FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Monday:  October 6, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in Themrise Khan (6)

Monday
Jun132011

It's Open Season for Paki-bashing (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan

Its open season for Paki-bashing. For a term that may have originated in the United Kingdom referring to immigrants of Pakistani origin, this activity now applies to Pakistan as a whole by the rest of the world.

Nicholas Kristof in his June 4 New York Times op-ed referred to Pakistan as “a low-tax laissez-faire Eden.

 

And in an article "From Abbottabad to Worse” in the July issue of Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens declared that “...our [America’s] blatant manipulation by Pakistan is the most diseased and rotten thing in which the United States has ever involved itself”.

With reactions like these, Pakistan is fast on the verge of becoming a swear word in global vocabulary.

There is no denying that Pakistan has dug its own grave after the Abbotabad incident. There is also no denying that we were given the shovel by someone else. But the fact that we chose to accept that shovel is also a reality that we keep denying ourselves.

But another reality is that Pakistan isn’t doing much to improve the situation either. Speak to most ordinary Pakistanis and hardly one in ten of them will paint you a positive picture. As they swelter in 45 Celsius degree heat without any power, its hard not to be negative, especially when you are surrounded with madness that is often, beyond comprehension.

Only last week, a young man was shot at point blank range and left to die by the Rangers, an elite, para-military security force brought in to counter urban lawlessness. The incident took place in broad daylight, in a posh Karachi neighbourhood in a public park named after Benazir Bhutto. The government covered up the story by claiming he was a criminal killed in a police “encounter”. But morbidly enough, the murder was caught on tape by a television cameraman, exposing the brutality to the world. An inquiry has now been ordered, but most believe, it will be yet another sham cover-up by the state protecting its own violent interests.

Kristof pokes fun at “the hum of diesel generators by night” in affluent Pakistani homes. But only a fraction of Pakistanis are affluent. The rest just want to be like them. The young man who was murdered, probably did too. So do most young men and women in Pakistan, who dream for a better, safer and more respected life. Just like anyone in the United States for that matter.

Interestingly enough, both Kristof and Hitchens point to the flaws in the United States political system that have either contributed to or exacerbated Pakistan’s problems.

Kristof is more subtle in pointing out that current public sector budget cuts are leading to a more inequitable American society, ala Pakistan.
Hitchens on the other hand, is much more gratuitous in making Pakistan out to be the evil witch in a saga that has unwittingly sucked US foreign policy into a downward spiral.
 
But is Pakistan the world’s only problem? And does maniacally using it as an example of the big bad wolf help with ridding it (or the world) of its problem?

Granted, things are now far more exacerbated because of Pakistan’s own domestic policies and complexities. Instances like the Karachi murder and other countless episodes are as dangerous and important an issue for us as finding Osama in our backyard. Which is exactly why Osama’s death did not bring people out onto the streets in Pakistan, as was expected.

But then neither did this year’s national budget, which once again allocated an 11% increase in defense spending, while education was down 1.3% to GDP as compared to last year.

And that is the crux of the matter. The world can bash us as much as they like for being a terrorist state, while completely ignoring their own contributions to the situation. Pakistan does have a counter-answer to these accusations if the latter is pointed out intelligently enough, while accepting our own contribution to it as well. Here, the issue is definitely not one-sided and never was, as history has shown.

But Pakistan has no real answer to the questions Pakistanis themselves pose. Why do we not have a stable political system? Why are we still governed by private dynasties? Why don’t most Pakistanis have access to basic social services? For not having answers to these questions is why we really deserve to be maligned, not necessarily by the world, but more by ourselves.

Issues are only as important as one makes them out to be. If the United States and its allies continue to make Pakistan out to be their most important “frenemy”, they will continue to overshadow the real issues of Pakistan such as unemployment and economic and social security. For them, none of this is of any importance unless its connected to terrorism. And viewing economic and social benefit under the lens of counter-terrorism is simply looking at the problem the wrong way.

Lets face it. The Taliban were created out of political and international alliances and not because of poverty or lack of education. If that were the cause, Pakistan would have disintegrated decades ago. And their threat towards Pakistan (and the world) is increasing not because of lack of healthcare and women’s rights, but because of the power struggle between military and civilian governments.

