Dissecting Western Narrative: "India Rising Pakistan Collapsing"

Is it true that "India is rising and Pakistan is rapidly collapsing", the currently accepted western narrative recently re-iterated by Roger Cohen in his New York Times Op Ed from Lahore, Pakistan? Let's examine it by reviewing reports filed by several Indian journalists after their recent visits to Pakistan:

"India is a democracy and a great power rising. Pakistan is a Muslim homeland that lost half its territory in 1971, bounced back and forth between military and nominally democratic rule, never quite clear of annihilation angst despite its nuclear weapons".

Roger Cohen's  New York Times Op Ed "Pakistan in Its Labyrinth"

"I.. saw much in this recent visit (to Pakistan) that did not conform to the main Western narrative for South Asia -- one in which India is steadily rising and Pakistan rapidly collapsing. Born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies, this vision was always most useful to those who have built up India as an investment destination and a strategic counterweight to China....Seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests, the great internal contradictions and tumult within these two large nation-states disappear. In the Western view, the credit-fueled consumerism among the Indian middle class appears a much bigger phenomenon than the extraordinary Maoist uprising in Central India".  

Pankaj Mishra's Bloomberg Op Ed "Pakistan’s Unplanned Revolution Rewrites Its Future"

Compare and contrast the two narratives of two seasoned journalists, American Roger Cohen and Indian Pankaj Mishra, on their  recent Pakistan visits. Note Mishra's explanation of why the western media is parroting the standard post Cold War western narrative about India and Pakistan as "seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests", "born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies".

Now read the following post titled Indians Share "Eye-Opener" Stories of Pakistan that I wrote in July 2012.  It's reproduced below:

Several prominent Indian journalists and writers have visited Pakistan in recent years for the first time in their lives.  I am sharing with my readers selected excerpts of the reports from Mahanth Joishy (USIndiaMonitor.com), Panakaj Mishra (Bloomberg), Hindol Sengupta (The Hindu), Madhulika Sikka (NPR) and Yoginder Sikand (Countercurrents) of what they saw and how they felt in the neighbor's home. My hope is that their stories will help foster close ties between the two estranged South Asian nations.

Mahanth S. Joishy, Editor, usindiamonitor.com :  (July, 2012)

Many of us travel for business or leisure.  But few ever take a trip that dramatically shatters their entire worldview of a country and a people in one fell swoop.  I was lucky enough to have returned from just such a trip: a week-long sojourn in Pakistan.
It was a true eye-opener, and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that.  Many of the assumptions and feelings I had held toward the country for nearly 30 years were challenged and exposed as wrong and even ignorant outright.
 The Western and Indian media feed us a steady diet of stories about bomb blasts, gunfights, kidnappings, torture, subjugation of women, dysfunctional government, and scary madrassa schools that are training the next generation of jihadist terrorists.  And yes, to many Westerners and especially Indians, Pakistan is the enemy, embodying all that is wrong in the world.  Incidents such as the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl, 26/11 and the Osama Bin Laden raid in Abottobad have not helped the cause either.  Numerous international relations analysts proclaim that  Pakistan is “the most dangerous place in the world” and the border with India is “the most dangerous border in the world.”
(Upon arrival in Karachi) two uniformed bodyguards with rifles who were exceedingly friendly and welcoming climbed onto the pickup truck bed as we started on a 45-minute drive.  I was impressed by the massive, well-maintained parks and gardens surrounding the airport.  I was also impressed by the general cleanliness, the orderliness of the traffic, the quality of the roads, and the greenery. Coming from a city government background, I was surprised at how organized Karachi was throughout the ride.  I also didn’t see many beggars the entire way.  I had just spent significant amounts of time in two major Indian cities, Mumbai and Bangalore, as well as several second-tier cities like Mangalore, and none would compare favorably on maintenance and city planning, especially when it came to potholes and waste management.  This was the first surprise; I was expecting that piles of garbage and dirt would line the roads and beggars would overflow onto the streets.  Surely there is dirt and poverty in Karachi, but far less than I was expecting.  Karachi was also less dense and crowded than India’s cities.

