Last week in Pakistan
Last week, in Pakistan, I was on a high.
I absolutely adore the place. The last time I visited, I was able to go to my grandmother’s old college in Lahore, and this time, I unearthed lost family in Karachi.
Boundaries are artificial in so many parts of the world. People who share the same culture are split apart for political reasons. I feel priveleged to be one of the few Indians who has visited Pakistan, despite the recent tension between our nations.
Many asked me on my return what it was like. The only thing that gives away the rising insecurity is the extra police checks in Islamabad. You cannot ‘see’ the things the rest of the world is talking about. The people are very polite, and gracious. They offer liberal political opinions, and feel cornered by a world that typecasts them the way they do.
It may be that as a foreigner, I am not being “allowed” to see Pakistan’s underbelly. After all, people do put their best forward in an effort to impress you, and I certainly didn’t go into any of the areas in the news these days. “Islamabad is the drawing room”, said my colleague, Mohammed. “You can’t see how terrible the rest of the house is.” But I don’t believe that it’s all double standards.
Take, for instance, the young women who stamp your passport at Lahore when you fly in. Does their presence indicate women’s emancipation, or is it an elaborate cover up – a projection to the outside world to show how wonderful things are, when they really are not?
It’s not an either-or thing at all for me. I don’t doubt for a minute that women find it difficult to be treated as equal to men in Pakistan, as they do in many other parts of the world. But, I don’t discount the effort to have them welcome you on your arrival. They aren’t just “decoration”; they are people with jobs at a par with the men stamping passports in the booths next door.
It’s the same with children’s rights. On the surface, it may seem odd that we’re working on issues such as domestic child labour, when there are kids who have to dodge bombs and avoid being recruited into the fighting forces. We aren’t being less relevant by doing that. Every time heads nod around the room in relation to a comment made on child labour, I know it won’t be long before they begin applying what they’ve learnt. Each nodding head adds up to a greater and greater potential for change!
My Thai colleague, Tul, will take over from me on reporting for Save the Children from Pakitan; as an Indian its not always easy for me to get there. But I’m hoping that last week was not literally my “last week” in Pakistan. I would like very much to be able to visit again in a few years time, and to see that it’s in the news for all the right reasons.
Photo: Sidhra, now 12, sews sequins onto garments at her home near Lahore.