If the Western world wants to paint us as “humorless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offense, and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred” (according to Hitchens), so be it. But it must eventually realize the interconnectedness of these accusations to international politics.

What Pakistan must realize however, is that now, the bashing we are set to receive for our performance as a democratic nation, is connected to our performance alone. Its time we forgot the Taliban and began to focus on ourselves.
- Ms Khan is a HUMNEWS contributor, specializing on South Asia and other issues.

 

Tuesday
May032011

The Bin Laden Capture: A Feeling of Betrayal in Pakistan (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan

And so it ends. The world’s most feared man is dead. Or so we are told.

The news Pakistan woke up to Monday morning was something most of us never thought would happen. Osama bin Laden had already transgressed into terrorist mythology many years earlier, including being the very mortal victim of renal failure some years ago.

Now, not even all the headlines of the world can pronounce his death often enough for it to sink in. It will take some time.
 
The world is rife with jubilation, while Pakistan sits in a state of shock.
 
Why? Take the hiding place. Abbottabad? Seriously? Bin Laden’s compound was situated just 800 meters from the most prestigious (not to mention heavily guarded) military school in the country - with more than 100,000 active and retired military personnel? How on earth could it be possible? Like one friend remarked: “there goes the cave theory.”

With the release of an official statement by Pakistan’s Foreign Office, that the operation was conducted by US forces without any Pakistani involvement, the shock gradually began turning into a state of denial.  So did our government know about it beforehand or not? Did we just quietly sit back and let the US do what they do best?

But as the days tick by, denial is gradually turning into one of betrayal. Betrayal of the not just the Pakistani people by its own government and military, but by the Americans as well. It was bad enough that the world saw us as “terrorists” for the last ten years. Now they just wont be able to think of us as anything else. Especially since we apparently, didn’t have anything to do with it!

But if there was any event that had the makings of a conspiracy theory, it’s this one. And that is what is fuelling Pakistanis at the moment. And understandably so. From the location, to the action, to the conclusion (dumping a body into the ocean according to Islamic practices?), every element of this tale defies any logical analysis that has thus far been presented about bin Laden and his whereabouts.

What is unbelievable in this fairly bizarre saga, is not that an operation of such a scale actually took place without anyone knowing of it. The point of espionage and covert operations are exactly that. Neither is it hard to believe that such intelligence existed for many months and possibly both countries were aware of it. Planning an attack like this would obviously take a great deal of preparation and Pakistan could well have been trying to protect its “interests” by turning a blind eye.

What is unbelievable and a matter of great shame for us, is the fact that everyone who has thus far accused Pakistan of harbouring terrorists, is now spot on. I can picture fingers wagging saying, “told you so”.

Even many die-hard critics of the government were in agreement that the al-Qaeda leader was probably not in Pakistan, or at least not anywhere habitable - or in a densely-populated urban area. Now, they too stand stunned in silence.  The implications of this fact alone, is perhaps more dangerous for Pakistan than the threat of militant reactions to bin Laden’s death.

If it is true that the US kept the operation and existence of bin Laden from the Pakistani government, its intelligence and military, then that is clear proof that either one or all three of these institutions were seen as colluding to the interests of the militants. If, on the other hand, the military and government were aware of the whereabouts of bin Laden but kept denying it, then that is clear proof that a government lied to its own people. In either case, the Pakistani people stand to inherit a huge trust deficit from their leaders.

Surprisingly so, despite threats already being slung at the Pakistani military, government and at the American establishment, the retaliation that is expected, is not so much physical violence, although that threat is very real.

More so, it is the threat of a falling out of power between the Pakistani military and its civilian establishment over how this event was orchestrated and conducted. It is the internal strife between the Pakistani military, ruling political parties and the opposition that will now be at centre-stage as the outside world celebrates.

Who in our establishment, will take responsibility for this, is the biggest question on the national agenda. And who will apologize to us for embarrassing us as a nation, beyond all doubt?

We will never know the truth of this story. We will never see a body and even if we do, we will never know if it was real. Unless bin Laden walks back from the grave and into a downtown shopping mall somewhere in Wisconsin or Karachi, he is to all intents and purposes, dead.