My second pleasant surprise was to see numerous large development projects under way.  I had read about Pakistan’s sluggish GDP growth and corruption in public works and foreign aid disbursement.  This may be true, but construction was going on all over the place: new movie theaters, new malls, new skyscrapers,  new roads, and entire new neighborhoods being built from scratch.  In this regard it was similar to India and every other part of Asia I had seen recently: new development and rapid change continues apace, something we are seeing less of in the West.
 We were also able to do some things which may sound more familiar to Americans: bowling at Karachi’s first bowling alley, intense games of pickup basketball with some local teenagers at a large public park (these kids could really play), or passing through massive and well-appointed malls filled with thousands of happy people of all ages walking around, shopping, or eating at the food court.  We even attended a grand launch party for Magnum ice cream bars, featuring many of Pakistan’s A-list actors, models, and businesspeople.  A friend who is involved in producing musicals directed an excellent performance at the party, complete with live band, singing, and dancing.  This troupe, Made for Stage has also produced shows such as the Broadway musical Chicago to critical acclaim with an all-Pakistani cast for the first time in history.

Even the poor areas we visited, such as the neighborhoods around the Mazar, were filled with families coming out for a picnic or a stroll, enjoying their weekend leisure time in the sun.  All I could see were friendly and happy people, including children with striking features running around.  At no time did I feel the least bit unsafe anywhere we went, and we definitely went through a mix of neighborhoods with varying profiles.
 Lahore is more beautiful overall than Karachi or any large Indian city I’ve seen.  Serious effort has gone into keeping the city green and preserving its storied history.  Historians would have a field day here.  In particular we saw two stunning historic mosques, the Wazir Khan and the Badshahi, both of which should be considered treasures not only for Muslims, Pakistanis, or South Asia, but for all of humanity.  I felt it a crime that I’d never even heard of either one.  Each of them in different ways features breath-taking architecture and intricate artwork comparable to India’s Taj Mahal.  These are must-see sights for any tourist to Lahore.  The best way to enjoy the vista of the Badshahi mosque is to have a meal on the rooftop of one of the many superb restaurants on Food Street next to the mosque compound.  This interesting area was for hundreds of years an infamous red-light district, made up of a series of old wooden rowhouses that look like they were lifted straight out of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, strangely juxtaposed with one of the country’s holiest shrines.  From the roof of Cuckoo’s Den restaurant, we could see all of the massive Badshahi complex along with the adjoining royal fortress, all while having a 5-star meal of kebabs, spicy curries in clay pots, and lassi under the stars.  We were fortunate to have very pleasant whether as well.  This alfresco dining experience with two good friends encompassed my favorite moments in the  city.

We did much more in Lahore.  We were given a tour of the renowned Aitchison College, which one of my friends attended.  This boys’ private prep school is known for its difficult entrance exams, rigorous academic tradition, illustrious list of alumni since the British founded the school, and its gorgeous and impeccably maintained 200-acre campus that  puts most major universities icluding my own Georgetown to shame.  Aitchison has been considered one of the best prep schools on the subcontinent since 1886.  However, it would have been impossible to get a tour without the alumni connection because security is very thorough.

Pankaj Mishra, Bloomberg:  (April, 2012)
...I also saw much in this recent visit that did not conform to the main Western narrative for South Asia -- one in which India is steadily rising and Pakistan rapidly collapsing.

Born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies, this vision was always most useful to those who have built up India as an investment destination and a strategic counterweight to China, and who have sought to bribe and cajole Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment into the war on terrorism.

Seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests, the great internal contradictions and tumult within these two large nation-states disappear. In the Western view, the credit-fueled consumerism among the Indian middle class appears a much bigger phenomenon than the extraordinary Maoist uprising in Central India.
Traveling through Pakistan, I realized how much my own knowledge of the country -- its problems as well as prospects -- was partial, defective or simply useless. Certainly, truisms about the general state of crisis were not hard to corroborate. Criminal gangs shot rocket-propelled grenades at each other and the police in Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood. Shiite Hazaras were being assassinated in Balochistan every day. Street riots broke out in several places over severe power shortages -- indeed, the one sound that seemed to unite the country was the groan of diesel generators, helping the more affluent Pakistanis cope with early summer heat.

In this eternally air-conditioned Pakistan, meanwhile, there exist fashion shows, rock bands, literary festivals, internationally prominent writers, Oscar-winning filmmakers and the bold anchors of a lively new electronic media. This is the glamorously liberal country upheld by English-speaking Pakistanis fretting about their national image in the West (some of them might have been gratified by the runaway success of Hello magazine’s first Pakistani edition last week).

But much less conspicuous and more significant, other signs of a society in rapid socioeconomic and political transition abounded. The elected parliament is about to complete its five- year term -- a rare event in Pakistan -- and its amendments to the constitution have taken away some if not all of the near- despotic prerogatives of the president’s office.

