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Is Education Really the Answer?

Sachal Afraz   |   August 1, 2011    3:30 PM ET

A recent Pakistani voice in America once again brought my attention to the state of education in Pakistan. In every street of the country, there are stories of children from poor, serving class families attempting to gain education and improve themselves against all odds. Meanwhile government funding and foreign aid is going to non-existent education for the public. The plague of 'ghost schools' has drawn a great amount of media attention over the years, but continues to gnaw at our economy.

Teachers and social workers in Pakistan frequently stress the importance of educating our population. The Prime Minister and the Education Task Force have declared an 'education emergency' and 2011 is being celebrated as the year of education. It is safe to say that education is being viewed as the first and foremost solution to Pakistan's problems.

I am hesitant to agree with this view. I do not feel that spreading our current education will be as magical as we are led to believe. Before I raise my concerns, let me clarify a few things so that I am not misunderstood. I completely agree with and support the right of every human being to improve themselves and strive for a better, happier life. I also understand and appreciate the sentiments of charitable people who help educate the serving class. I condemn the bleeding of our resources via ghost schools and phantom publishers and agree that this must stop.

Having said all this, I do not believe that achieving the said objectives will rid us of intolerance, extremism, racism, or poverty. A closer look at our textbooks and teachers suggests that there is a predisposition in existing curriculum to cultivate and promote partisan, divisive and intolerant thinking. According to UNESCO's Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011, textbook content and production in Pakistan is negatively influenced by political and elite actors (p. 5).

It also stresses the importance of each individual teacher's method of instruction and resulting political or religious undertones. The curriculum was revised after 2001 for being intolerant and glorifying war and Jihad, focusing on identity conflicts such as those between Shia and Sunni or Hindu and Muslim. While this reform means that future generations will be subjected to comparatively less venom, it does indicate that parents and teachers who graduated more than 10 years ago were victims of miss-education. One can hope that most elders have evolved their thinking enough to break free of all the propaganda based education system, but the persistence of identity-based stereotypes and targeted violence indicate otherwise.

Even the current curriculum is far from perfect and needs to be made further conducive to critical thinking and tolerance. This is elaborated by the way much of our educated youth still buys into the "they are all out to destroy Pakistan" mentality blaming even internal failures on foreign agencies.

So before we attempt to mass-market our product, we must refine it, or else enhance it. Mohammad Ziauddin, executive editor of The Express Tribune, suggests that tolerance be taught as a separate subject. Wise words of a wise man.

Yet, even if we were able to achieve this utopia of an educated Pakistan, would that really be the best state of affairs? If we got one magical wish, would we really wish for every Pakistani to be educated? Or would it be smarter to wish for a smaller population? Our economy has a large and abundant service sector. Cheap servants are a norm, a luxury and an addiction for most urban households. Our exported products sell in the global arena because we produce at lower costs. Abundant and cheap labor is our competitive edge.

Now imagine that each and every person was technically skilled and educated. Would we be able to provide them with enough deserving jobs? Or would we be a nation of underemployed graduates with unhealthy self-images? According to the CEO of a local bank, "We simply do not have the resources to provide 170million citizens with basics like electricity, clean water and gas, let alone a quality lifestyle." Perhaps entrepreneurship is the answer, but until and unless investor confidence is restored in the country that harbored Osama Bin Laden, this too remains a limited outlet.

The day we have reformed our education system and permanently silenced the expression "Khuda ulaad deta hai to rizak bhi deta hai" (When God gives a child, he also provides the relevant food/income) will be the day I dare to dream again for a developing Pakistan. Until then, with the prevailing policies, the best you can hope for is an underpaid servant with a PhD in hospitality.

This Is Pakistan's Story: A Dialogue on Violence in Pakistan

Anushka Jatoi   |   July 27, 2011    4:51 PM ET

Violence and terrorism have taken over Pakistani society -- every member of society has been affected in some way or another. Be it through losing a loved one, living in a state of unacceptable poverty or suffering huge losses through businesses being interrupted. Violence and terrorism bring us together. After years of struggling with handling issues close to our hearts, we have finally seemed to come together in solidarity.

Like the Arab Spring, a situation where something positive sprung from a negative situation -- Pakistan too has been fortunate enough to seek some positives from its negative state. This positivity is evident through members of the Pakistani civil society -- those who always take a stand against the wrong doing, even if means putting their lives at risk and being in an area or a red-alert protest.

2011-07-27-DSC_81476.jpgLast month a Karachi based not-for-profit, the Citizens Archive of Pakistan, launched an awareness campaign in the cities of Karachi and Lahore. The project has been sponsored to help inform and engage the public to understand and address the issues of violence in Pakistan today. It is an issue that now affects us all. Every day newspapers report high figures of innocent deaths including those of women and children. Awareness campaigns such as 'This is my story: Dialogue with Pakistan" are launched to get the citizens of Pakistan to start thinking about violence and to achieve long term solutions.

I was at Khadda Market, a local market in Karachi, yesterday when I saw a little boy wearing a loose-fitted black t-shirt selling flowers. The shirt he wore had the figures of civilians affected by violence since 2002 and directly questioned those reading his t-shirt if they would be the next victims of this violence. I went home and logged on to the website printed on his t-shirt and signed up to join this dialogue. Key questions such as the ones below are open to answer by all those who choose to be a part of this dialogue.

• Do you think education can help decrease violence in Pakistan?
• Does our current state of affairs do justice to what Jinnah had envisioned for Pakistan?
• What role do you think art can play in conflict-resolution?
• How can we better resolve issues like sectarian violence?

After signing up and reading more about this project, I learned that this is an initiative by the Citizens Archive of Pakistan to raise awareness and involve the society in a constructive discussion to come up with an effective conflict resolution strategy. The project I am told also educates those on the streets about the urgency to react to end violence, it increases awareness of the affects of violence on our thought processes. Today, more than ever we need to stand up for Pakistan. Growing up, we were more often than not unaffected by events going on around us -- we would hear about killings and shrug our shoulders and continue going to school. Things are different now.


When I told my friends about this initiative, I was met with cynical responses and was asked what exactly this would achieve. Well, for starters it brings us all together on a platform for mobilization where we can openly voice our opinion on violence and share how we have been affected by violence. We can also offer suggestions to put an end to this. Yes, the path will be slow and long but at least it's a start. It forces us to face reality and think about pressing issues that require our immediate attention. It seeks to engage the youth to take an active part in the issues of violence affecting their lives. The boy I spoke to, who was wearing the shirt, told me about how his parents thought the whole project was not going to be effective and how they believed 'American agents' who were propagating a negative image of Pakistan through the awareness campaign. I feel that one of the things this that the campaign achieves to change is that -- to make us realize that the question of whose war it is and who is to blame is futile. The bitter fact is that it directly impacts us, the issue of who started it and why seems to be irrelevant at the stage we are at, if we keep hanging on to that to defend our attitude then we have much to learn.

Everyday hundreds of people die in violence-related incidents -- bomb blasts, target killings and suicide attacks. Their families are helpless to their loss. The morale of people in Pakistan seems to be at an all-time low and this perhaps could be attributed to the lack of desire to look beyond our own lives and examine and resolve issues that affect us as a whole nation. People do not know how to react to what is going on around then, the venom of violence has taken over our lives.


Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah on 23rd March, 1943 in Delhi addressed the youth:

'I particularly appeal to our intelligentsia and students to come forward and rise to the occasion. You have performed wonders in the past [...] You are not lacking in the great qualities and virtues in comparison with the other nations. Only you have to be fully conscious of that fact and to act with courage, faith and unity'

It is perhaps time for Pakistan's youth to speak up against the wave of violence that is now a daily occurrence and to secure their future.





