Let Pakistan Make Its Own Progress
By NADIA NAVIWALA; New York Times, March 16, 2010
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts — What do we do about Pakistan? Because I am a Pakistani-American who recently spent several months there, people here are constantly trying to get me to answer that question. One of the most important things I can offer them is a reality check.
I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, but my family moved to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, in the early 1990s. Those were Karachi’s worst years and constitute my earliest memories of terrorism.
Political and ethnic violence wracked the city, becoming, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan today, an excuse for every type of crime — shootings in mosques, kidnappings, violent break-ins and streetside executions if you belonged to the wrong ethnic group. By 1996, my family gave up on Pakistan and came back to the United States. By 1999, Pervez Musharraf gave up on Pakistan and overthrew the government.
Worse than the violence, for a Pakistani-American child, was that Pakistan was boring. As far as I am concerned, Pizza Hut was the only good thing that happened to Pakistan in those years. Prior to that, there was no American fast food in Karachi, let alone malls or highways. You couldn’t even find a decent candy bar.
And as I got older, I grew increasingly irked by the conservatism. Pakistan, I felt, was easily the most closed country in the world — traditional dress was mandatory, girls were either stuck at home or harassed in the streets, and I almost never saw a foreigner.
I never imagined that I would see Pakistan the way I saw it this summer, after a mere 14 years. Karachi today looks like any major, cosmopolitan city — movie theaters, restaurants, and cafés full of boys and girls smoking, in jeans, mingling together.
More women are finishing college and getting jobs, and they have traded traditional baggy shalwars for trousers and capris. The city has been aggressively transformed by a mayor so impressively capable that he seems misplaced in a culture of corrupt politicians and broken bureaucracies.
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