Political parties are scrambling to take advantage of the strengthening ethno-linguistic movements for provincial autonomy in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Young men and women, poor as well as upper middle class, have suddenly buoyed the anti-corruption campaign led by Imran Khan, an ex-cricketer turned politician.

After radically increasing the size of the consumerist middle class to 30 million, Pakistan’s formal economy, which grew only 2.4 percent in 2011, currently presents a dismal picture. But the informal sector of the economy, which spreads across rural and urban areas, is creating what the architect and social scientist Arif Hasan calls Pakistan’s “unplanned revolution.” Karachi, where a mall of Dubai-grossness recently erupted near the city’s main beach, now boasts “a first world economy and sociology, but with a third world wage and political structure.”

Even in Lyari, Karachi’s diseased old heart, where young gangsters with Kalashnikovs lurked in the alleys, billboards vended quick proficiency in information technology and the English language. Everywhere, in the Salt Range in northwestern Punjab as well as the long corridor between Lahore and Islamabad, were gated housing colonies, private colleges, fast- food restaurants and other markers of Pakistan’s breakneck suburbanization....

Hindol Sengupta, The Hindu: (May, 2010)

Add this bookstore to the list of India-Pakistan rivalry. A bookstore so big that it is actually called a bank. The book store to beat all bookstores in the subcontinent, I have found books I have never seen anywhere in India at the three-storeyed Saeed Book Bank in leafy Islamabad. The collection is diverse, unique and with a special focus on foreign policy and subcontinental politics (I wonder why?), this bookstore is far more satisfying than any of the magazine-laden monstrosities I seem to keep trotting into in India. ...

Yes, that's right. The meat. There always, always seems to be meat in every meal, everywhere in Pakistan. Every where you go, everyone you know is eating meat. From India, with its profusion of vegetarian food, it seems like a glimpse of the other world. The bazaars of Lahore are full of meat of every type and form and shape and size and in Karachi, I have eaten some of the tastiest rolls ever. For a Bengali committed to his non-vegetarianism, this is paradise regained. Also, the quality of meat always seems better, fresher, fatter, more succulent, more seductive, and somehow more tantalizingly carnal in Pakistan. ....

Let me tell you that there is no better leather footwear than in Pakistan. I bought a pair of blue calf leather belt-ons from Karachi two years ago and I wear them almost everyday and not a dent or scratch! Not even the slightest tear. They are by far the best footwear I have ever bought and certainly the most comfortable. Indian leather is absolutely no match for the sheer quality and handcraftsmanship of Pakistani leather wear.

Yes. Yes, you read right. The roads. I used to live in Mumbai and now I live in Delhi and, yes, I think good roads are a great, mammoth, gargantuan luxury! Face it, when did you last see a good road in India? Like a really smooth road. Drivable, wide, nicely built and long, yawning, stretching so far that you want zip on till eternity and loosen the gears and let the car fly. A road without squeeze or bump or gaping holes that pop up like blood-dripping kitchen knives in Ramsay Brothers films. When did you last see such roads? Pakistan is full of such roads. Driving on the motorway between Islamabad and Lahore, I thought of the Indian politician who ruled a notorious —, one could almost say viciously — potholed state and spoke of turning the roads so smooth that they would resemble the cheeks of Hema Malini. They remained as dented as the face of Frankenstein's monster. And here, in Pakistan, I was travelling on roads that — well, how can one now avoid this? — were as smooth as Hema Malini's cheeks! Pakistani roads are broad and smooth and almost entirely, magically, pot hole free. How do they do it; this country that is ostensibly so far behind in economic growth compared to India? But they do and one of my most delightful experiences in Pakistan has been travelling on its fabulous roads. No wonder the country is littered with SUVs — Pakistan has the roads for such cars! Even in tiny Bajaur in the North West frontier province, hard hit by the Taliban, and a little more than a frontier post, the roads were smoother than many I know in India. Even Bajaur has a higher road density than India! If there is one thing we should learn from the Pakistanis, it is how to build roads. And oh, another thing, no one throws beer bottles or trash on the highways and motorways.
Road to Daman-e-Koh, Margalla Hills, Islamabad, Pakistan

Madhulika Sikka, NPR News: (May, 2010)

This may be hard to believe, but the first thing that crosses your mind when you drive into Islamabad is suburban Virginia — its wide roads, modern buildings, cleanliness and orderliness is a complete contrast to the hustle and bustle of the ancient city of Lahore, some 220 miles east on the Grand Trunk Road.

