It’s been a bit of a whirlwind over the past few days.
We spent two days in Washington, D.C., hearing all about the country of Pakistan. We listened as a variety of people told us their story of Pakistan – what they knew about the country from their study, work or personal experience.
The most interesting part of that experience was that each one of them told a different story, painted a different picture of the country I’d be spending the next two weeks in. What it did, was make me even more eager for the opportunity to experience Pakistan for myself.
I appreciated the varying perspectives. I realize this would happen for any handful of people describing a country (job, experience, movie or whatever). We all see things with a different lens; that’s the great part.
Zainab Imam, program manager with the International Center for Journalists, has been our guide (aka the one who answers the 8,000 questions this group of eight journalists are hurtling at her around the clock.) She was the first to talk to us about Pakistan and has provided endless insight and perspective for us so far. Imam is a Pakistani woman living and working in D.C. for the last couple years and in the U.S. since 2005.
We also heard from Michael Kugelman, senior associate South Asia program with the Wilson Center in D.C. The Wilson Center describes itself as “the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum for tackling global issues through independent research and open dialogue to inform actionable ideas for the policy community.” He focused on the history and current relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. The summation: It’s not great right now but it’s been worse.
We talked for some time about President Donald Trump’s infamous tweet on New Year’s Day: (his first tweet of 2018), “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”
That tweet was not met with kindness in Pakistan. Military and government officials, as well as every day citizens, reacted strongly to the sentiment by the U.S. leader. That, along with many things from the past several years has, caused tensions between the two countries.
Hannah Bloch, former Time Magazine correspondent in Pakistan and Jonathan Landay, former Reuters correspondent in Pakistan, spoke to us about their experiences as journalists in Pakistan. We’d already heard about the dangers Pakistani journalists faced reporting negatively about the military and government. But foreign journalists experience several challenges as well.
According to the Center to Protect Journalists, 89 journalists have been killed in Pakistan since 1992, two of them were foreigners including the well-publicized death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. For context, CPJ reports nine journalists have been killed in the U.S. in that same time.
We met with the Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S., Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, who was quick to tell us journalists there are completely free and aren’t hindered by the military or government at all. (Although every other bit of evidence points to this not being a free press at all.) And when asked further about it encouraged us to find out for ourselves while there. He admitted weaknesses the country has, especially in the way of education and that it should be a priority but right now is not as they are focusing resources elsewhere.
There has been much talk of addressing and eliminating terrorist organizations in the country in the past and how that activity continues today.
We arrived in Islamabad in the very early morning hours of Sunday after a couple of flights and nearly 16 hours in the air. These first two days haven’t been too intense but have been full of experiences.
Most insightful was our time with the staff of Uks: A Research, Resource and Publication Center on Women and Media. Saniya Jafree and Shaista Yasmeen talked about the work the group has done to advocating for both women working in the media here and women who are portrayed by the media. They also work to educate the greater community about women’s issues with a radio program and several publications of their own.
I’ve found the people of Pakistan to be welcoming and warm and look forward to what’s to come.
(This story was originally published on March 12, 2018)