


Zia died along with several of his top generals and then-United States Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Lewis Raphel in a suspicious aircraft crash near Bahawalpur (Punjab) on 17 August 1988.

The roots of the Afghan-Paskistani-American relationship today can be traced to the roots of this narrative's climax -- the Pakistan-USA cooperation of the 1980s in Afghanistan against the Soviets, the lopsided understanding of Pakistan's value to the USA and the abrupt American withdrawal from the entire situation confusingly reversed upon the change in presidential administrations.

This is a black comedy in a uniquely non-American voice. I would have to trust that that voice is Pakistani, as the author and almost all of the characters in the story are Pakistani. In fact, Americans appear only to reprise their most well-worn cameo role -- that of the ethnocentric Ugly American, not understanding nor caring to understand the culture, the point of view, the currents, the politics, the language or even the history of the two countries' relationship.

This is the best way to learn history and another culture.  Enjoy and meanwhile, think about giving what you can to help the Pakistanis.

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