Islamabad is laid out in a grid with numbered avenues running north to south. The streets are tree lined and flowers abound among the vast open stretches of green space.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful spots is the Margallah Hills National Park. Drive up the winding road on the northern edge of town to the scenic view points and you'll see the broad planned city stretch before you.
It's a Sunday afternoon and you could be in any park in any city in the world. Families are out for a stroll and picnicking on park benches. There's a popcorn vendor and an ice cream seller. Kids are playing on a big inflatable slide. Peacocks strut their full plumage as people are busily clicking away on their cellphone cameras. Lively music permeates the air as souvenir sellers are hawking their wares. Off one of the side paths I notice a young couple lunching at a bench, a respectable distance apart from each other but clearly wanting to be alone.

So what's it like here? It's pretty much like everywhere else. On a quiet Sunday afternoon people are out with their families, relaxing and enjoying themselves, taking a break from the stresses and strains of daily life. For all of us this is an image of Pakistan worth remembering. I certainly will.
Yoginder Sikand, Countercurrents.org : (June, 2008)

Islamabad is surely the most well-organized,picturesque and endearing city in all of South Asia. Few Indians would, however, know this, or, if they did, would admit it. After all, the Indian media never highlights anything positive about Pakistan, because for it only 'bad' news about the country appears to be considered 'newsworthy'. That realization hit me as a rude shock the moment I stepped out of the plane and entered Islamabad's plush International Airport, easily far more efficient, modern and better maintained than any of its counterparts in India. And right through my week-long stay in the city, I could not help comparing Islamabad favorably with every other South Asian city that I have visited. That week in Islamabad consisted essentially of a long string of pleasant surprises, for I had expected Islamabad to be everything that the Indian media so uncharitably and erroneously depicts Pakistan as. The immigration counter was staffed by a smart young woman, whose endearing cheerfulness was a refreshing contrast to the grave, somber and unwelcoming looks that one is generally met with at immigration counters across the world that make visitors to a new country feel instantly unwelcome.

Here's a Pakistan Pictorial: http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer","quality":"high","scale":"noscale","src":"https://static.ning.com/socialnetworkmain/widgets/photo/slideshowplayer/slideshowplayer.swf?xn_version=3150304127","type":"application/x-shockwave-flash","width":"500","wmode":"opaque";}" data-original-tag="EMBED">
Find more photos like this on PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network 

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Comment by Shahar Qureshi on February 25, 2015 at 9:04pm

there is still hope... else than the western narrative ... we as pakistanis ourselves have got to change our own perspective as well instead of going into the hype mostly negative that the media biasly keeps on instilling in us ....

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 26, 2015 at 4:15pm

With a collection of over 200,000 individual titles, Saeed Book Bank in Jinnah Super Market is considered to be one of Asia’s largest bookstores. The founder and owner of the store, Saeed Jan Qureshi, has been involved in the business for almost 60 years. Dawn spoke to Mr Qureshi about the business of selling books.

Q. How did you end up in the book business?

A. After leaving my hometown in Tando Ghulam Ali in Sindh in 1956, I took up employment at the London Book House because I love books. To this day, I stay up reading till 3am every night. I also liked the kind of people who came to bookstores - educated and generally well-mannered. In 1964, I opened my own bookstore in Peshawar called Saeed Book Bank.

We did good business. We were the biggest bookstore in the north-western Pakistan and Afghanistan. There was frequent movement of people, tourism thrived and people would travel all the way from Kandahar and Kabul to shop at our store.

Thirty-six years later, politics had changed Peshawar. We also wanted to expand so in 2000, we opened the Islamabad branch.

Q. There is a general global decline in book sales, how is that affecting your business?

A. There may be a decline in sales globally, but fortunately in Pakistan and India, book sales are actually going up. The reason is the growth in population and even literacy rate. The trend of reading e-books on handheld devices may have affected book sales in the developed world but not here.

This is despite the fact that the Pakistani government has never taken steps to encourage the book business. Importing a book costs 18 per cent of the price, including taxes and transportation costs. In India the book business is thriving because the government offered publishers lucrative incentives.

The government even buys back any unsold book stocks from publishers at 10 per cent higher than the cost.

For Saeed Book Bank, in particular, business is good because of our scale. We import much of our stock. Publishers around the world know us and offer us better prices than smaller buyers. This allows us to offer competitive prices. Some publishers in the United Kingdom and the United States even offer us refunds on any unsold stock.

Secondly, even though it is a small city, Islamabad is a big market for books. It’s a city of diplomats and officers, so many people read. Book lovers from all over the region, come and shop at Saeed Book Bank. We even export books to South Africa, Nigeria and China.

