Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Textbook Conversations

Shuttling between Kabul, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Attock, Karachi, Abu Dhabi and Manchester over a period of four days is pretty hectic. Several flights, taxi rides, meetings, dinners and family formalities later, I take the opportunity to reflect on conversations that I've had with people. Briefly I want to consider Pakistan - damaged by internal strife, poor international press and yet still trying to build an image for itself.

I'm always willing to learn in order to understand more, but that does not mean I passively accept everything that is said. I had an interesting dinner in Islamabad, where the host accepted that Pakistan had a poor public image but his view was that Pakistan survived despite aggressive policies by greater enemies because of Allah's protection and that the neighbours - India and Afghanistan could not be trusted. I heard a similar view in Karachi - that India was ready to 'attack' Pakistan. Rather than contemplate the failings within, the commonality was one of finger-pointing and feeling sorry that Pakistan had failed to live up to its founder's ideals. In short the view was that the country was misrepresented and misunderstood and that the leaders were little more than stooges for the UK and the US. 

I have a family connection to Pakistan, but I have always been a little ambivalent about what the country stands for - and whilst I always want it to be better for the common people, I don't claim to be automatically forgiving. As much as I try to understand the passions of the country, I see significant failures and widespread alienation. What emerged from the conversations I had with people is how commonly held values (myths?) about Pakistan are not questioned or challenged. These opinions form what may be considered the "textbook" view within Pakistan.  There are voices from beyond that ask legitimate questions, but these seem to be filtered out of the media within because they criticise the basis on which the country stands. I think that this fundamentally comes down to an education system that has operated much like the state's propaganda machine where critical thinking is not encouraged.

Most people in Pakistan think of survival, so I can forgive some of the apathetic acceptance of the way things are, but if an educational culture of critical thinking were to exist, then there could be serious questions asked about the status quo. A kind of enlightenment, no less.

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