Voices Of Pakistan: Drifting In And Out Of Education

Sobia Ali   |   July 21, 2011    1:22 PM ET

"What we are trying to do may be just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." - Greg Mortenson

Last May, I proposed the idea of "Voices Of Pakistan" to Paul Berry, the CTO of The Huffington Post Media Group, who greeted the idea with fantastic enthusiasm and encouragement. He had also suggested that I read a book entitled Three Cups Of Tea by Greg Mortenson as an inspirational primer.

Following my completion of reading the book, I became frustrated from hearing defaming allegations against Greg Mortenson and his work. I found it unfortunate that people would so vehemently attempt to derail such a brilliant project as his, while ignoring all of the noble progress which has been documented and made by his efforts. As Nicholas Kristof states, "If all the allegations turn out to be true, Greg has still built more schools and transformed more children's lives than you or I ever will."

Additionally, I found myself contemplating and deliberating about the educational system of Pakistan. I found myself exploring questions such as: How responsible is the lack of education and/or the overwhelming presence of propaganda-based education for the rise of extremism, and would things be different if a larger percentage of Pakistani children were taught valuable skills in critical thinking?

I communicate regularly over e-mail with my father, who shares a similar passion for reading as I do. I asked him to read Three Cups Of Tea, so that we could discuss it together afterwards. His reply back to me added to the array of questions already in my head, "How to motivate Zeeshan?" Here is my father's e-mail:

"Sobia, I wanted to let you know about an interesting young man. Zeeshan is the eldest son of a person who works as a security guard. His stepmother works as a maid in multiple houses. His two younger brothers, age six and nine, also work along with their stepmother (they clean window panes, etc.) in the house where they have a single room servants' quarter with free utilities.

Though Zeeshan is by age group in the ninth grade, his education level is less than that of a fourth grader. He came to me for help a fortnight ago. I agreed on the condition that he work hard. I have started teaching him fifth grade courses. It is sometimes frustrating to see him laboring with simple figures at the age of sixteen, but since he is prepared to work hard, we are progressing well. I have promised him that he will be able to take his ninth grade board exam next April, if he doesn't give up. He comes to me in the evening and is determined not to let exploitation of his family by the rich continue. If he succeeds, his two much younger brothers are bound to follow in his footsteps. Three Cups of Tea could not have come at a more appropriate time. I can surely use the inspiration the book is very likely to infuse."

My father, who is a retired professor and has managed to raise me and my brothers to be critical thinkers, added:

"Please do some thinking for Zeeshan and let me know how I can keep him motivated through difficult months ahead."

Its not uncommon for young boys and girls, from low-income families in Pakistan, to have immense pressure to help provide for their families' immediate concerns rather than focusing on their future. Zeeshan's situation is not atypical, but him approaching my father definitely is.

There are some striking statistics to be found regarding the status of Pakistani children, as well as their education and literacy. The last child labor survey conducted by the Pakistani government was in 1996, according to which the 3.3 million children were employed as child laborers. The number in 2011 is estimated to be 21 million. The adult literacy rate in Pakistan is 54.2%, one of the lowest in the world, and according to the "Education Emergency" site, "30% of Pakistanis live in extreme educational poverty." According to reports, the Pakistani government spends less than 2.7% of its GDP on education, ranking 143rd out of 182 countries.

I suggested to my father that he should motivate Zeeshan by helping him understand how his education will improve his family's prosperity, as well as contribute towards his personal growth. When I asked about Zeeshan's progress after a month, my father responded:

"Zeeshan is hung between 'to be' or 'not to be'. He is sixteen-years-old and at the brink of succumbing to a life of ignorance. His entire family has come from a remote area to Rawalpindi to make a living by working in middle to upper class homes.

The priority of the father is to have the family and the eldest son in particular earn enough income to take back to his village where the same amount of money will be worth more. Zeeshan and his father work in different houses in the vicinity and fall back in the evening to join the family in 'bonded' labor. The entire family is fully satisfied because of achievable goal in sight. Their standard of life is much 'better' than what they had in the village, except that they are not left with any will of their own. Their hard task masters make sure that they don't put on any extra fat.

Despite heavy demands on his role as the eldest son, Zeeshan has not been able to abandon his dream of getting education. In addition to washing cars of his employer, he has to run different errands, including taking his two younger brothers to school and back. He is intelligent, hard working and endowed with plenty of sense of wonder. The thrill of learning new things is evident from his face, though he is very shy in nature. He is making progress but not enough to take his ninth grade board exam in coming April. The obligations of his family and work take a heavy toll on the meagre time available to him to improve his education.

Every now and then his father informs me that Zeeshan is unable to come due to one reason or the other. I fear the stated reasons are mostly different from the actual ones. Yesterday I was informed by his father that he has dispatched Zeeshan to attend the funeral of his uncle in a village located five hundred miles from Rawalpindi. When I asked Zeeshan's father as to why he didn't go himself; he told me that he had been denied leave of absence by his employer.

I dread that Zeeshan will not be able overcome heavy odds which his path to salvation is littered with. His motivation is fast eroding and his two younger brothers are also at great risk of getting lost."

I recently came across Sachal Afraz's thought provoking article which states:

"Most children working in Karachi earn between Rs2,000 and Rs3,000 a month, a fifth of whom children work more than 12 hours. Since food and boarding is often included in the terms of employment, this money goes directly to the consenting parents. So a poor family is earning around Rs2,000 per child. The more children they have, the more this figure is multiplied by. And then we wonder why our poor persist with countless children."

I am worried about Zeeshan. How will he contribute to a brighter future for his family and Pakistan, let alone develop critical thinking if he has not even finished primary school? Lack of critical thinking and reasoning skills leaves people believing in propaganda without gathering all the facts and susceptible to having a negative outlook on their own society and other societies. It also leads to the idea that following the popular viewpoint (good or bad) is accepted as a way to fit into society, rather than productive changes which may occur from better teaching, training, and following one's own thoughts and ideas. This issue is not unique to Pakistan and is shared in other countries of the region. However, in Pakistan its worth exploring to make connections between education's impact upon increased tendencies to deviate towards extremist viewpoints.

I implore the readers to do some thinking for Zeeshan and for other Pakistani children who are being forced to put education on a back burner. How do we break this vicious cycle? How can we motivate Zeeshan's father to let him get an education? How can the government better enforce the primary education law? Do we need more volunteers like Master Ayub who are running open air schools, or volunteers like my father who work with children one on one? Can humanitarians like Greg Mortenson save Pakistan from plunging into complete darkness by educating girls of Pakistan? Or are campaigns like "I am paid to learn" by Shehzad Roy the answer?

Most importantly, what can we, Americans, do to help Pakistani children? As Greg Mortenson cautions, "If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs."

The Case for Drones

Raza Habib Raja   |   July 13, 2011    2:28 PM ET

The latest news about war in Afghanistan, which is making headlines, is the suspension of US military aid to Pakistan. Among other things, the rationale given by the US administration is the refusal of Pakistan's military to allow further use of Shamsi Airbase for launching of drone attacks.

Drone attacks have recently attracted a lot of controversy and are vehemently opposed in Pakistan by the nationalist circles. The sentiments against drones are not restricted to "loss of sovereignty" but are also supplemented by continuous reminders about loss of innocent lives. And yes, the critics are not just restricted to ultranationalists in Pakistan but also include some western liberals who construe drone attacks as a symbol of traditional American hegemony. In fact drone attacks have actually "united" apparently very diverse voices.

Before presenting my take on the issue of the drones, I would like to fully admit that these attacks do result in the loss of innocent lives as well. To deny an obvious reality would be intellectual dishonesty and whether we support or oppose the drone attacks, we need to ensure our credibility remains intact. Yes, there is loss of life and it is tragic. But the situation is akin to a kidnapper hostage scenario where you have to take an action even at the risk of hurting some of the hostages to prevent larger loss of life and to also avoid being blackmailed by the kidnappers.

