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Open Letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Feryal GoharYour Excellency,

Allow me to apologize to you for not being able to be present during your address to civil society at the hallowed campus of Government College University in my beloved city of Lahore. Much as I would have wanted to benefit from the wisdom of your analysis and foresight, I could not make the journey quickly enough from the remote town of Chilas where I was in consultation with the proponents of a major dam which shall displace 32,000 people and submerge 32,000 ancient rock carvings if and when built. Allow me to further explain that since flights were cancelled from the nearest airport in Gilgit, a tedious five hour journey on the Karakoram Highway, I was compelled to take the road journey over the Babusar Pass situated at an altitude of 14,000 feet above sea level, travelling a total of eighteen hours to Islamabad.

Your Excellency, it was during this eighteen hour journey through some of the most desolate yet spectacular landscape of my country that I imagined speaking to you, being unable to join the privileged few who were invited to hear you speak both in Lahore and in Islamabad. As the vehicle carrying us made its way carefully over open culverts fashioned by the able engineers of the China Construction Company, as it slid over six inches of freshly falling snow, as it dipped into crevices swirling with glacial melt, and as it glided smoothly over the bits of tarmac which have survived the devastation of the 2005 earthquake which killed 70,000 people in these remote parts, I spoke to you, imagining that you were truly interested in what I, an ordinary citizen of this, my beloved, blighted country had to say.

But before I put those words down on paper, Your Excellency, allow me to welcome you to my country, this broken jaw of your kingdom. Allow me also to congratulate you, belatedly, on your appointment as Secretary of State of the most powerful nation on earth. That President Barak Obama had the prescience to see a woman in this commanding position is also a move worthy of appreciation. That you were his opponent in the Democratic Party’s primaries shows the objectivity and wisdom in President Obama’s selection. That you are a woman signifies the possibility that you will bring sanity to the White House, and by extension, to the Pentagon. For if the world was to be run by women, Your Excellency, it is quite possible that today we may not be mourning the brutal deaths of millions killed in the many wars over the past many centuries.

Your Excellency, it was at the outset of the second Gulf War in March 2004 that I resigned from my honorary position as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations to which I had been appointed by Dr. Nafis Sadiq, then the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund. For five years I had tried to bring to the attention of my department the fact that the issue of population, poverty, and peace cannot be addressed without empowering women to deal with all of these. It was, and still is, my firm belief that women will not choose war over negotiating peace, that given a choice, they will not produce children who must go hungry, that they are the backbone of a nation’s economy and cultural articulation, and that they hold the key to the myriad conflicts which rage like an uncontrollable conflagration, destroying a world built by men and predicated on inequity and injustice.

It is unfortunate that I was unable to convince my department of the value of the genuine empowerment of Pakistan’s women, beyond the provision of services and family planning counselling. It is equally unfortunate that I was being seen as the face of the United Nations at a point when this esteemed organization was totally impotent in the face of your country’s insistence on invading Baghdad. My protest at this incapacity led to my resignation, something I have never regretted and would do time and time again, for protest is my right, and practically the only thing left to me to use with clarity, dignity and purpose. And it is through this fissure that I hope to be able to insert these words, Your Excellency, through the cracks in the daunting security which surrounds you during your visit to my country.

Your Excellency, before me, wrapped in a piece of fabric stained with grime and fragile with wear, lie the gifts I received from the family I recently visited in the hamlet of Thor which straddles a glacial stream rushing down the majestic Karakoram mountains. This parcel was given to me by the woman whom I met while conducting a Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment for the proponent of the Diamer Basha Dam. It contains what she had gathered in the fading light of autumn from the forest surrounding her stone hovel which she shares with eight children, her husband, several goats, a cow, two dogs and a ginger kitten with a broken leg. Lying inside this piece of fabric were a couple of pomegranates, some dried mulberries, and a handful of apricot kernels.

When I shook out the piece of cloth containing these precious gifts, I realized that it had been carefully embroidered with intricate designs resembling the motifs I had seen etched into the dark surface of the igneous rock which lies scattered across hundreds of miles of this desolate landscape, described as the “abomination of isolation” by the British who wished to consolidate the far reaches of their empire in the nineteenth century. That this family lived just besides the 19th century British-built rest-house, perched on a cliff over-looking the thundering rivulet running down from the melting snows, appeared to me a fitting irony: rampant poverty living in the shadows of the greatest empire of the modern world.