But in reality, this awe-inspiring notion means little to people in Pakistan. The damage to the nation was already done many years ago and continues unabated. Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their lives in terrorist acts, tens of times more than those who died on September 11. Our war is endless, with or without bin Laden. He just planted the seed, we bear the fruit.

The nightmare seems to have ended for many across the world. For Pakistan it has only just begun.

HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi who occasionally dares to venture into the Pakistani media.
Monday
Apr252011

'Three Cups of Tea' Challenges Pakistanis' State of Mind (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan

(HN, April 25, 2011) - A well-known British journalist familiar with Pakistan, recently declared that “Pakistan has been playing us all for suckers”.

The declaration was in response to the UK government's planned £650 million in education aid grant for Pakistan. While this statement was made in a wider geo-political context, it seems that recently, Pakistan itself has been played for a sucker by a well-meaning American educationist.

The revelation by some quarters that Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea was based on semi-fiction, rather than fact, has sent shock waves among Pakistanis, particularly its elite. The elite, because the book hasn’t exactly been the most accessible to the actual subjects that it portrays, i.e. the impoverished families and girls of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Despite accusations that 41% of donations collected by Mortensen and his Central Asian Institute (CAI), have not gone to aid the education of young girls, many in Pakistan still support the author. Their argument is simple. So what if he lied about some things? At least he has helped those in need, which most Pakistanis can hardly admit to themselves. Or, as Mortenson’s avid supporter journalist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times said in an opinion piece on April 20, “Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children’s lives than you or I ever will”.

It is true that one cannot out rightly deny Mortenson’s contribution to girls’ education in the remote northern areas of Pakistan and regions of war-torn Afghanistan. Many of the stones he has converted into schools, do exist and educate young girls where Pakistan’s own government has not been able to do so. In a country where officially at least, only 45% of females are literate and girls’ schools are regularly targeted by militants, Pakistan’s record in education, especially girls education, has been miserable for decades. So much so, that in a desperate attempt to prop up its weak image, a state of “education emergency” was recently declared, thanks to yet another glossy report commissioned by a non-governmental Education Task Force. Students at The Citizens Foundation Secondary School – Cowasjee Campus, Mauripur, Karachi CREDIT: TCF

This sudden interest in education and the controversy surrounding Mortenson raises several issues, ironically none of which are actually related to girls’ education. Instead, they are indicative of an insecure state of mind that Pakistanis are perpetually in about who they are.

Pakistan has regularly been caught out for misrepresenting facts and embezzling resources meant for others. But we have always been quick to our own defense, citing “weak leadership” or “a lack of accountability”. An easy way of saying, we are at the mercy of others.

There have been several education programmes such as the Education Sector Reforms and debt swaps that have spent millions, perhaps billions of dollars, on building schools, increasing enrollment, developing curriculum and training teachers - the end result of which have been an even weaker education system. Rarely, have these failures been brought to task by those who have been quick to jump to Mortenson’s defense.

At the same time, there are several local philanthropic initiatives in Pakistan that have been perhaps even more successful than Mortenson’s personal attempts.

The Citizens Foundation, a non-profit set up in 1995, has built 730 schools and enrolled over 102,000 underprivileged girls and boys, throughout the country, without controversies attached to it. Several local NGOs throughout rural Pakistan, including in the northern areas, have been trying for many years, to improve community-run education, albeit with much fewer resources and publicity. Neither has any of this been acknowledged enough by those who feel that Mortenson has been unfairly accused and should be exonerated for all the good work he has done.

Herein lies the problem. Does “doing good work” mean that doing a bit of bad shouldn’t really be an issue? Does more of one override the other? Granted that Mortenson is still innocent until proven otherwise, but the issue here is not just whether he misused funds or made up stories to sell his book.
It's about the responsibility that comes with “doing good” not just by the doer, but by the recipient as well. This includes not just building schools and providing education, it is also about trying to sustain the momentum of the change. Mortensen spent years working in both countries. But never once did anyone in either of these countries choose to emulate, study or critique his model. The bestseller status of Three Cups of Tea was evidence enough for us.

So when the revelations were made public, this controversy was yet another nail in the coffin for a country that has and continues to be burned for its malpractices and used by others for a “greater good”, i.e. ridding the world of terrorists.