Moreover, things have to be viewed in much broader perspective in a complicated situation like war in Afghanistan. If there were no drone attacks then the alternative would have been a full-fledged ground invasion which would have actually entailed much greater loss of innocent lives. The areas where militants are hiding are not an easy terrain from military ground invasion's perspective and therefore elimination of militants through full scale ground invasion will result in much greater collateral damage. In addition such an invasion will require much greater role of the Pakistan army which in turn will create far greater political repercussions. In fact, Pakistan army has been involved in full scale ground offensive before and there was wide spread hue and cry over the army being used to kill Pakistan's "own people".

I have heard a number of times that bringing development and education in those areas would cure extremism. Assuming that there is some linkage between these variables and extremism, we would still need to weed out the already entrenched militants to give ourselves ANY realistic chance for development process to even initiate. Militants have to be eliminated and there is no question about that. You cannot get a foothold into the area without at least first weakening them enough and drones are one efficient method of doing that.

However the biggest opposition to drones is coming from those who claim that drones are a blatant violation of the sovereignty. One of the most hyped slogans on the national media in the past few years has been of National Sovereignty. And nowhere is it raised with more intensity and ferocity than when a drone attack takes place. As the evidence has kept on mounting over the years that a significant number of militants are homegrown and have now turned against the state, the old conspiracy theories which used to brand them as "strategic assets" of the West have lost much of their credibility. Now the new fad is to mourn the so called loss of sovereignty.

Is the sovereignty really violated? The answer is a tricky one because in purely theoretical terms perhaps it is. But realistically it is not violated because the areas where drones are aimed do not have the effective writ of the Pakistani state. In real terms sovereignty is not there in the first place because if it was there those areas would not have become open sanctuaries for the militants. Sovereignty is underpinned by state's monopoly over physical violence and virtual absence of state in a state syndrome. And those areas depict failure when measured against these yardsticks.

Over the years the Pakistani establishment and a series of governments have literally watched helplessly as militants use those safe sanctuaries to promote terrorism in the mainland. If anything, the actual violation of sovereignty is being carried out by the militants rather than the drones which are aimed at eliminating them! Realistically speaking drones are helping the Pakistani state to establish sovereignty. Of course due to the widespread anti-American sentiments, which are continuously whipped up by the mainstream media, it is impossible for a large number of urban middle class to understand it. Over the years, the urban population has developed a knee jerk reaction where anything connected with the US always ends up provoking hyper emotions which in turn makes it impossible to have rational deliberation.

What has also surprised me is that often the past war in Afghanistan in 1980s has been blamed for the present mushroom growth of extremism in the border area of Pakistan and since USA was one the prime stakeholders in that war therefore it also gets its share of criticism. Keeping this historical perspective in mind those who blame USA's 1980s war (particularly some of the Western liberals who are also critical of drone attacks) should actually expect it to clean up the mess. Elimination of extremists whether through drones or military action, if rightly viewed, actually is American repayment of the historical "debt" it owes.

Finally, drone attacks are aimed at killing militants in a targeted manner compared to suicide blasts which are conducted by the same militants to kill innocent people indiscriminately. More than 35,000 people in Pakistan have died due to religious terrorism and yet our media and urban middle class is more worried about drones which aim at perpetrators of those horrendous crimes. We are worried of violations of sovereignty whereas the sovereignty in real sense does not even exist.

Pakistanis and some of the western liberals need to look things in proper perspective and they will find out that by and large drone attacks have actually helped.

Voices of Pakistan: Our Future

Anushka Jatoi   |   July 6, 2011   10:24 AM ET

I am a Muslim by birth, I don't usually pray five times a day and I sometimes do doubt God when things get hard. But I do know that the central theme of all religions, including Islam, is to promote peace and tolerance. The pre-dominant theme in our Holy Book is that of forgiveness, we start every act declaring that 'God is merciful and forgiving.' How can people misinterpret something so clear? Of course, some of us retaliate and attack others, we dislike the international political interference, we will have a fit of rage when our countrymen die for reasons that are beyond our understanding, but we must always remember that the nobility of a cause is forever tainted when stained with the blood of innocent people. Suicide bombers in Pakistan now kill thousands of Muslims a year, innocent people, their only crime being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- be it hospitals, schools, mosques and even the local marketplace.

Pakistan, in English is translated to 'the land of the pure.' Ironically, the constant fear and the ease with which lives are lost, is nothing short of the norm in this Islamic republic. We Pakistanis seem to be united by common themes of poverty, inequality and violence. Intrinsically, the three aspects are the main causes of chaos in Pakistan coupled with poor leadership. Very few would disagree with the statement that Pakistan is a country fraught with multiple governance and survival challenges of a socio-economic and political nature. Violence and conflict lie at the heart of this challenge. According to a recent report by a not-for-profit organization, Individualland, over 7,000 civilians have been killed in violence in the country in the year 2010 alone.

Apart from this being a very heavy cost in financial terms, the social tension and international isolation it has created for Pakistan has been catastrophic. The growing interest in the relationship between violence and instability stems partly from the fact that the international community has become steadily more involved in efforts to mitigate and resolve violent conflicts through not just political but also development tools. The Kerry-Lugar funds allocated by the U.S. for aiding Pakistan are one such example that illustrate my observation.

Pakistanis are a resilient race. We never give up; we continue to be hopeful for a brighter future for our country fighting against all odds. We have gradually and rather sadly been desensitized to worrying levels of poverty and security threats to our own lives and those of our loved ones. We leave our houses unsure if we will make it back home alive for dinner. The fear is terrifying but we still have faith -- we still believe our country to be capable of many miracles.

As international allies come to our nation's aid to prevent this strategically placed country from fall into Islamic extremism and utter chaos, we are aware of the fact that human conflict is perhaps inevitable, but there must be a sense of morality. We have descended into monstrosity. We have created monsters that give up their life to hurt those who are strangers to them. Most of the suicide attackers and bombers in Pakistan are motivated to do this through manipulation of their religious beliefs. Families send their children to 'madrassah's' where children are brainwashed and trained to fight to honor their religion.

In a country of poor governance, where hate, suicide attacks, proxy wars and growing poverty feed the hungry cycle of militancy -- it seems that perhaps the government needs to invest more in the developmental sector to save the nation. The link between poor governance and militancy is very direct -- poor governance leads to poverty, anger, desperation which all feeds the militant cycle. A healthy well-fed populace with basic needs met is unlikely to be radicalized and become human fodder and suicide bombers.

What Pakistanis Think About Americans

Raza Habib Raja   |   June 20, 2011    2:04 PM ET

Martin is one of my American friends and has traveled frequently to Pakistan on official trips. Almost all of his trips have come in the recent days and thus have coincided with some of the most turbulent times in Pakistani history. I initially got to know Martin because he was a government consultant sent by the US government for providing technical assistance to my organization (Central Bank of Pakistan) and therefore I was required to assist him in understanding its various functions. Martin was very inquisitive about Pakistan and its people. Since I became close to him during his stays, he asked me a lot of questions and also expressed his views as they were being formed.

Martin was surprised at the contrast of the picture portrayed by media about Pakistan and what he actually witnessed. He candidly told me that before coming here he had believed the widespread media narrative about Pakistan being a radical country like Iran where almost everyone was either sporting a beard or wearing a Burqah. Moreover, he had assumed that since Pakistanis were known to possess strong anti-American sentiments therefore those would translate into some sort of personal hostility towards him also. However, he was really surprised as he came in contact with the Pakistanis. In Martin's own words which he wrote to me after he left Pakistan:

My views of Pakistan changed quite markedly after I had the chance to visit the country and work at State Bank on four different occasions. I had come to believe that there was some sort of personal animosity between American and Pakistanis, which certainly wasn't the case with the folks I worked with -- in fact, I was stunned by the level of trust my SBP were willing to place in me considering that I was a contractor for the US Treasury. There had always been rumors in other countries where I'd worked that advisors for USAID were working for the CIA (utterly ridiculous and risible in the case of bank supervision at least!), so I wasn't prepared for such a level of trust and confidence. I found it quite liberating to be rid of all the false images I'd learned of Pakistanis from the US media.

