Pakistan Schizophrenic Forum

15 Nov

Holbrooke at Hafeez Shaikh at the Pakistan Development Forum 2010

Today Pakistan put on a great show – it was called the Pakistan Development Forum . Pakistan Schizophrenic Forum might have been a more apt name.

It was an excellent display of the government’s ability to organize and govern over a conference of local stakeholders and donors. The conference was so well organized, that you could almost delude tyourself into thinking that this was the product of aa government that excels in the business of organization and governance. Security was courteous and polite. Signs marked the way to the conference. Each delegate was given a security tag with a unique serial number. Conference bags, filled with materials were handed to all attendees. Tables were laden with printed materials and research on the condition of Pakistan after the floods. Beautifully printed and bound booklets were waiting to inform the average participant about Pakistan’s needs and challenges. Large screens in the foyer, carried a live video feed of the proceedings in the conference room for those milling about outside. Screens with the agenda, informed you of upcoming sessions and upcoming speakers.

It looked very professional and very well managed.Inside the conference room, things were even better. Top government representatives and donors sat in rectangular formation around tables covered with crisp white linen and laden with thousands of crisp and fresh, beautiful white blooms. Powerpoints flashed on the screens as successive provincial governments presented their damage assessments, their challenges and plans for the future. Sitting in that room, one could almost believe that everything was under control in Pakistan and progress was being made towards betterment each minute. Common citizens should rejoice. Aaall iz Well! And the government of Pakistan is working exceptionally hard to make better, what is currently not. And then there were tea breaks where more polite conversation and dainty pastries were consumed. In the sunny inner courtyard of the Serena, where people from numerous countries talked to each other which such great ease and comfort, it was easy to forget the brutal and violent realities of Pakistan.

Inside the conference room, people continued to talk about plans for girls’ education and the role of the private sector in development as if Pakistan were any other normal developing country with normal developing country problems that could be solved by high-powered conferences and meetings and minglings of this kind. And I wanted to believe it too. For a couple of minutes I even let myself believe it as I became absorbed in a discussion about community schools.

Everyone there seemed to be involved in some elaborate conspiracy to delude people into believing that all of Pakistan’s troubles will be solved by increasing access to education and healthcare. As the Chief Minister of Punjab, waxed eloquent about the stringent aid tracking process his government has in place, no one stood up to question him about his government’s tacit support of extremist outfits or provincial funds being given to the charity arms of banned terrorist outfits. When the governor of Balochistan, took the podium, people seemed to pretend that the Baloch insurgency did not exist and nor did it have any impact on the situation in Balochistan. No one wanted to question the oppressive hold of the Baloch sardars who have made access to development completely impossible for decades. In the case of Sindh, people seemed oblivious of the demographic and ethnic tensions threatening to tear the province apart or the large tracts of land owned by influential leaders who still employed and exploited bonded labor. The ugly realities of Pakistan seemed not to exist in the flower laden professionally lit hall of the Serena where Pakistan’s “development agenda” was being discussed and no one seemed eager to bring them up and splatter blood and gore over the beautiful organized development forum.

It was a little frightening – in a Stepford Wives kind of way.  Eager beaver representatives of local NGOs and “policy analysts” networked furitively in the foyer outside and on the sidelines of presentations, looking very serious and animated. I wondered why no one was laughing at all of this hysterically or sobbing profusely. At one point, I had the urge to stand up and scream – just to shake things up or to jolt people back to reality. I didnt. I walked out into the sunlit courtyard and past metal detector one, up the winding stairways that spiralled you out of the fort like walls of he Serena, past metal detector two, and down the steps into the parking lot, past the muscled secutiy men and the menacing black security trucks and jolly ITP policemen clad in sun-bleached greying uniforms to my car.

I counted to ten. Started my car. Turned up the radio. It was playing an old Indian song. I sang along. I threaded my way past the numerous police checkposts and the barbed wire and barricades and checked myself into my favorite day spa for a mani-pedi. Flowing water, purple orchids, the faint citrusy smell of aroma therapy oils and pleasant instrumental music made me forget about the bombs and barricades and the government wallahs playing pretend at the Serena. I focused all my attention on finding the perfect shade of pink for my nails.

In finding the right pink – I found my escape. Others had found theirs at the Serena. By getting my nails painted at an expensive Salon, I was buying some very expensive minutes of “normalcy.” The reason why Nirvana charges such a premium on the average hand and foot wash followed by a coat of nail polisgh is because they build the cost of normalcy into the mani-pedi package. And that, in Pakistan, is an expensive commodity. And I, the government of Pakistan, its donors, its civil society activists are all willing to pay the price for a few more minutes of normalcy.

And once my self righteous moral outrage, hysteria and disbelief had subsided I realized that buying a sense of normalcy is necessary given the times we live in.  If we didnt have those ridiculous things we do to delude ourselves, whether it be a couple of hundreds at a spa or a couple of millions at a conference we might not make it through. But then we also might never have been here had we not been so fond of indulging in short lived bouts of fake progress and happiness. So complicated. Head hurts. Maybe its time to hit the spa again!

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3 Responses to “Pakistan Schizophrenic Forum”

  1. Tariq Aqil November 15, 2010 at 7:26 pm #

    Ever heard of the big bird called ostrich and its head in the sand? this is EXACTLY what Pakistani society of today has become!we pretend rhat everything is Honkey Dorey! and its business as usual! There is no threat from the Islamic insurgents, the Taliban do not exist, there is no insurgency in Balochistan and all the problems are the handiwork of a few misguided individuals who are acting on the instructions of the Jewish lobby, the CIA, RAW and some other foreign devils!and very soon we will wipe them out and the land of the pure will become the land of milk and honey!Keep dreaming people!I have lived through the same situation back in 1971 when the entire West Pakistani press and leaders actually believed that there is no insurgency in East Pakistan and the entire movement is the work of RAW and the CIA!We have seen the results of such stupid thinking and now I shudder to think or imagine the results of the present myopic thought process of our leaders and the free press of Pakistan. ALL of them believe that Muslims cant do anything wrong and ALL our problems are because of the YAHOOD-O-NASARA! When will they wake up and stop believing in conspiracy theories?

  2. afp November 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    Now this is all ideological shit. We are facing insurgency so lets forget the development sector. Maybe 4 those who are just idle spectators and not in the conflict arena its easy2 shower the nation with their cynicism. Yes Pakistan is not a normal country but we cant bury our head under the sand loaded with this realization and do not do anything, not even beg.

  3. moaiz November 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    Good article!

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