Reactions to the controversy have also shown how we, as a nation, love to be validated by foreigners rather than by ourselves. Pakistan and Afghanistan needed a Greg Mortenson to tell us through Three Cups of Tea, that we were essentially good people who somehow didn’t have the resources to bring about good. And so for us, he is still a hero, because he did what we couldn’t.

But we still don’t ask why we couldn’t, which is perhaps the biggest disappointment of this saga.

Mortenson’s supporters, including Kristof, are also ignoring the fact that philanthropy is not just about being selfless, it's about sticking to being selfless all the way. It's about what money can do to a person or what a person can do with it. Putting Mortenson or anyone (rival accuser Jon Krackauer perhaps?) on a pedestal, does not exonerate them from being accountable either.  Otherwise, what’s the point of constantly crying for accountability and transparency?

But we still refuse to openly question, authenticate, instead challenging only selected discrepancies in our society, letting ourselves be exploited by others.
 
It is true that the matter has yet to be investigated and can turn out to be completely false itself. But Mortensen’s supporters in Pakistan have already declared him innocent without even waiting for a verdict.

“Does it really matter?”, they ask. Yes, it does matter. This is not about Mortenson. This is about us.

 

HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi who occasionally dares to venture into the Pakistani media.

 

Monday
Nov152010

Pakistan: The Pitfalls of Being a 'Strategic' Ally (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan

(HN, November 15, 2010) - Recently, I was transporting two brave ladies visiting Islamabad from Baluchistan province to their scheduled destination. They were key informants for a research project I was involved in and I took the opportunity to continue my discussion with them en route. The conversation was intense and horrific, as they recounted stories of violence and bloodshed in their hometowns.

Baluchistan, Pakistan’s largest and most neglected province, is fast turning into a minefield of political terrorism - far removed but just as lethal as the extremist violence that has pervaded other parts of the country over recent years. It is one of the many internal conflicts that now plague almost all parts of Pakistan.

On the way back, my taxi driver who had been silent throughout the exchange, curiously asked me what I was doing with the two ladies. After briefly explaining my work, he expressed his shock at how the situation had deteriorated in Baluchistan.

“These are very brave women”, he remarked. He was equally impressed with the fact that in Quetta city, shops opened promptly at 9am and closed at 6pm, whereas everywhere else in the country, business doesn’t begin till at least noon. The fact was evident as we drove by lines of shops with their shutters down at a time nearing 11am. “We say we are God-fearing here but we are not”, he commented. 

The conversation gradually gave way to his own frustration with the current state of the country. He was decidedly unhappy with the present government, to put it mildly. But he also seemed fairly unhappy with the previous one as well. “If (former President Pervez) Musharraf wants to start a political party, why doesn’t he do it here? Why is he starting it all the way in London?” he asked.  “Everyone wants to steal from us but give us nothing in return." School girls in Baluchistan: among Pakistanis paying the price of instability. CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw/HUMNEWS

But there did seem to be some things he was pleased with. The Chief Justice, because “he is clamping down on many aspects of bad government”; with the media, “because they have exposed all the corruption” and with (retired Pakistan cricketer and politician) Imran Khan, “because he is the only leader we have”.

The point of this extended anecdote, is to try and make sense of why Pakistan is still such a big deal to the rest of the world, given we now suffer from three complex maladies everyone would gladly steer clear of: insecurity, economic instability and weak governance.

Perhaps not the most obvious choice for a country of “strategic importance” for world super powers, recently suffering from their own complex maladies. Even a stranger choice for being wedged in between one nation in the west falling apart at the seams and another on the east that keeps growing more powerful by the day. Most analysts argue that’s exactly why Pakistan is so “strategic”.

Of late however, the usual arguments to support this claim are not really holding so true.

Domestic issues within the country, be they of peace and security, human rights and justice or economic blood-letting, have taken us far, far down the list of countries with even a bite-size of potential for economic growth or peace-building. This year, Transparency International listed Pakistan 34th on its Corruption Perception Index, up eight places from last years 42nd spot. 

The corruption argument aside, the global financial crisis is sending rich countries of the world to those that can make it richer. Pakistan, unfortunately, cannot help in that department, considering we have always been positioning ourselves at the receiving end - flood disasters notwithstanding. Which is why Pakistan did not even warrant a pit-stop on US President Obama’s Asian (read Indian) recent tour. It's as simple as that.