So in retrospect, I would have to rank Pakistan as one of the most interesting, surprising (in a pleasant way) and personally rewarding countries in which I've ever worked. Had it not been for the security situation in Karachi, I would have considered a residency assignment since this was in fact the original intent of the technical assistance. I sincerely hope that Pakistanis and Americans can see through the all rhetoric and political posturing and realize how much we have in common. That will show the way to reconciliation rather than conflict.

These words are coming from someone who was initially skeptical but whose opinions changed a lot as he started to mix with the Pakistanis from all walks of life. Martin of course is not the only person as so many people have come to Pakistan. Some have hated the place and its people and some have loved it. However, seldom those people have gone back claiming that they were the victims of widespread anti Americanism and that racial tinged personal animosity was shown to them. As they say that seeing is believing and their opinions underwent a radical transformation after personally witnessing Pakistan and its society. Reality at least in some aspects was not what the media narrative had portrayed.

Everything in this world is eventually seen or understood through a paradigm which in turn is influenced by some narrative. This is particularly true if you are formulating views about a society in which you are not living. Your perception about the society is not firsthand but heavily influenced (whether positively and negatively) through the media. In our lives we are heavily reliant on media for information and are views are often an outcome of the way media spins its stories. This holds true for any society whether it is Pakistan or United States.

In Pakistan, the media has often portrayed a negative picture of the US and consequently the people too have a negative perception. However, despite media's negative propaganda the negative feelings about US have not translated into hatred against American people and society. If anything the Pakistanis want to emulate the American lifestyle and have a ferocious craving for American movies and products. Yes it is a fact that Pakistanis -- whether rightly or wrongly -- are not appreciative of United States and its global policies but the assumption that they hate American citizens and society is a negative spin often perpetuated by the media. In fact if given a choice virtually half the country would be in United States to settle. You do not want to do that if you hate a country and yes while desire for economic prosperity is a chief motive but that alone does not explain that why would Pakistanis want to work in a society which they supposedly "hate".

The "mixed" opinion about America exists because of this dichotomy that Pakistanis like the American lifestyle while being critical of United States foreign policy. So many Pakistanis are settled in the US and have blended in. If there was one Faisal Shehzad who professed inhuman hatred, there are countless others who have integrated very well into the US society and have made significant contribution to the society.

It is important for the US people to know that Pakistanis may be having mistrust (whether right or wrong is a separate debate) of their government but they do not hate them or their lifestyles. And yes while it is true that Taliban originated from Pakistan and Osama Bin Laden was found hiding a few meters away from the Military Academy, Pakistan still remains a moderate country. Yes, we are passing through an unfortunate phase where we are reeling under extremism but while the state can be blamed for that, the people of Pakistan by and large cannot be. In fact in Pakistan, the democratically elected governments seldom have power and are often the weakest part of the state. The real state (dominated by military-intelligence establishment and often termed as the "deep" state) is seldom the reflection of the aspirations of the people. Ordinary men and women in Pakistan just want to make ends meet and while they may be having a negative impression of the US government, they do not endorse killing of American citizens or for that any actions of militants.

What has really happened in Pakistan is that religious extremists which had in the past been cultivated for "strategic" purposes have attained a critical mass and are in a position to put the government on the back foot though suicide bombings and other violent tactics. However, these militants may have attained a critical mass but by no means do they enjoy mass popularity. Pakistan still votes for middle of the road parties, is not a radicalized country like Iran and its populace does not hate the Americans.

We need to understand that political perceptions do not necessarily reflect judgment about people. There is at times no concrete linkage between perception about actions of a certain government and those who have elected it. This facts needs to be understood by all and particularly the people of United States. Pakistani people wish well for them and do not harbour any ill will.

And it is this fact, above anything else, which necessitates that US government, should try to only engage with the elected representatives of the people rather than shady characters of the establishment. In case if people of Pakistan are properly taken into confidence then the chances of success in fighting extremism are much greater.

Pakistan's Sexual Harassment Problem

Maheen Usmani   |   June 14, 2011    1:41 PM ET

Chador-clad women looked on curiously from the fringes, as excited men rent the air with incessant and cringe-worthy cat calls as I wrapped up a report in the heart of Islamabad's open air market. Judging from the ravenous looks, you would think that my arms, clad in half sleeves, were akin to succulent barbecued chicken legs. If slipping the mike under the shirt without exposing a millimeter of skin was a nightmare, my facing the camera attracted people like bees to a honey pot.

As soon as the recording began, the guy hawking watermelons on my left raised his voice a few decibels. When the cameraman started gnashing his teeth, I requested the stall owner to lower his voice, which resulted in him screeching like a banshee. Amidst the swelling cacophony, I was unable to hear myself speak while the cameraman couldn't decipher my lines despite the headphones and the microphone. Since the smirking municipal authorities seemed unable to control the gawking and gesturing men creeping closer, we turned tail and fled, the wolf whistles and ribald comments dogging our heels. Inside the safety of the car, I detached my mike with trembling hands and exhaled.

"In Pakistan [harassment] is like a white elephant in the room that no one sees," says journalist Shazia Nawaz. The problem is so deep-rooted that sexually harassing women is considered a form of recreation rather than a crime, with the focus squarely on the victim's conduct and appearance rather than on the aggressor. When a woman complains about harassment, people tend to turn a blind eye.

According to lawyer Zia Awan, even educated women in Pakistan do not understand what harassment is: "Sexual harassment does not just mean an act of physical offense. It starts from any gesture, stares or remarks that make women feel insecure and uncomfortable -- while rape, molestation... remain the most severe forms of sexual harassment."

Domestic worker Shamim affirms that "men try to touch you and grope you whenever they find you alone on the streets of Pakistan." The majority of women, who commute using public transport wagons and buses, complain of different forms of harassment including verbal, physical and sexual harassment. A survey of 75 women commuters revealed that inappropriate touching and sexual comments is commonplace.

Shazia says, "[Eve teasing] takes away a very basic human right away from women. Everyone should have the right to freedom of movement."

"Eve teasing" is a subcontinental euphemism used for public sexual harassment of women by men, with Eve being a reference to the biblical Eve. As Wikipedia put it: "it is referred to with a coy suggestion of innocent fun, making it appear innocuous, with no resulting liability on the part of the perpetrator. Many feminists say that considering the semantic roots of the term in Indian English, eve-teasing refers to the temptress nature of Eve, placing responsibility on the woman as a tease, as though the aggressive response of the males was normal rather than criminal." Victims who speak out against harassment are often labeled as troublemakers who are looking for attention. Thus, the victim often becomes the accused with their appearance, private life, and character likely to fall under intrusive scrutiny.

Educational institutions are rife with tales of sexual harassment which range from standing too close to sharing vulgar jokes and sexual invitations. University student Amna recalls one of her teachers "patting our backs, touching our hands and staring at us suggestively." Recently, a teacher was suspended on charges of sexually harassing students at the University of Peshawar. While the provincial government has formed a committee to investigate these allegations, they do not have any evidence against the accused as nobody is ready to testify against them "They are among the power-brokers on campus and no one wants to have problems with them," says a teacher.

Workplace harassment is also common, with tales of bosses and colleagues preying on women employees. A police superintendent was transferred after some lady constables alleged that he had sexually abused them. Despite the presence of the law against sexual harassment, no legal action has been taken against the official. In 2010, Pakistan became the first South Asian country to declare sexual harassment a crime. The Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill aims at creating a working environment for women free from harassment and abuse. Punishment for the violators of a code of conduct ranges from censure to dismissal to an unspecified fine. Although legal and institutional mechanisms are present, implementing the laws has remained a challenge

According to a Dawn profile of social activist Dr. Fouzia Saeed, "it is the power hierarchies that resist change. So unless these power structures are broken and replaced with good and effective structures the mindset will not change, just creating awareness is not enough besides accountability is vital here." This is quite evident in the Mukhtaran Mai case where a crime was committed against a woman and yet the majority of the culprits went free because of the strong power structures providing them safety. According to the Dawn profile: "It was a test case and a major setback. It spoke volumes about our faulty criminal justice system, starting from the police reporting to documentation of evidence, the long delays and mindset of the lawyers and judges. The whole system needs overhauling."

