Last week a few “new media” journalists were invited by the US Consulate to an exclusive meeting with Farah Pandith, who has been recently appointed as the U.S Special Representative for Muslim Communities. The usual bloggeratti excitement was held at bay since the invitation card had a blazing “No-Camera” policy, which had most of us worried concerned about this concerning hush-hush meeting but on the contrary, when we reached the destination we were told it was only a deterrent to avoid the TV &/or Press media fan-fare as the consulate preferred to have a close face-to-face uninterrupted one-on-one discussion, else the meeting was blogable, tweetable and pictures were definitely welcome, immediately putting the anxious team of bloggers at ease and right in their own comfort zone, out came the iPhones, up came the blackberries, twitter clients were fired up and we were ready raring to go.
The guest list had some 10-odd new media journalists, a few from Dawn, of which I had the honor to finally meet Huma Yousuf, the list of bloggers, (or blAAgers [sic]) was the usual fun bunch, ranging from Faisal Kapadia of Deadpanthoughts, Ammar Yasir of Ronin and Tea Break fame, Sana Saleem of Mystified Justice & Dawn Blog, Sabeen Mehmud from T2F, our very own Zaheer Sb from BiTs Online and Windmills of the Mind and last but not the least our celebrity blogger Naveen Naqvi was also in the house, who we now have laid claim to be more of a blogger then a TV personality. The star-studded bloggeratti guest list almost guaranteed an exciting rendezvous with the US Representative for Muslim Communities.
The meeting was slated to have started at 8:15pm sharp but due to a massive traffic jam in Karachi, most of the participants were late, some walked a few kilometers, while many braved the traffic jam sweating away in their cars at the mere thought of having stood up a dignitary from (ohmygosh!) the U.S. To compound our late-arrival stories even our guest of honor was yet the last to arrive definitely an hour late, as she was actually held up in a meeting in an adjacent room where she was busy preaching the ‘unpreachable’, surrounded by a host of mullahs, madrassah leaders and a number of Islamic scholars who had specially come from across the province to meet her.
When Ms Pundit did finally arrive she went around the table to each one of us with individual introductions to finally land up at the head of the table giving us all a short summary of her responsibilities in the capacity of a being a representative of Muslim communities within the State Department. In short, her position was created by Hilary Clinton after President Obama’s Cairo speech, the position is to help Americans better understand the Muslim community and go forth with President Obama’s message of building a stronger degree of respect combined with mutual understanding on a wide ranging issues, combined with a very strong influence towards innovation, entrepreneurship and grass root development, allowing closer interaction between American and Muslim students and scholars alike as a tool to improve the community as a whole
It seemed that Ms. Pundit’s emphasis throughout her 45-minute interaction weighed heavily on the long term solution regarding capacity development, innovation and entrepreneurship with emphasis on the Muslim youth. Without doubt, I believe this is proactive initiative must be fully supported, it may do wonders for many ‘other Muslim countries’ but somehow I feel they need to better understand the actual needs of the people of Pakistan in far more intricate detail before adding fuel to an already enraged fire
Pakistan, is at the verge of a total chaotic implosion, a historically corrupt President running the country, a ravaging Taliban situation on the west, a snapping Indian tiger on the east, numerous undemocratic forces trying to bring havoc from within while it would be unfair to overlook the war mongering attitude of our American compatriots who choose our soil to wage their own War on Terror on our western borders. All this has polarized the entire Pakistani nation to adopt a very antagonistic attitude against America. Whoever needs to be plan the perfect solution for Pakistan, has to first strategize on how to undo the overwhelming negativity against the American government, who rightly or wrongly, is blamed for most of Pakistan’s problems since 9/11
Here comes, Obama’s & Farah Pandith’s message of innovation and entrepreneurship, quite instantly one revolts at the blatant disconnect with an entire Pakistani nation, an elitist assume-it-all-attitude made worse with a sermon from Washington is like throwing a truck load of raw salt on our wounds, such an attitude is bound to irk any self respecting nation and is seen more as a slap on our face, appearing as a bribe to buying slaves in exchange
My honest response out of shear dejection after having listened to the dignitary for a good 40 odd minutes was “I do not know if I will live tomorrow, the day after or let alone live to see the next year, and you are trying to sweet talk me into a 10-year innovation and social entrepreneurship plan – I need food, water, electricity and most of all security in my daily life, the elitist attitude of entrepreneurship and innovation for the youth of Pakistan is a slap on our face and a distant mirage at best”
It seemed the US Special Representative came to lecture, rather then listen to us, the sermon mongering philosophy of ‘I am right, you are wrong’ attitude was again reflective of a serious disconnect between them actually understanding the needs of the people of Pakistan.
What really took most of us as a surprise was her adamant refusal to discuss anything related to the security issues of Pakistan, despite having been repeatedly asked direct questions by Faisal Kapadia, Ammar Yasir and even by myself, in each specific case regardless of what question which was raised she choose to go on an entirely different tangent, circumventing the question entirely.
Issues ranging from the new TSA policy where they specifically screen travelers from fourteen Muslim countries, controversial issue of Muslim women being screened, to a blatant denial of Blackwater in Pakistan by both Hilary Clinton and Anne Patterson only later having a confirmed report of the security agencies presence in Pakistan none other then from the founder Erik Prince himself. The talk of mutual respect and understanding between America and the Muslim Countries seem to fizzle to the background when a web of lies and deceit continue to haunt this relationship.
My rant here is not to ridicule or disrespect the visiting dignitary or cast doubts on her intentions, but to present a from the heart, no-nonsense feedback of my rendezvous with Farah Pandith. Her visionary plans to help improve the situation in Muslim Countries while on one hand must be applauded but I fear a generalized approach will not solve the problems and specifically in Pakistan this undertaking might itself fall flat on its face, unless the US Government makes a serious attempt to “think-outside the box”, adopt a bottoms-up approach, which would probably be the best solution in helping solve Pakistan’s ailments, there is little hope in showering this country with grandiose ideas, only to be gobbled up by the elite and the corrupt politicians lying in wait for the pot of gold.
Here’s to hoping that this visit by Farah does not end up being a mere pencil pushing report to Washington and maybe it’s a first step forward. There is need for more dialog with the common man specially those who have the courage to speak the truth and not sugar coat their opinion in lieu of an American ‘pat-on-the-back’ visa to Disney Land