But surely being a “strategic” ally must have some benefits for the country? Apart from the Kerry-Lugar financial settlement, most of which is going to the Pakistani military, they say there cannot be peace in the region without a stable Pakistan. 

Most of all, Pakistanis want their country to be stable.

According to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, suicide bombings, drone attacks and political and sectarian violence have cost the lives of over 3,000 Pakistanis and over 7,000 injuries in 2009 - a figure 48% higher than 2008. These are not casualties of an active war per se, but innocent bystanders, daily wage earners and security guards, women and children. People who leave for work in the morning and just never come back home. In Karachi, just political and sectarian target killings have cost the lives of almost 250 people this year alone. 

But while we suffer domestically on a daily basis, this is the exact fuel the world needs to continue their “strategic” support to us. The murders and deaths of hundreds of Pakistani’s (and Afghans) warrants the presence of thousands of troops, international agencies, military resources and aid in Pakistan. 

The conclusions one draws from this that if Pakistan were ever stabilized, many people in many countries would be at a loss over what to do next, not to mention out of a job. And so we continue to be “strategic”, “important” and of course, “unstable”, until the next violence-ravaged nation emerges to take the crown.

But where in this cycle of dependency do people like the women of Baluchistan, or the taxi driver in Islamabad come in? In an ideal world, they should be the ones calling the shots, making the decisions, being the watchdogs. But in this world, when the word on the streets is that basic economic survival is now a luxury only the very rich can afford, how can anyone expect them to play any part in turning the tide? 

And so sadly, they remain nothing more than key informants in the larger scheme of things. 

But this is probably where Pakistan’s biggest strength lies. In a country where almost 80% of the population is a captive audience to self-destruction with no exit strategies, the tide is bound to rise sometime. It remains to be seen whether this will be while Pakistan is still “strategically important” to its “allies”, or when we realize how “strategically important” we are to ourselves.

HUM Contributor Themrise Khan is a Karachi-based writer

Postscript: As I write this, an enormous blast has ripped through Karachi’s financial centre, shaking my own house almost 5 miles away. This is the second such attack in the city in the space of a month, joining hands with the pall of political violence that also pervades the city. This is hardly the “stable” Pakistan that everyone eulogizes about. In situations like this, it is hard to think about the US, India or the Taliban as the culprits. The issue may be international in nature, but the damage is purely domestic. We had better rise now before there isn’t much left of us.

Friday
Aug272010

FLOODS PLUNGE PAKISTAN DEEPER INTO OBLIVION (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan
The devastating floods in Pakistan this past month have done more than just render over 20 million people homeless and submerge one-quarter of the total land area from north to south. They have, once again, magnified the ineptitude of the state to deliver to its people, or answer to its constituents.

But this is something Pakistan has been akin to for several decades now. The earthquake in the northern areas in 2005, illustrated a similar lack of preparedness and the failure of the state to contain the misery.

Now, five years later, history has repeated itself, learning nothing from its past. Except this time, the scale is far, far greater and the effects far more devastating and all-encompassing.

Pakistan has stepped up to the challenge of this natural disaster, despite its limitations. Like the earthquake, Pakistanis all over the world, have gone above and beyond to provide relief and shelter to the affected. But with the numbers of refugees rising everyday, and the floodwaters still hesitating from emptying their bowels into the Arabian Sea, this is literally a drop in the ocean.

Despite this, everyone is doing whatever they can under the sheer immensity of the circumstances. But as all such opportunities allow, the debates emerging from this national crisis, go far beyond just nature’s wrath and how it could have been prevented.

International humanitarian aid has dominated the agenda of this disaster from Day One. With the UN taking centre stage to call for funds (an initial flash appeal of $460 million), the world has been quick to respond. The US alone has pledged almost $800 million, while the UN claims that commitments in pledges and private donations have topped $1 billion. This is just for immediate relief.

Damage to Pakistan’s agriculture and livestock has pushed the country at least 2-3 years behind in terms of food security. Estimates for long-term reconstruction and economic rehabilitation have reached a staggering $43 billion so far. But the cry from within, is that more is needed, both in cash and kind. And there is no denying that there is a dire immediate need.