The introduction of the law, which is also included in the Pakistan Penal Code, makes it important for all stakeholders to understand it in order to make it work. Rampant chauvinism and social pressures are major hindrances which often prevent victims from reporting cases of harassment. All sections of society must be sensitized about the issue and the relevant law in order for it to be effectively implemented. Beenish adds, "The most important point is that when a woman complains about sexual harassment do not blame her dress or attitude. The woman does have the right to present herself in any way that she feels fit, but no one has the right to touch her or make her feel physically threatened in any way."

The issue of sexual harassment has impacts on the decisions of many women in Pakistan not to leave the comfort of their homes and work. They are thus unable to contribute towards the economy or to involve themselves in social or political activism. At a time when Pakistan is tottering on the edge of the precipice, our womenfolk deserve the protection and security of the state so they are able to be truly useful members of society.

Voices of Pakistan: The Faces Tell the Story

Sobia Ali   |   June 8, 2011    6:56 PM ET

To further promote understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan, it's crucial for the people of both countries to understand each others' societies better. In my first article for Voices of Pakistan, I represented the different viewpoints of Pakistanis. However, there are a lot of voices still to be heard, and sometimes a photo of a face tells a much deeper story than a quote can.

Seeing people as being people is sometimes the easiest way to find commonalities between cultures. By no means is this a representation of the whole country, but sides of the daily life in Pakistan that are not shown regularly. As you will see from the photos, there is rich cultural and regional diversity, as well as socioeconomic differences. I believe the authenticity portrayed in these photos generally escapes the mass media discussions about the country. I feel the captions are not essential to understanding the story behind each photo. I even debated whether they were needed at all. However, I put brief descriptions for informational purposes.

I would like to thank the photographers for their generous contributions and support for this project. Follow the link under each photographer's name for more photos and information.

Damon Lynch is a PhD student in socio-cultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota, researching the temporality of religious symbols and narratives in post-civil war Tajikistan. His website is here.

Khalil Shah is an art professional with substantial experience in conventional and contemporary forms of art including web and graphic designing. He started photography in 2005 at a digital photography workshop at the prestigious National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan. Since then he has traveled widely in pursuance of this passion. His photos can be found here.

Fayyaz Ahmed, who was educated a computer engineer has been working as a professional photographer for the last 5 years. He started his photography career with a photo-documentary piece on the plight of Eunuchs in Pakistan. Since then he has been working in the genres of both documentary and fashion photography. He has been nominated for Lux Style Awards 3 times in a row. His photography can be found here.

Galibert Olivier is a french trekker and a photographer who has travelled extensively in the Northern Pakistan. He has also created a travel website to help other travelers in Pakistan: More of his photos can be found on his Flickr page.

Jahangir Khan is a senior photojournalist who has worked for various Pakistani and foreign news organizations. He is currently working as a photographer at Associated Press of Pakistan Corporation. His photography can be found here.

Mayank Austen Soofi is a writer and a photographer based in Delhi. His works can be found here and here.

Irfan Mirza is a photographer based in Sialkot, Pakistan. His photos can be found here.

Understanding Pakistani Mistrust of the United States

Raza Habib Raja   |   June 1, 2011   12:04 PM ET

Over the years, U.S. bashing has become a national pastime in Pakistan. This trend is dominant almost everywhere, ranging from drawing room discussions to media talk shows, and in recent months has assumed alarming proportions due to host of events such as Afia Siddique verdict, Raymond Davis's capture and subsequent release, incessant drone attacks and above all, the recent killing of Osama bin Laden.

Although it would be an exaggeration to say that everyone in Pakistan mistrusts and hates the U.S., a substantial majority does. Several surveys have revealed that majority of Pakistanis consider USA as an enemy rather than a friend. In fact Al-Jazeera-Gallup Pakistan Survey 2009 revealed that 59% identified the U.S. as the greatest threat to Pakistan. Even India, the arch rival was considered as the greatest threat by only 18% of the respondents. And Taliban, despite blowing off thousands of people, were considered as the biggest threat by only 11%.

Likewise, drone attacks, which are designed to efficiently kill militants while minimizing the collateral damage, evoke far more condemnation from the public than brutal and indiscriminate suicide attacks carried out by the Taliban. It is baffling that majority of Pakistanis feel aggrieved over drone attacks because they consider it a violation of sovereignty despite the fact that the tribal areas targeted by the drones are largely lawless with no effective writ of the state. In essence, so called violation of the sovereignty becomes a meaningless accusation because the writ of the state as well as its monopoly over physical violence, which underpin the entire concept of sovereignty, are simply absent from the tribal areas.

What makes this mistrust and hatred somewhat of an anomaly is the fact that throughout its history Pakistan has received humungous amount of USA economic aid as well as assistance of various types. In fact, Pakistan has registered its highest growth rates during times when it was also the recipient of uninterrupted US aid. It is incomprehensible how Pakistanis keep censuring the US for all of their problems, yet continuing to receive economic and military assistance which is vital for their survival.

Why do Pakistanis hate a country that has helped Pakistan so much? Explanations abound, including an oft-repeated one that Pakistanis, and for that matter a substantial chunk of the Muslim world, are envious of the lifestyle of and economic progress made by the U.S. But this begs another question: why the U.S. is being especially singled out when economic prosperity and liberal lifestyles are prevalent in many other countries.

In my opinion Pakistanis' irrational hatred of the U.S. emanates from complex interplay between the way the state has cultivated the Pakistani brand of civic nationalism, exaggerated self importance, which a majority of Pakistanis feel, and the U.S. role in the international events particularly those involving the Muslim world. And overarching these reasons is the deep mistrust of the U.S., which makes it impossible for the Pakistanis to believe that U.S. may actually be carrying any noble intentions for Pakistan.

Since independence, the state in Pakistan has tried to cultivate civic nationalism through fusion of Islam and "Honour" centered patriotism. The central purpose of infusion of religion with state has been to use it as a unifying force. Let's not forget that Pakistan is a home to various ethnicities that have a strong penchant for greater autonomy. To prevent the emergence of any ethnic based secession movement, the state has tried to unite diverse ethnicities through the promotion of the common factor of religion. While this approach has failed to check ethnic strife, it has nevertheless nurtured a mindset that is very conscious of its Islamic identity and consequently feels aggrieved when anything happens to the Muslims around the world. Even purely regional disputes of Muslims with non-Muslims have a potential of creating a strong reaction in Pakistan. In the case of the U.S., its support to Israel has created a very strong resentment in Pakistan and even huge U.S. assistance to the country has not been able to ameliorate the situation. Pakistan, like most of the Arab world, yet despite being a non-Arab country, is held hostage by the Palestine issue. Whereas Arab resentment can still be somewhat understood due to its regional context, Pakistan's ferocity apparently defies logic. Due to this particular way of perceiving things, Israeli attacks in Gaza give rise to far more anger against the U.S. than against Taliban atrocities committed within Pakistan.