Q. How do you choose the titles for your stock?

A. One needs years of experience and a lot of research to know which titles to stock. There are some obvious choices, such as authors who always sell such as Pervez Musharraf.

People place orders for books by these authors, before the book is even out. Then there are current topics in non-fiction books such as Taliban, terrorism, Kashmir which we know people are interested in and we stock-up on them.

To order latest titles, my sons and I travel to the world’s biggest book fairs. At these fairs, the biggest one of which is in Germany, publishers from around the world display latest titles. Booksellers like us, place orders with publishers at the fair and later stocks are delivered. This is how we ensure that we have all the latest titles.

Q. Is it true that your bookstore drove smaller shops selling cheap and second-hand books out of business?

It is true, although it was not our intention. Most other book sellers in the city buy containers of what we call pulp books from the United Kingdom and the United States. These are books which would otherwise have been recycled and are instead sold by weight to booksellers in the developing world. So, they are sold at very cheap prices and even if five to 10 per cent of the stock is sold, it is profitable for the seller.


Comment by Riaz Haq on February 28, 2015 at 9:03am

Foreign delegates participating in the Expo Pakistan 2015 have shown interest in the Pakistani products and number of MoUs signed here on Friday.
The signing ceremony was attended by SM Muneer, Chief Executive and Ms. Rabiya Javeri Agha, Secretary TDAP.
An MoU has been signed between a Moroccan company, M/s Materials Agricolas Automobiles & Industries and Balochistan Wheels Limited for the purchase of tractor wheel rims. The Moroccan Company has agreed to purchase tractor wheel rims worth $1.1 million from Balochistan Wheels in the next eighteen months. Hassane Berkani, member of Moroccan Parliament were also present.
More buying orders are likely to be placed before the end of the Expo. It may be mentioned that an eleven-member delegation of prominent businessmen from Morocco is attending the 9th edition of Expo Pakistan 2015 being held at Expo Centre Karachi. The businessmen working in different sectors held a number of meetings with the exporters. Another MoU between Chinese and Pakistani Gems and Jewellery Association signed.
A strategic Cooperation Memorandum has been signed on Friday between Gems and Jewellery Trade Association of China (GAC) and All Pakistan Gem Merchants and Jewellers Association (APGPA). This step will enhance bilateral cooperation and will establish a win-win co-operation model. Pakistan has rich sources of precious gems and stones. Exchange of delegations, sharing of information and participation in trade fairs will open up avenues in ever expanding Chinese market. In addition to trade, there is a huge scope of promotion of allied industry like mining, finishing and jewelry making.
Yet another MoU by Saudi Company for purchase of tents and canvas cloth, a contract worth $6 million was signed for export of tents and canvas cloth from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia between Abid Hassan Sabri of Al-Farooq Enterprises, of Pakistan and Abdullah Muhammad, Al-Ghamdi Trading Estate of Saudi Arabia. Ghamdi expressed his confidence in the Pakistani product and hopes to double the tent order in next year.
Meanwhile, officially staged by the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), JETRO Pavilion at 9th Pakistan Expo 2015 received an overwhelming response from the local business communities, investors, importer and traders who witnessed a wide range of modern, high-quality Japanese products and machineries on show.
Including newly-introduced automobiles, electronics, industrial machinery, surgical instruments, home appliances, and retail items, etc., these made-in-Japan products outpaced the rest of the items displayed by other countries and regions here at the Pakistan Expo 2015, said a press release of JETRO. Set up in the prominent Hall 4 of the Expo Center, JETRO Pavilion appeared to be the highly-visited exhibition area so far, showing unsurpassed reputations which Japanese companies have earned globally during last few decades.
Being held from February 26 to March 1 2015 at the Karachi Expo Centre, Pakistan Expo tends to be the country’s biggest trade fair.


Comment by Riaz Haq on March 12, 2015 at 10:21pm

#India is home to more poor people than anywhere else on Earth. One-third of world's poor in #India http://ti.me/1qJmyRf via @TIMEWorld

One third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India, according to the latest Millennium Development Goals report by the U.N.

India only managed to reduce its poverty rate (the ratio of the number of people who fall below the poverty line and a country’s total population) from 49.4% in 1994 to 42% in 2005 and 32.7% in 2010. By contrast, regional rival China brought it down from 60% in 1990 to an impressive 16% in 2005 and just 12% in 2010.

India also accounted for the highest number of under-five deaths in the world in 2012, with 1.4 million children not reaching their fifth birthday.

