Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pakistan

It's taken me a year, but I've finally realized that I haven't been taking full advantage of this blog. Preparing for a place and then finally getting there gives you so much info about the geography, history and politics that by the time I get around to telling you guys I assume you know it too. But it's like the girls keep saying "I didn't even know this place existed until we got there." What I should be doing is trying to trick your brains into learning something.
Pakistan is a very young country but has been populated for a very long time (today it's 7th most populated in the world). The main river is the Indus, and the very, very old Indus civilation centered around it (I always thought it was further west). More recently it was the western and northern-most sections of British India. During it's independence, British India was partitioned into 2 countries, Pakistan and India, based on religious grounds. India is hindu and Pakistan is muslim but aside from the religious differences, the cultures can be very similar. Unlike most other muslim countries, Pakistanis give their daughters dowries, have a strong sufi (religious/mystic holy men) tradition, and a weak concept of a caste system (adopted from the Indians I suppose). They also share the British link and thus drink lots of tea, speak english quite well and drive on the left side of the road (I'm becoming so used to it, I can't say it's the wrong side of the road anymore).
Eastern Pakistan later separated to become Bangladesh. Pakistan and India have hated each other from day one and have had numerous wars, mostly over the disputed Kashmir region in the north. We were in the disputed northern area on the Pakistani side but it is safe up there. It's always been on the Indian side where extremists have caused trouble. Most of the area way up there in the north is at the tail end of the Himalayan mountain range with almost every valley historically being it's own little kingdom (similar to Tibet, Bhutan or Sikkim). The British and later Pakistan, annexed or "conquered" these kingdoms. As they turned out to be unruly, they were largely left alone and used as a "buffer-zone" between British India and Afghanistan or Russia. Even today, a lot of these "tribal areas" are still uncontrolled and lawless. The people often look quite different from each other and some of them are even paler-skinned than we are!
At the risk of getting myself into trouble I'll try to clarify the larger political picture with respect to recent news as these things look from here (I love reading the local papers and will miss them when I get back to non-english speaking countries). Historically, Pakistan has been more of a US ally than India. The US focused more on it, in an attempt to counter the soviet influence in Afghanistan and Iran during the cold war. During the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA setup/funded/trained/supported/encouraged etc. (whatever you want to believe, but they were definately involved) extremist schools of Islam, mostly in the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan in order to produce the freedom fighters that fought so well against the Soviets. Once that war was finished, the "schools" survived and the fighters just switched to different battles. Kashmir India was a big one and the Pakistan government continued to support or ignore these extremists to the point now where the government can no longer control them if they wanted to. These schools also ended up producing the Taliban group that later took over Afghanistan, so when the Taliban was ousted in the post-9/11 attack by the US on Afghanistan, they just dissolved back into the tribal areas along the border from where they continue to operate. As nobody really controls the area, and the terrain out here really would make it impossible to conquer someone that didn't want to be, it's a perfect place to hide and Pakistan is getting blamed for supporting the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
Add to that the facts that Pakistan is muslim, has a history of military dictatorships and coups, and has nuclear weapons, it's no surprise that everyone is afraid of them. The reality is that there are a lot of police and military around, it doesn't get along with it's neighbors and Pakistan is a mess in certain areas that it never controlled in the first place. By far the majority of the country and it's people are stable and very friendly. We are asked all the time if we are afraid but it has not been the case at all. Many locals have stated that they just want peace and how can they change the perception of the western media which, admittedly, portrays them very unfairly.
On a more practical and personal note, in India I was averaging about $200/month or $7/day with a lot of moving around. In pakistan so far we are spending ~$5/day without moving around. There is less to see here so we are not spending money on sites, but everything else seems to cost a little bit more. One could argue that the quality is a little bit better too, softer beds and meat in your food. Unlike India, Pakistan also has student discounts for transport and stuff so we are glad we were able to renew our cards in Delhi (without any proper proof too). It's also interesting that while India has it's own brands of everything and doesn't have many import items, Pakistan hates India so there are none of these Indian brands here but lots of import foods and goods from home. Almost all the packaged food here is Nestle brand too.
Ammon

1 Comments:

At 11:54 AM , Blogger huggybigbear said...

Hey Ammon, I disagree that you have not been using the blogger well, it is your gifted descriptions that paint a picture of where you are, and what is going on.
I do love the commentary on social differences and perceptions as you travel as they are so key to understanding your experiences. As you were describing the CIA involvement in Pakistan, the quote from the scriptures about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children to the fourth generation. I hope it will not take so long to resolve.
There was an interesting editorial in the Globe and Mail recently which spoke of immigration vs invasion to established countries, and it made me think of a conversation I had with a friend about the homogenization of the world, and how every country is trying to protect it's culture against invading immigration' but is not the real invasion happening through the media, internet, movies, music ect? These excert tremendous influence over the participating groups.

Pleae give your Mom a hug for me and keep writing about your impressions and observations, they are great.

Love and Big Bear Hugs
Shean

 

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