Another issue is that as a nation, Pakistanis needs some citable evidence of their country's importance in the international arena. Unfortunately, since economic success has largely eluded Pakistan, things like "strategic location" and nuclear arsenal become the "symbols" of national pride and importance. Due to this exaggerated feeling of self importance as well as interpretation of the U.S. as an-anti Muslim country, a majority of Pakistanis actually believe that the U.S. is fearful of the nuclear arsenal and is waiting for an excuse to purge it. In fact everything, from war in Afghanistan to suicide blasts on the Pakistani soil, is interpreted as U.S. conspiracy to create "conducive" environment for purging nuclear arsenal. Conspiracy theorists argue that the U.S. has "bought" Taliban and is using them to destabilize Pakistan with the eventual aim of taking hold of the nuclear arsenal. Unfortunately, the U.S. invasion of Iraq on flimsy grounds has merely exacerbated the situation, providing the conspiracy theorists irrefutable "evidence" of US hegemony. They argue that if the U.S. can invade a country that did not possess weapons of mass destruction then to assume that it would leave a nuclear armed Muslim country alone is sheer naivety. This belief is so pervasive that immediately after the recent attack on the navy compound in Karachi, some of the media persons were openly alleging that USA was behind the attack and the sole purpose was to create doubts about the capability of the armed forces to defend the nuclear assets in case of a terrorist attack. Nuclear Arsenal, more than anything else, is the main driver of the conspiracy theory industry in Pakistan. And this conspiracy theory mindset is deeply suspicious of everything the U.S. does. The Pakistani media has been responsible for aggravating the situation more than anyone else. Its hard earned independence has unfortunately come at the time where it has actually become jingoistic. Consequently rather than playing any meaningful progressive role, it is merely reinforcing rabid anti Americanism in order to commercially capitalize on the existing hatred. Opinions are not changed or even challenged, just reinforced and strengthened.

To some extent the suspicion ridden environment has also worsened due to the negative perception about the dealing tactics of USA with Pakistan. The impression of the majority of the Pakistanis is that U.S. does not consider it more than a client state. Instead of engaging with the people of Pakistan, US strikes deals with shady characters in the establishment and political top tier. Most of the Pakistanis feel that the case for war on terror has never been convincingly presented to them. The irony is that the elements which are striking deals with the U.S. are also highly critical of it, when it comes to public posturing. This kind of double behavior merely aggravates the negative impression of the U.S. in the eyes of masses. Apart from behind the door deals, another perception is that U.S. often bullies Pakistan and cares little for what the people of Pakistan feel. The recent issue of Raymond Davis merely worsened USA's repute in the eyes of ordinary Pakistanis who construed the release of Raymond as an affront and open coercion by the superpower.

Despite the mistrust, the fact is that both countries need each other as they are fighting a common enemy. The U.S. cannot and should not leave Pakistan completely in isolation even after withdrawal from Afghanistan as to do so would be a repeat of the grave mistake it made in late 1980s when after the defeat of Soviet Union it simply packed up from the region. However, the prevailing deep mistrust has to be removed and both the parties need to take concrete steps. Pakistani media has to exercise maturity and try to cultivate rational self interest instead of indulging in rightwing hollow sloganeering about so called national honor and violation of sovereignty. Media needs to understand that freedom of expression comes with a responsibility that it would not be used for cheap sensationalizing and petty commercial interests. Pakistanis need to be convinced that due to their irrational and delusional mindset, they are getting completely isolated in the world while at the same time strengthening forces of extremism. They need to understand that USA and Pakistan are facing a common enemy and Media can potentially play a constructive role by at least allowing space to liberal opinion. At present the media is overwhelmingly dominated by the right wingers.

The U.S. has to engage with the people of Pakistan and dispel this impression that it is just a bullying coalition partner. It has to highlight its contributions to the country of Pakistan and those are many. Above all, it needs to strengthen democracy in Pakistan and should completely discard the previous policy of dealing with the unelected institutions.

Tell Us Your Questions About Pakistan

Jake Bialer   |   May 26, 2011    1:11 PM ET

In our Voices of Pakistan series, the Huffington Post is writing a series of articles exploring the views of the Pakistani people. Sobia Ali, a Huff Post tech team member who is from Abbottabad, Pakistan, started the series with an article examining the mixed opinions that Pakistanis have about America. Previously, we conducted a live Q&A with Pakistani Sohaib Athar, who live tweeted the U.S. raid of Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad.

As we continue to dive into the views of the Pakistani people, we would like to know what you want to know about Pakistan. What would you ask a Pakistani? What are you curious about? What do you think is not being covered about Pakistan? Tell us your questions in the form below and we will do our best job to provide the answers.

Voices of Pakistan: Why do Pakistanis Have Such Mixed Opinions About America?

Sobia Ali   |   May 24, 2011    5:14 PM ET

I belong to the minority of people who actually know the correct pronunciation of "Abbottabad," unlike President Obama, or Jon Stewart because I grew up there. While I have always taken interest in socio-political issues in Pakistan, this time it was a little surreal.

Walk into an average household in Pakistan in the late afternoon and its not unusual to find middle aged men gathered over tea and biscuits discussing politics with a healthy dose of lambasting America. Its also not uncommon to find them charmed by the likes of Angelina Jolie or the prospects of sending their children for higher education to America.

Why do Pakistanis have such mixed opinions about America? On the one hand, they love American pop culture, jeans, and Hollywood. On the other, the percentage of people that view the United States as favorable is lower in Pakistan than in Egypt, Lebanon, or in the Palestinian territories.

So it's no wonder that the Western world struggles to understand Pakistanis. I sometimes wonder if we Pakistanis even understand ourselves. In this section, we will use the powerful combination of citizen journalism and social media to explore these questions, and others.

As a member of the HuffPost Tech Team, I approached the editorial side after the event in Abbottabad. I felt there was a strong need to explore the diversity of viewpoints among Pakistanis to make sense of the complex and vulnerable relationship between Americans and Pakistanis. I felt that an honest and open social dialogue was crucial.

We have been gathering opinions from Pakistanis on a range of issues via Skype, email, and personal interviews on the streets. This series, Voices of Pakistan, will pull together their responses to our questions, as well as commentaries from a diverse group of writers and bloggers.

The first thing to know about Pakistanis is that they are not a monolithic group, and questions like, "What do Pakistanis think?" will never have a single right answer.


These photos were generously contributed by Fayyaz for "Voices of Pakistan". Fayyaz is a professional photographer based in Pakistan who started as Computer Engineer and worked as a corporate manager before pursuing his passion full time.

Like any country with hundreds of millions of people, Pakistan is heterogeneous, varied, and complex, comprising multiple ethnicities, languages, and cultures. While the Islamic religion unites the majority of Pakistanis, it also divides them at the sectarian level, often violently.

There are too many people suffering in Pakistan because of extremism, illiteracy, and poverty. I worry about the country I grew up in. I would like to see a shift in the focus of the media from the stereotypes to the more positive aspects of Pakistanis that can be tapped and utilized as a tool to drive social change. We have developed this forum as a place where Pakistanis can be heard speaking for themselves. Resolution will come, but not without a diagnosis.

Below are some of the preliminary responses we have gathered to our questions:

The first question we asked Pakistanis was "What would you like America and the rest of the world to know about Pakistan that you feel they don't right now?"

Azhar Ali, 65, retired professor believes that the US should have attempted to understand the dynamics of the Pakistani nation and its people instead of focusing on the Pakistan military.

"Ignoring the aspirations of throbbing nation of 180 million people for so long has wounded the Pakistani nation psyche irreparably and the military is no more all powerful due to self inflicted serious wounds."

Arsalan believes that its the paradoxical nature of the nation that makes it hard to understand.

"Not all of us want to kill you or rob you but a few of us might. We're a land of paradoxes in so many ways that its almost farcical, a land of rebels and conformists, philanthropists and con artists, murderers and poets."

Many others who responded were concerned by Western media's portrayal of Pakistan.

"I think Americans think that we are all stereotypes," said Syed Harris Hassan, 22, a university student in Islamabad. "They think that all the people in Pakistan are extremists, intolerant, unaccepting and support terrorism."

Hassan, like others, said that the majority of Pakistanis aren't extremists and "we hate terrorists just like everyone else does."

And some wanted the world to know that Pakistan has bigger problems than terrorists

"The people of Pakistan suffer hugely from illiteracy corruption violence and poverty.
Most people do back breaking work all day just to put food on the table for their
" said Rabia Sultan, a 30-year-old cardiologist from Karachi who currently lives in New York.