“We don’t have to be proud of what we’ve done,” admitted minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla to the Times Of India on Wednesday. “Poverty is the biggest challenge.”


Comment by Riaz Haq on August 4, 2015 at 4:52pm

After taking a study tour to Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, members of an international officers’ delegation made some poignant observations about their stint in the three countries. Some of these observations may be cursory but still reflect certain realities of some South Asian cities. Arriving in and moving through New Delhi was a shocking experience, recalled a German official. According to him, the life outside the grand airport was in sharp contrast to what he had read about the new, shining India. Unlike the image of a clean and vibrant New Delhi reflecting the oft-trumpeted ‘shining India’, he encountered congested roads, vehicular mayhem, and filth and trash all over.

The delegation visited the Taj Mahal too; the Taj itself is grand but the road up to and from Agra as well as its vicinities often make you nauseous as you see countless people openly squatting along the roads, recalled an official from England. How else would you feel when you came across these images in a country that boasts a nuclear arsenal and is investing billions in nuclear submarines and the latest combat aircraft? Unfathomable that such a country is host to about 400 million people living on less than two dollars a day and a huge number of them don’t have toilets in this day and age.

Big advertising billboards, recalled a British officer, display a yearning for a Western lifestyle, with light-skinned models. Discussions are very much centred on a nationalistic ethos and self-confidence, he said. It is good to be nationalistic and self-confident, but misplaced over-emphasis is not, he remarked. This over-emphasis reflects a disconnect between the marketing gimmickry of the corporate sector and the discourse on ground.

An official from Ukraine was disappointed with his experience in Bangalore and Chennai; these are rightly touted as IT cities, but the life on the roads doesn’t reflect the order and prosperity that comes with the IT-related development. Poverty and disorder is omnipresent, he recalled. Officials from Belgium, France and Spain found Colombo and Islamabad to be much more organised, cleaner and quite orderly. A Japanese delegate complained of “very few women at work” at the Islamabad airport. They also wondered as to who is really running the government. But most officers, who had visited places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, did appreciate what they described as the “resilience of Pakistani society”, despite nearly 14 years of unrest.

One of the top executives of a multinational communications company complained bitterly about the unpredictability of doing business in India. At the same time, however, he felt that the Indian market is too big to ignore so his company is still sticking its necks out because of the potential the market offers.


Comment by Riaz Haq on August 7, 2015 at 10:02am

Dawn on Humans of New York Facebook coverage of Pakistan:

I was bowled over by this innocent question posed to me on a recent trip to New York. There was so much I wanted to tell this man to clarify, to explain that there was no hatred; that my country was a far cry from the images shown on TV. I wanted to tell him about the music, the love, the food, the people.

But in that one moment, I was tongue-tied, not knowing how to condense the diversity of this land into a few sentences. I finally managed to mumble something, but I've often since felt guilty of not projecting abroad, my country and all the love it held, the way I should have.

Hence, the utter delight at learning that “Humans of New York” was coming to Pakistan. The moment I read this news, I jumped up and down like a three-year-old for ice-cream. I had been an avid follower of this page for the last couple of years; its stories are about real people, with circumstances that are similar to ours that we connect with.

It made me fall in love with the people of New York. I, and many others, would read these stories and feel the boundaries fading – all I saw were amazing human beings.

I also felt a wave of relief wash over me when I learned of Brandon's visit. The guilt of not being able to express myself to that man in New York slowly receded. Now* I thought, we'd have the words to truly express ourselves.

And, then we did. The stories started pouring in.

Stories of love, labour, humour, hardship all morphed into beautiful pictures and words. Deep in my heart, I felt like an apprehensive mother, one who has trained and nurtured her only child for all these years, and is finally about to present him to the world. I am sure millions of other Pakistanis felt the same.


Comment by Riaz Haq on August 8, 2015 at 8:13am

A black cat passing by the crossroad can stop hundreds of people what a RED LIGHT on traffic signal has failed to do for long time!!

India is a country where, on the streets, everyone seems to be in a hurry, but no one is ever on time.

India is the only country where people fight to be termed 'backward.'

Being one in a million in India means that there are 1241 Indians just like you.

In India , you don't cast your vote, you vote your caste. 

The ABC of what sells in India - Astrology, Bollywood and Cricket - in that order.

In India , it's okay to piss in public, but not kiss. 

In the West people have sex and hope for a marriage In India people marry and hope for sex. 

India doesn't have roads with potholes, but potholes with a bit of road around them. 

In India to become rich you have to become a politician, to become a politician you have to be rich. 

