Questionable Peace in Pakistan

by Aanya F Niaz

Written (May 30, 2010)

Last year, I began an internship at the University of Virginia’s Women Center, where it was my responsibility to develop a project that would enable greater understanding of my homeland, Pakistan within the University community. With the leadership and encouragement of my Politics professor, Mr. John Echeverri-Gent, we took the idea of a simple conference on Pakistan and turned it into a large scale two-day conference, attended by many sought-after individuals, including, Mr. Jonah Blank, the Chief Advisor on South Asian Affairs in the US Senate, Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, former female ambassador of Pakistan to Washington D.C., accomplished gender rights scholar from Ireland, Ms. Siobhan Mullally, prestigious author Mr. Stephen Cohen, honorable professor such as Mr. Hassan Abbas from Columbia University and several of our very own exalted professors from the University of Virginia.

The purpose of the conference was to encourage understanding of Pakistan and its political culture, and to make the University community aware of the various gender and equality issues in the region. The current political dynamics of Pakistan have caused much misperception and misunderstanding of the nation’s culture and people. Constantly battling fears of bomb explosions and armed trucks guarding the streets, I sought a light at the end of the tunnel and my only hope came in the form of offering knowledge through the very best individuals and their experiences. By featuring renowned speakers, I thought it would be a most effective way of reaching the audience and shaping their minds. The world is currently seeing Pakistan through the restricted vision of the media. As a Pakistani citizen, representing many of the females that come to study abroad, I desired a conference that could provide a wholesome view of Pakistan and make the world recognize the vitality and the resilience of the people, despite the political chaos.

Eager to gain a better perspective on the ‘terrorized’ nation, neighbored by Afghanistan and India, students, faculty and friends came from across the University to gain productive insight. Through debates and discussions covering topics such as the History of Pakistan, US-Pak relations, Future of Women in Pakistan, Kerry-Lugar Bill, Education in Pakistan, Gender and Gender Rights in the nation, Political and social dilemma Pakistan is facing, the speakers and the audience were able to listen and voice any related questions. In this way, the conference was structured on an interdisciplinary foundation, incorporating various aspects of Pakistan, instead of merely focusing on the gloomy political atmosphere that tends to prevail.

A debate between diplomat Dr. Maleeha Lodhi and US Senate official Mr. Jonah Blank clarified the relationship shared between both nations, in particular reference with the hesitancy and doubt with which many Pakistani citizens accept US assistance. Mr. Blank highlighted, “we remember the role that Pakistan played in the Cold War”, referring to the friendly alliance that Pakistan and US had formed during an hour of need for the US. Mr. Blank added that the “US needs Pakistan to defeat terrorism and Pakistan needs the US to recover from issues.” Indeed, there is mutual need, however, the issue of mutual trust still remains. Dr. Lodhi pointed out that “the media tends to use incorrect headlines and then base their policies on that”, causing much distress between the nations and a lesser reason to engage in loyalty. Both prestigious individuals truly shed light upon a matter of great concern. In order to achieve success in the relationship between both countries, and progress towards stability, trust must be recognized as an absolutely necessary ingredient for a triumphant alliance.

The conference offered the audience with both sides of a story, and this healthy debate lead by the speakers left a taste of optimism in the onlooker’s mouths. Indeed, both countries have shared a goal of strengthening peace in South Asia, however, the difficulty lies in the mistrust, which causes for both to adopt divergent approaches of bringing stability. The hope with which the authors, professors, officials and the ambassador spoke lit a candle of hope in the minds of the Pakistani community that sat amidst the audience.

The conference was an opportunity to put Pakistan on a higher platform and study the nation from each angle. With militancy on the rise, such lectures and discussions can provide safe space for the average person to learn and use knowledge, instead of propaganda, to manage their understanding of a country. The speakers each offered strategies that would benefit Pakistan, including Ms. Siaobhan Mullally, who rightly claimed that as long as “gender security is sidelined, many compromises [will be] negotiated effecting gender issues” and women will continue to suffer at the hands of corruption and terrorism. The reality is, with Pakistan’s population comprising of more females than males, the leadership must take into account the compulsion of offering women independent employment opportunities if they want Pakistan to pass through the storm.

Therefore, to me, the conference emphasized upon two tremendously significant factors that can make or break Pakistan: mutual trust with the US, who can greatly enable Pakistan and the necessity of women’s rights and equality that greatly lacks in the country. With an analysis and focus on both, along with continued conferences, speeches and lecture series held across the world on Pakistan, the intellectual minds and dedicated activists could set Pakistan on a more stable political path.