We also heard responses like "Americans have done enough" and "Stay out of our country."

Below are some responses from Pakistanis including Sohaib Athar (aka @ReallyVirtual) who was very kind to let us use his cafe to conduct interviews.

"What Americans don't understand about Pakistan is getting their way always through powerful Pakistan military is not the best approach. Whenever they were in a spot the military helped them in working out a quick fix while the nation looked on disinterestedly. Ignoring the aspirations of throbbing nation of 180 million people for so long has wounded the Pakistani nation psyche irreparably and the military is no more all powerful due to self inflicted serious wounds. The strategy would have worked well for the Americans, had it been an insignificant state geopolitical in the deep of Africa. But underrating a vibrant nation of sixty percent youth had been a capital sin. Now the Americans are running between the threatening pillar of Pakistani nation and threatened Pakistan Military post to get their nuts out of the fire. Result is not difficult to imagine."
~ Azhar Ali, 65, lives in Islamabad and is a retired professor.

"Not all of us want to kill you or rob you but a few of us might. We're a land of paradoxes in so many ways that its almost farcical, a land of rebels and conformists, philanthropists and con artists, murderers and poets. Pakistan is the best and worst of humanity existing side by side ripping apart everything in the middle Most of us live in remote and disconnected villages and wouldn't know Osama Bin Laden from Justin Bieber and are too hungry to care.

Time is not money in Pakistan its time. We have plenty of time but no money. We all live in a state of permanent confusion, anarchy and fear, terrible things happen around us every day. Yet strangely enough we seem to bundle along and miraculously and almost stubbornly manage to retain some hope."

~ Arsalan Khan, 24, lives in Karachi and is a University Student.

"I think Americans think that we are all stereotypes. They think that all the people in Pakistan are extremists, intolerant, unaccepting and support terrorism. I want to let them know that the general people in Pakistan live their lives as do people in United States. We love peace, we like freedom, we are terrified when there is a suicide blast, and we hate terrorists just like everyone else does. There is a particular group which believes in extremism and is intolerant towards other religions and cultures, but they are not in the majority."
~ Syed Harris Hassan, 22, lives in Islamabad and is a University Student.

"The people of Pakistan suffer hugely from illiteracy corruption violence and poverty. Most people do back breaking work all day just to put food on the table for their families. They often live incredibly sad lives with great dignity. In spite of this religious fanaticism and mass violence in Pakistan did not find roots till the soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

I'd also like to remind people that a country that can barely feed its own people is the 5th largest army in the whole world . This is because for most of its existence Pakistan has been America's military ally run by military dictators. If there hadn't been this huge military collaboration then perhaps Pakistan would probably have a smaller military and better education and human rights today."

~ Rabia Sultan, 30, was born in Karachi currently living in New York City, where she is a cardiologist in Brooklyn.

"Pakistanis have never voted for religious parties' en masse at the most their vote bank is 4-6%, BUT 4-6% of 180 million are still a lot of people and when fraction of that segment turn up in streets to burn American flag, although it makes for good t.v, but it doesn't really make the whole country nuts.

It's a misnomer that Pakistan is an extremist country. It's a country which has had the rule of one institution and one intuition only for the past 52 years. It has had facade of democratic governments but at NO POINT civilians made defense policy OR foreign policy or even economic policy. Whenever civilians have tried to take the reins, they have either been hanged, forced to exile or shot dead in broad-daylight.

Americans should also know that Pakistan doesn't need to be an inherent beggar. It has enough agricultural growth, industrial infrastructure, natural resources and the human-material to stand on its own feet. Our tax to GDP ratio is at a meager 7%. Like the rest of the civilized world if its around 17-19%, it wont solve all our problems, but it will be a start. We currently don't tax our biggest industry which is agriculture, if we start taxing just big farmers who are literally millionaires in American sense, PLUS we start taxing real estate (anything bigger than 1500 sq. yards), And bring the stock exchange earnings under tax bracket, we wont need IMF anymore. There is a corruption of at least a billion dollars every month at the top/governmental level. A big problem is economy and inflation which fans extremism. When people don't have a job, no light at the end of the tunnel, brothers/sisters/parents blowing up in pieces either through a drone or by military gunship helicopter OR by a suicide bomber, world is a living hell, THEN paradise and 72 virgins sounds mighty fine. The rush is not to arrive in paradise; the rush is to check out from the hell that we have collectively created for them.

But here is the silver lining. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, majority of
Pakistanis (read punjabis) have come to this conclusion that there is no way forward for
Pakistan but civilian supremacy/democracy.

~ Ahmer, 36, grew up in Karachi is now living in Pennsylvania and works as a Tech Consultant.

Here are some of the highlights from our video interviews:

Deceptive Desperation

Imran Khan   |   May 20, 2011    8:31 AM ET

Hawks are an integral part of any political jungle, and Pakistan is no exception. But in relative terms the Pakistani variety does appear a "bit" more hawkish than the rest, "hawks on steroids" if you may. This lot usually hates compromises, for instance; grass seems to be their green of choice when denouncing aid from the infidels, and as a defense against an enemy onslaught they have even contemplated the possibility of detonating Pakistani nukes on Pakistani soil i.e. a national level suicide bombing of sorts.

But then amazingly, this same lot of missile-wielding and radiation burping warriors turns instantly dovish, at anything remotely Taliban-ish. Despite the Taliban's ownership of hundreds of bombings, be-headings and abductions within Pakistan, all they get from our overly sensitive hawks are mere murmurs of protests and those too are hugely qualified.

So what gives exactly? Why is it that the people who justify the killing of Governor Taseer by quoting his blasphemous insensitivity are somewhat indifferent to those who bomb mosques and shrines? Why is it that those who go livid over the killing of a Muslim anywhere in the world, are shrugging shoulders in the face of this continuing massacre of thousands of Pakistani Muslims?

The main reason for this uncharacteristic silence seems to be an understanding; an understanding that the Taliban are desperate and thus irrational. Fighting these irrational beings will make them even more irrational, the solution thus is not to fight them but to understand the root cause of their desperation; which is the US occupation of Afghanistan and US attacks within Pakistan. The Americans apparently have challenged a people who have defeated the British Empire as well as Communist Russia, these brave and noble souls live by their code of revenge and will do anything to get back at their enemy. In their desperation then the Taliban are fighting with every mean possible, and the suicide bomber is the ultimate embodiment of the desperation felt by the Taliban. Until the root causes to this desperation are addressed, all of this killing and mayhem will "understandably" continue.

So exactly how desperate are the Taliban?

In 2007 a pair of economists from Harvard University published an interesting paper titled Human Capital and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers. Defining productivity as the ability to cause damage, the authors (Benmelech & Berrebi) considered traits among bombers that distinguished the more successful ones. Among other things, their analysis revealed "age" of the bomber to be a crucial factor in determining success; statistically speaking, a suicide jacket, if worn by an adult bomber is likely to do more damage than if it is worn by a child.

During the recent suicide attack on the Sakhi Sarwar Shrine, one of the bombers encountered a "wardrobe malfunction", resultantly Umar Fidai, an embodiment of Taliban's defiance and desperation was caught alive, and interviewed. One thing that comes across as obvious from the interview is that Umar is neither defiant nor desperate, in fact he is apologetic. When asked about his motivation to carry out this act, he literally specified "mazay" (fun times) in heaven to be the main reason. If this sounds childish, then it should, because Umar is only 14 years old; an age at which it is too early for one to have a true grasp of the Islamic compulsion of Jihad, or for that matter the revenge compulsions of Pakhtunwali. Furthermore, Umar Fidai is not an exception, the eulogizing post-bombing videos, as well as testimonies of eye witnesses, invariably report suicide bombers to be mere teenagers.