The most crucial part of a traffic signal in India without which it doesn't work at all, is a policeman. 

The four most crucial pillars of Indian Society are – Religion, Caste, Corruption and Hypocrisy. 

The only country where the reserved enjoy more benefits than the deserved ones 

India is a place where the only rights people get are the last rites. 

India is the only country where it takes 15 minutes to reach a place by walking, whereas it takes an 
hour by car to reach the same place. 

In India , there are two types of roads: Under Construction and Under Repair.

In India , the Capitalists are greedy and the Socialists are envious. 

Where people worship Goddess Durga, but kill a girl even after a healthy delivery. 

Where an Olympic shooter gets 3,000,000 (crore) rupees for a gold medal, but a soldier who dies getting shot while fighting with another nation gets a mere 100,000 (lakh).

India is a place where rules are made to be broken and roads are built to be dug. 

Is your land in danger of being acquired by the government? 

Don't worry, keep calm and build a temple there.
India is the only country in the world where more fighter pilots are killed and more fighter jets destroyed during peace than in a war.

In India , any time is a tea time. India is always on a list of developing countries.

In India , you don't drive on the left of the road, you drive on what is left of on the road.


Comment by Riaz Haq on January 5, 2016 at 9:27am

Postcard from #Pakistan: #Delhi-Based #British Expat Crosses the Border to Pleasant Surprises in #Lahore #Islamabad http://on.wsj.com/1O06asB 

the logistics. At this stage the decision to take Latin over Geography at O Level proved unfortunate as I booked Delhi-Abu Dhabi-Lahore over the more logical Delhi-Amritsar and a walk across the border. My Indian business partners, too polite or perplexed by the escapade, refrained from pointing out the error and so I boarded my flight to Abu Dhabi (a 3,000-mile dog leg to Lahore). Quod erat demonstrandum, as a geography student might like to say.

The flight was a riot of construction workers en route to their expat jobs in the Gulf, and me. But what a contrast with the passengers at the Abu Dhabi departure gate for Lahore. It could have been JFK—vibrant, international, fashion-conscious; all iPads and Tory Burch.

Dawn the next day at Fort Lahore. Heavens, what a place and reason alone to visit Pakistan! A glorious morning, no one there and standing at the foot of Shah Jahan’s Elephant Steps to his magnificent palace. What a thing, what a thought—a stairway for your favorite pachyderm and its very big strides. Something to inspire a man on a gray morning commute and an action item to be more like the Mughals.

Later I toured the hip, up-and-coming city boroughs and saw an outbreak of U.S. burger joints and burgeoning mall developments. Pretty girls, blue skies, ancient places, modern ways, few traffic jams and no trash. Quite a place, and a pleasant contrast to the hard-knock life of Delhi with its press of 25 million people. Surprisingly, it turned out that doing business was easier than India—less regulation and more free trade. This was born out by an out-of-body hour spent cruising the aisles of a Rawalpindi supermarket as good as Whole Foods WFM +0.38% or Waitrose.

And so on to Islamabad and the charming Serena Hotel. Old expat hands would recognize its type in comparable hotels of the day—the places to meet in an era when knowing the right people mattered: the Mandarin, Hong Kong of the ’80s, the Grand Hotel Europe in St. Petersburg, the King David in 1960s’ Jerusalem, the Okura in Tokyo. At the Serena, the local political crowd mixed with South Asia journalists, Chinese businessmen and the odd Westerner of uncertain provenance.

On the final day. Islamabad sparkling with views of the surrounding green hills: I set off to explore the city through the universal medium of jogging, much to the surprise of the Serena’s security team and their adorable black Labrador sniffer dog. After detouring through a dusty park, I emerged on to Constitution Avenue (think Champs-Élysées) and ran the length of the road past sandbagged machine-gun posts and slow-driving, tinted-window Chevrolet Suburbans bound for the highly defended diplomatic compound.

As the plane took off from Benazir Bhutto International, I felt privileged to see Pakistan before it becomes, in all likelihood, less like itself and more like a modern Middle East or Asian city. When this happens there’ll be no time to wander up Elephant Steps or jog alone on Constitution Ave.

Back in New Delhi I spoke to my young team about the trip. Reassuringly, they were intrigued and asked questions, and many wanted to visit their neighbor. Perhaps the passing of years may lessen the pain of partition and cross-border traffic will increase, surely to the benefit of both these splendid, complex countries.

In the meantime, my wife and I shall take our children to Pakistan for one big reason: to show them they’re able to visit this remarkable land. In the end, providing this permission to travel (the ultimate visa stamp) may be the biggest benefit of being a family abroad. Kids may or may not travel later in life, but they’ll know they can.