However, the fact remains that Pakistan’s capacity to utilize aid of any sort effectively, has been sorely questioned in the past. This is fueled by sour experiences during the 2005 earthquake, which remains mired in controversies of financial mismanagement and unfulfilled pledges, forcing many to rebuild their homes themselves.

More recently, and definitely more crucial, is Pakistan’s links to militant jihadi outfits, which have further tarnished Pakistan’s image abroad and are now being used as a basis on which to judge future contributions. But politics is a dirty game, and the millions who wait desperately for even a tarpaulin over their heads in adhoc refugee camps, have no idea that they are simply a pawn in a larger, deadlier political brinksmanship.

To begin with, Pakistan’s government and its erstwhile civilian rulers have chosen to distance themselves from the disaster relying instead on international hand-outs. The President after taking much heat for his European sojourns has donated a paltry Rs.5 million (about US$58,000) and the Prime Minister claims that he does not believe in donating cash, only in kind.

International agencies meanwhile are using the threat of militancy as a reason to invest more in flood relief, lest the 20 million homeless “cross over to the dark side”, raising fears that intentions may not be purely humanitarian. This has been manipulated with great dexterity by the militants, who are now threatening foreign aid workers, only adding more girth to the fears being purported by donors like the United States.A young boy in flood-ravaged Pakistan. Credit: Asad Zaidi

The United Nations is also playing on this card by alerting the world to Pakistan’s “image deficit” abroad, a term it very cleverly coined to fill its own coffers, rather than address the actual threat of militancy, which it claims is not its mandate.

Furthermore, the armed forces contribution to rescue and relief efforts, is a thorn in the civilian democracy’s side, resurrecting the never-ending tussle between man and might that has shadowed Pakistani politics since birth.

Intellectual and civil society pundits insist that this is a time to put aside age-old grudges and just get on with helping those in need. Yet, they are unable to create an effective framework of relief to handle the sheer numbers. But the reality is that, both practically and politically, it is not possible to “just get on with it”. The sheer physical scale of the disaster is beyond comprehension and most civilian and government attempts will only go so far.

The US meanwhile, continues to use the Taliban threat to remain in control of the region. And whatever the international relief agencies and NGOs are attempting to provide, not much success is possible without greater coordination, which like the earthquake, is very limited at the moment. This time around, global politics is very much in control.

But this international versus national aid conundrum has exposed a darker, more chronic side of the disaster. I myself have not yet been to any of the flood affected areas - however I did work in the earthquake emergency. But one does not really need to physically view the sites in order to comprehend the scale of the disaster, nor the suffering of those affected.

The irony is, that in Pakistan, time and again, it is those who have ever barely had a roof over their heads who have been rendered homeless. It is those who have never had the luxury of a steady income that have been robbed of their meager livelihoods. It is those who never had access to basic health care that are now lying ailing and in need of urgent medical attention.

Ultimately, the flood has brought to the surface the harsh reality that it is Pakistan that abandoned its own people a long time ago. It is even more ironic and heart-breaking that even a disaster of this scale still does not make us realize that and we continue to look every which way, except within.

Till that realization actually strikes each and every Pakistani, it seems, we are still at the mercy of the global powers that be, our political elite and God’s wrath.

--HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi.

Saturday
Aug212010

PAKISTAN: FOREIGN MEDIA-OCRITY (PERSPECTIVE)

By Themrise Khan in Karachi

(HN, August 21, 2010)  --- “It’s such an exciting time to be in Pakistan.” This is a line one hears time and again from every new arrival of foreigners that lands at Islamabad airport. From the US Secretary of State, to the new foreign service employees at an embassy, to the newest international media correspondent, Pakistan seems to be the new land of opportunity.

Except that this opportunity doesn’t really work for us too much, considering we were declared the most dangerous country in the world last year and now, because of natural disasters, are at our absolute lowest point. Sadly, Pakistan is being mined by the rest of the world as an example of how good it can get when it gets really bad.

Unlike most other developing nations that have abject poverty, corrupt economies and poor leadership, Pakistan has still managed to hold onto some semblance of normalcy in its daily suffrage. There is still a sense of survival (just barely), social decadence and just plain old resilience amidst the madness of militant terror and disastrous flooding.  Supposedly this is what makes Pakistan ‘exciting’ for outsiders.