In the Taliban's arsenal, the suicide bomber is undoubtedly the deadliest. But, the creation of a bomber is not just about a volunteer, the rigging of belts and vehicles and their safe transportation towards their targets is a logistical exercise that is full of all sorts of risks. So, when a volunteer straps on a belt in a city such as Islamabad, then that belt is not just nuts and bolts, it includes the cost of clearing all sorts of security hurdles. For this considerable investment, why would the Taliban not want maximum damage and select grownups? I mean forget about that analysis from Harvard, it only confirms what we all know from experience, i.e. you do not send a boy to do a man's job. So the question is where are all those angry and frustrated men for whom our hawks are so very eager to compromise on Pakistan's security interests and stage dharnas (sit ins)? Why aren't those men strapping on these belts, instead of these boys?

The answer to that lies in the testimonies of captured suicide bombers such as Umar Fidai. The recruitment of these children is full of ploys that befit child molesters; they are coaxed with heavenly candies and beaten black and blue if they dare to question. While gun totting Taliban men are very eager to swoop in on unarmed villagers and behead prisoners, they seem reluctant to carry out suicide bombings.

The reluctance of bearded Taliban to carry out these attacks goes contrary to the "desperation" argument presented by Pakistan's religious right. By quoting any action against the Taliban as a source of raising this so called desperation, these "pacifists" are arguing against the only real response to the Taliban's onslaught. Furthermore, the apparent "futility" of a military response should be seen in the context of Osama's presence at the outskirts of Kakul, it is very possible that the military option wasn't exercised properly in the first place; be it incompetence or collusion.

A Message to My Fellow Pakistanis in the Post-Osama World

Ali A. Rizvi   |   May 19, 2011   11:43 AM ET

"Only 3000 Americans died in that 9/11 drama. But they have killed many more in response."

Fair enough. The young, educated English-speaking Pakistani man who sent me these words may have thought 9/11 was a "drama," but at least he got his numbers right -- even if he missed the bigger point.

He was speaking out in response to popular Pakistani journalist and TV anchor Kamran Khan's recent fiery monologue stressing that we Pakistanis must accept the fact that our country now holds the status of the largest and most notorious terrorism haven in the world.

"Unless we recognize the disease, how are we going to cure it?" asked Khan, clearly frustrated.

"For the Pakistani people to be saved from this life-threatening illness, it is imperative that instead of feeding them the American/Indian/Israeli conspiracy lollipop, they should be told that in just the last three years, 3900 Pakistanis have been killed in 225 suicide attacks."

Reviewing some of the major Islamist terrorist attacks in the last 25 years, Khan went on to show how all of them revealed some kind of connection to Pakistan, whether at the planning stage, training stage, execution stage or as the place where the perpetrators were eventually caught or killed.

And on the attacks carried out within Pakistan, he emphatically noted that neither mosques, nor marketplaces, nor schools were spared.

That not a single Indian, American or Israeli was killed.

That every one of the victims was a Pakistani, the vast majority Muslim.

So, by pointing out that "only 3000" Americans died on 9/11, the young man angered by Khan's broadcast was playing the body count game that many Pakistanis often do at introspection-demanding times like these. While it isn't wholly insignificant to cite, say, the number of civilians that have died as a result of the legitimately irresponsible Iraq war, the intent behind citing these body count figures serves to deflect the blame elsewhere -- and it often works.

This time, however, things are a little different.

After decades of getting away with blaming "foreign hands" for virtually every minor inconvenience, Pakistan has reached a point -- following the wretched failure of our government, intelligence agency and military leaders in the wake of the bin Laden operation -- where for once, the rest of the world's fingers are also pointed squarely at us.

The situation is reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's tragic, pre-suicidal poetry from Territorial Pissings:

"Just because you're paranoid
Don't mean we're not after you."

And this is where my young friend missed the point.

Focusing all of our attention on the drone attacks, Raymond Davis and India -- while denying that the majority of Pakistani deaths have been the result of our very own, home-bred jihadis -- is not going to reduce the death count.

Continuing to burn more American flags, blow up more KFC restaurants (with Pakistanis inside!) and destroying more Pakistani property every time we're angry about a "foreign incursion" -- is not going to reduce the death count.

Elevating the assassin of the elected governor of the country's largest province to the status of a hero and cheering on the acquittal of Mukhtar Mai's rapists, while labeling a convicted terrorist the "daughter of the nation" -- is not going to reduce the death count.

And turning back to Allah yet again, considering all the affection He has shown us recently -- devastating floods, multiple earthquakes, terrorism, bombings, political violence, assassinations, floggings, victimization of minorities, a dismal economy and the unprecedented corruption that has earned us a spot among the top 10 failed states in the world -- is not going to reduce the death count.

Here's the thing: it's understandable if you suffer a few blows here and there, learn from your mistakes, fix them and move on. But when you've been a perpetual, whining victim for over thirty years, continuously deteriorating, it is more likely representative of an utter lack of introspection -- a collective malaise -- and you probably need to start sharing some of the blame.

So, for once, let's please forget about who is an "agent" of who. Let's not allow every conversation after an incident to devolve into random whodunit speculation. Let's stop trying to focus on who killed how many people and why.

That's not in our control. Let's work with what's in our control.

Fewer people die in America because the U.S. government looks out for its people and protects them around the world. They send former presidents like Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter to rescue captured Americans from places like North Korea. Israel often releases prisoners -- including convicted murderers -- in exchange for the dead bodies of its soldiers. That is how you respect the citizens of your country.

It is not America's job to ensure the safety of Pakistani lives -- they're just looking out for their interests like anyone else. It is the job of Pakistanis to do that.

Let's direct the jihad where it needs to be directed: against the bearded mullahs that have done more damage to the Pakistani and Muslim identity than any American or Jewish "conspiracy" could ever hope to.

Let's acknowledge that the reason that democracy has never properly taken off in Pakistan is because it has always been tainted with military influence and theocracy, against the wishes of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who supported a secular, democratic state. Let's move to separate religion from government.

And finally, let's not reflexively call everyone who does make an effort to be introspective and criticize the country an "agent" of India, the CIA or Mossad. Khan's point is well-taken: if a loved one had a terminal illness and was deteriorating, or had a bad drug addiction and was in denial, wouldn't you stage an intervention to help them? How do you treat a disease without a diagnosis?

Please -- let's stop with the conspiracy theories. I understand it's a difficult addiction to kick (considering Pakistan's president himself thinks that the U.S. was behind the Taliban attacks), but we have a clear choice:

We can do something like what Japan did after Hiroshima and Nagasaki [grow to become a leading global industrial power], what the Jews did after the Holocaust [pull themselves back up and go on to earn 36% of all American Nobel Prizes while making up less than 3% of the population] or what the Africans did after centuries of slavery and oppression [having one of their descendants go on to be elected to the White House].

Or -- we can continue to burn more flags and effigies, revere shoe-throwers and the assassins of our governors as our heroes, lay our lives down to protect ridiculous issues like the blasphemy law and keep shouting "Amreeka Murdabad!" (Death to America) slogans -- and see which country goes "murda" first.

It really is now or never. Kamran Khan has a very good point.

Jake Bialer   |   May 4, 2011    9:46 AM ET

In the last few days, Sohaib Athar (@reallyvirtual) has gone from an IT consultant living in Pakistan to the "the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it."

At 1 a.m. on Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan, he heard the noise of a helicopter and tweeted, "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)". He continued tweeting about a large explosion and what he then thought was a crashed Pakistani Army Helicopter.

Only later would he find out that he was live-tweeting the U.S. military raid that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Since his experience, he has received endless interview requests and questions leading him to tweet, "Bin Laden is dead. I didn't kill him. Please let me sleep now."

Today, Sohaib Athar is here to answer any questions you might have about Pakistan, Abbottabad, the power of social media, and his experience during the raid. If you want to ask Sohaib a question, leave a comment or tweet your question under the hashtag #reallyvirtualChat. Ask him anything!

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