The man on the Gujranwala omnibus will define Pakistan?
Sadly, he is not alone. We see the extremes, but ignore those in the middle and our blinkered thinking is not only stupid, but dangerous
Jason Burke The Observer, Sunday 8 August 2010
A week before her death, travelling through the same lowland towns of the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan that are now half-buried under mud, Benazir Bhutto said to me: "Pakistan has changed Mr Burke, Pakistan has changed. And I need to learn about it once more."
Bhutto had returned to her native land three months earlier and after an eight-year exile, a comeback in large measure due to arm-twisting by the Bush administration's top officials and the British Foreign Office. With characteristic brio, she had thrown herself into campaigning for scheduled elections. Her comments came after she had halted her armoured vehicle to plunge into a market in the scruffy town of Pabbi to buy oranges. "I need to know the price of vegetables," she had told me as we got back into her vehicle. "I need to know about my people."
Bhutto's death, at the hands of a 16-year-old suicide bomber, marked the moment that Pakistan returned to the limelight after several years overshadowed by Iraq and terrorism in Europe and the UK. Since then, it has barely left centre stage. Home to al-Qaida, much of the Afghan Taliban, an astonishing range of indigenous militants, beset by economic and environmental disaster, Pakistan is one of the victims and the villains of the ongoing multidimensional conflict that is the legacy of the 9/11 attacks and the now defunct war on terror. The Wikileaks on the Pakistani security establishment's support for the Afghan Taliban, David Cameron's statement in India that the state must stop sponsoring terrorism overseas and now the visit of Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's widower and president of Pakistan since August 2008, who arrived in the UK last week, have focused attention on Pakistan again.
Pakistan is usually viewed through three prisms. The first is that of the Orientalists. Experts, officials, spooks and diplomats still frequently cite Winston Churchill or even Kipling as a useful guide to the North-West Frontier. This is roughly equivalent to using Emile Zola to learn about modern France, Joyce about Ireland or Dickens about today's East End. There has probably been deeper and faster social change in Pakistan in recent decades than in the UK. If you think Thatcherism changed Britain, imagine what the roughly contemporaneous rule of General Zia-ul-Haq did to Pakistan. Or the coming of mass broadcast media and telephones to the smallest rural settlement, where high levels of illiteracy still persist, in the last decade.
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