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 31, 2016 at 9:59pm

#US @StateDept considers re-hyphenation of #India, #Pakistan. The Hindu http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article8175829.ece
This will be a reversal of the de-hyphenation policy started by Bush.

Seven years after the State Department was restructured to ‘de-hyphenate’ U.S. relations with India and with Pakistan, it is considering a reversal of the move.

De-hyphenating refers to a policy started by the U.S. government under President Bush, but sealed by the Obama administration, of dealing with India and Pakistan in different silos, without referring to their bilateral relations. It enabled the U.S. to build closer military and strategic ties with India without factoring in the reaction from Pakistan, and to continue its own strategy in Afghanistan with the help of the Pakistan military without referring back to India.

‘Active’ consideration

A proposal to re-merge the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) back with the Bureau of South and Central Asia (SCA) that handles India, the rest of the subcontinent and Central Asian republics is under “active” consideration, senior-level sources told The Hindu.

The re-merger proposal is ostensibly timed with the international troops pullout from Afghanistan.

Ministry of External Affairs officials would not confirm whether they had been informed of the move they described as an “internal” matter of the U.S. government. However, asked about the possible impact of bringing India and Pakistan under one bureau again, the former National Security Adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, said: “It looks like a re-hyphenation of the India-Pakistan equation that is not in our interest. Our relationship has grown because it stood on its own, as it is important that bilateral relations with India won’t be overshadowed by its relations with the region.”

The de-hyphenation policy of the U.S. was crystallised when the SRAP was set up in 2009 soon after President Barack Obama had taken over, with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke.

At the time, Mr. Holbrooke had hoped to include India in his mandate, and even to discuss the resolution of Kashmir as a means to extract greater cooperation from Pakistan. India had strongly opposed the move.

According to a diplomatic cable published by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks which was accessed by The Hindu, the then External Affairs Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, had objected to this when U.S. Ambassador David Mulford paid a farewell call on him.

“He expressed his deep concern about a special envoy with a broad regional mandate that could be interpreted to include Kashmir, and shared his hope that the U.S.-India relationship not be viewed through the lens of regional crises,” Mr. Mulford recorded of Mr. Mukherjee’s message. (http://bit.ly/1QAu279).

Subsequently, Mr. Holbrooke remained only engaged with NATO and Af-Pak affairs until his death some years later, and was followed by subsequent SRAPs. “Even when U.S. officials wanted to discuss the situation in Afghanistan or Pakistan with us, we would insist they didn’t travel to us via Islamabad,” a senior MEA official working on the Americas desk in those years told The Hindu.

Mr. Menon, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, had also repeated the message of de-hyphenating the ties in his talks with the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, other cables from WikiLeaks record. “We didn’t want to be party to U.S. actions in Afghanistan at the time,” explained Mr. Menon.

“We don’t believe in talking to the Taliban, for example, so how would we manage that conversation.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on February 17, 2016 at 12:51pm

Foreign Tourist's Travelogue: "unlike his virgin experience in #India, it was love at first sight (in #Pakistan )". http://bit.ly/1PkvahI 

It wasn’t love at first sight when Lukas Szolc-Nartowski first set foot in India in 2001.....Contrary to his fears, Pakistan proved to be one of the most inspiring, vibrant countries he had ever visited. And unlike his virgin experience in India, it was love at first sight.

“The first person I met in Pakistan was Umair Ghani, a photographer and writer – a very inspiring and wise person,” Lukas shares. “The next couple of days were spent with Umair, learning photography and getting to know the city of kings – Lahore. They have this saying in Punjabi – You are not yet born if you have not seen Lahore.”

He managed to snag a used Minolta 50mm f/1.4 lens for $10 at a flea market in Lahore, which he fell in love with and continues to use to this day.
“It’s just an awesome lens. A great piece of optics engineering. I love the sharpness and the colours it gives, and the bokeh is just beautiful,” he says.

“Very few photographers use vintage lenses nowadays, going for more modern, faster and sharper ones instead. I do not feel like the picture has to be perfect, I like the pictures that “talk” and this lens helps me take this kind of pictures.”

Over the next few years, he continued visiting Pakistan, a place he describes as magnetic. “I have travelled all over, from the beaches of Balochistan, through the deserts of Sindh to the northern areas and mountains of Karakoram and Hindukush, admiring this beautiful country with its unique and vibrant culture, and most gentle and welcoming people you can imagine.”


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