Monday, June 2, 2008

Pakistan at first sight

Two days after I landed in Karachi, Pakistan, my mother dreamt I was carrying a basket of red and yellow flowers which alarmed her to no end even as I told her not to worry because only white flowers are portents of doom. That was probably my fault because I waited until the very last minute to tell her that I had accepted an invitation of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute to spend a week in Pakistan. She was extremely worried, like everyone else, and wondered why I always choose the most dangerous places to visit. That trip to North Vietnam in 1968 and also in the month of May was brought up as evidence of my recklessness. I promised not to go anywhere near the Afghan border, but apparently, that was no consolation.

I wanted to touch base ( so to speak)n with Pakistan as we Filipinos seem to have lost track of this worthy ally. Pakistan Airlines has long suspended its flights to Manila so I took an Emirates airbus and had to change planes in Dubai. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a South Asian country with a 1,046 kilometer coastline along the Arabian Sea shares geographical borders with Iran, India, People’s Republic of China and Afghanistan with whom it has had spiny political and military relations. But that is nothing new to Pakistan because that intriguing part of the world where South and Central Asia and the Middle East converge has, since the dawn of time, witnessed invasions and settlements of Persians, Greeks, Mongols Arabs, Turks and Afghans.

As you know, Pakistan was part of British India until 1947 when Muhammad Ali Jinnah led a movement for a Muslim homeland comprised by the provinces of Sind, West Punjab, Baluchistan, East Bengal and the Northwest Frontier Province. Mr. Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam (Great Leader) is revered as the Father of the Nation and in Karachi there is an awesome mausoleum done in white marble where his remains are kept. Seven thousand people come daily to pay their respects. According to the Ministry of Information, no one can talk or write against the Founder of the Nation.

There are many similarities between Pakistan and the Philippines. Both have gone through periods of military rule and political instability as well as brief moments of economic growth and development. In 1971, a civil war in East Pakistan resulted in the independence of Bangladesh . Let us hope the similarities end there as none of us wish to see a fragmented Philippines.

When I last looked, Pakistan and the Philippines were members of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), the impossible dream, and the SEATO (Southeast Asian Treaty Organization) which turned out to be a paper tiger. Today, we are both members of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, and the Group of 77 developing nations. Pakistan is considered a nuclear power, while we have a nuclear power plant which has never been used but for which we have uselessly paid billions of dollars.

Pakistan and the Philippines are both destined (or doomed?) to play the precarious and dangerous role of frontline states, at the Arabian Sea and South China Sea, compelled to join pro-Western military alliances, then anti-communist and now anti-terrorist, that have sucked them into wasteful wars of conflict and intervention. It’s time to take another look at Pakistan.

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