In the age of global communication, there is nothing that doesn’t get out. Not even top-secret documents on America’s war in Afghanistan. But some things don’t get out by agenda. One of these is how the global media wants its audience to view countries like Pakistan. Portrayals include a state that colludes with Islamic militants to encourage global extremism; a country rife with civil and ethnic angst that abuses its justice system; a country constantly plagued with preventable and mismanaged natural disasters. And oh yes, a confused nation of elite party-goers all juxtaposed against the women in black (burqas). Pakistan’s stereotype has come a long way. While most of these claims are admittedly true, is that all there is to us?

Over a year ago, I did a story on the sudden rise in the almost permanent presence of foreign media networks in Pakistan since the Afghanistan invasion in 2001.The bottom line was that the war on terror was the only news that was worthy of the presence of almost 100 foreign journalists in Islamabad. Nothing else figured on the agenda. No economics, no culture, no society, no people, except for those affected by the suicide bombings and drone attacks, or those displaced by army action in the tribal areas and lately, by natural disasters.

To give benefit of the doubt, dirt sells and news is business after all. Even our local television feeds the international media with its tales of graphic horror. We don’t give much airtime to anything else either. But one would expect more from the international media networks, since it is one of the very few ways people abroad have to form an impression about countries like Pakistan. All the more reason the stories going out should show more than just one face of the nation.Foreign journalists fuel "mediocrity and one-dimensionality" CREDIT: Michael Bociurkiw

But the reality is, that there is extremely limited interaction of the foreign media with the ‘real’ Pakistan, with global headquarters dictating what should and shouldn’t be news.

In a country of 170 million, only a handful of ‘key’ persons are introduced to a journalist’s brief international posting. Most of those belong to the elite English-speaking and civil and state bureaucracy. Its not newsworthy enough to venture into other more mundane areas like the informal economy, agriculture, performing arts or local initiatives. Frankly, if its not related to terrorism, its not a story. So what ends up is a life primarily ensconced in Islamabad, mixing with the movers and shakers. There is not even a meager attempt to visit the nether regions of the country to show the world how we really live, both good and bad. Last I checked, journalism was about breaking boundaries, leaving your comfort zone and opening minds to different ideas and opinions. I guess I haven’t checked the latest in a long time.

Even with the coverage of the current flooding, the focus remains on how inept our leaders are (which they are) and how aid is waiting to be mismanaged (which it is). But what about what many are trying to do single-handedly? Ever since the earthquake, if there is one thing Pakistanis (barring the feudal and political elite), have been known for, its plunging into the middle of a natural disaster to do all they can. Doesn’t the world deserve to see that side of us for a change? And then they say we suffer from an international ‘image deficit.’

The perception is further fuelled by the presence of the international diplomatic community, supposedly to ‘foster meaningful relations’ and ‘help end poverty.’ The goodwill doesn’t reach further than the diplomatic enclave as its so much easier to spend money sitting in a cubicle surrounded by barbed wire and your very own panic room. After all, that’s how they do it in Afghanistan and Iraq and see how much good its doing there.

So despite best intentions, the perspective remains skewed, to the networks (and its representatives) benefit, but to our own detriment. The slap in the face is a foreign correspondents ‘observation’ of (a very politicised) Pakistan, in hardback edition.  Three years in a city, and they know the country better than we do apparently.

Journalism unfortunately, is now a well-paid job that can get you around the world, complete with furnished homes, domestic staff and your very own ‘king of the hill’ attitude.

But the mediocrity and one-dimensionality of live international broadcasts from residential rooftops in Islamabad, does eventually show through. Case in point – a message sent out to all invitees last year by one foreign correspondent after a high-profile suicide bombing in Islamabad, in response to a scheduled party hosted by another foreign journalist in the same area that night: “if we cancel the party, the terrorists have won.” Senseless loss of life right outside your doorstep, but the party must go on. Now that’s what I call true dedication to the cause of journalism.

I guess they don’t make them like Robert Fisk anymore.

---HUMNEWS contributor Themrise Khan is a freelance social development consultant based in Karachi who occasionally dares to venture into the Pakistani media. This column originally appeared in The Dawn Online.