I listened helplessly as my host explained in a language unknown to me that her husband was being threatened by the powerful land-owners of the area to give up his little patch of land on which his family eked out a meagre existence. This patch of land shall not be submerged by the 100 kilometre long reservoir of the proposed dam, but before the river is dammed, this family, and many like them, shall be damned to displacement, dispossession, and the absolute disarticulation of everything they have known for centuries: their music, their songs, their stories, their way of life. There shall be many like them, “collateral damage” in the path of progress of a country starved of energy and full to the brim with contradictions which flame the fire of terror.

Why do I tell you this simple story, Your Excellency? Why should you be concerned about the lives of an obscure family living in some remote region of a country considered to be the pariah of nations for its involvement in the breeding of terror? Why should your mind be cluttered by the details of the lives of ordinary Pakistanis who struggle to survive all sorts of neglect and deprivation? After all, the simple mantra chanted by your government and those before it is that by bringing democracy to these conflicted lands, the world shall be a safer place. And democracy is what supposedly describes the dispensation in our Parliament today, and even for the several years before that, despite the fact that the self-appointed head of state was nothing but a military despot wearing the disguise of well-cut suits.

I tell you this simple story for the simple reason that perhaps the problem lies in the details, Your Excellency, in the details of ordinary lives. The problem itself is simple, and the solution is not as simplistic as American foreign policy would like us to believe. The problem, Your Excellency, is the wilful and malevolent perpetuation of a universal state of inequity and injustice – a state of dangerous contradictions poised to implode despite the many hasty and ill-thought out designs to alleviate the burden of poverty and privation. Today I see you standing before a computer, accompanied by a permanently beaming President and a stately Minister who gives away money to the needy, once a month, as long as the needy are defined by a certain parameter.
Your Excellency, apparently you are to push a button on the computer which shall randomly select a winning family which shall benefit from the munificence of a government functioning almost entirely on the rhetoric generated by martyrdom. That this family is then to return the awarded amount while those in government have loans worth millions of dollars written off is an irony as sharp as the fact that the family in Thor Nallah had never heard of this benevolent scheme, nor have they ever received the benefit of electricity which could possibly power a computer on which their names could be listed.

Your Excellency, I had worked with my mother in the region of Gilgit Baltistan for thirteen years before her untimely death in the region she had come to love. For most of the people of this region, as for most of the people of the four provinces of my beloved country, such schemes have remained inaccessible, much like gainful employment, health care, education, land, and the most ubiquitous of all rights: justice. It is ironic that those who have denied the people of Pakistan these essential rights are the ones you are now accompanied by: the grinning and ingratiating folk who surround you on your visit. Your Excellency, how can we possibly be anointed with the ink of Democracy when the parchment we have been writing on is brittle with conflict, fragile with prejudice, and infested with a feudal ethos which eats into the very fabric of democratic principles? How can we, ordinary Pakistanis, believe that those with whom you do business are truly representing our interests, the interests of the family in the Thor Nullah and countless others like them in Awaran, in Badin, in Zhob, in Gwadar, in Dir, in Bakkhar?
Your Excellency: I am not trying to dissuade you from your noble mission to inform us of what is already written in blood, the blood of men and women and children killed in a war we did not create. As I write this, news filters in of the deadly bombing of the heart of my father’s beloved city Peshawar. Tonight the sound of mourning, of women wailing for lost children, of babies seeking lost mothers, shall fill the sky above my country. Can you hear that song, Your Excellency, that lament of despair, that elegy to a nation defeated by those who sold it for another song, a song of greed and a malignant lust for power? That is not a song anyone would willingly want to hear, and unless you and those in positions as significant as yours are willing to hear that elegy, I fear that very soon, too soon perhaps, there shall be no space for further burials in this beloved, blighted country of mine.
In closing, allow me to offer you the lines of the wonderful British poet who made America his home:
I am moved by fancies that are curled /
Around these images, and cling: /
The notion of some infinitely gentle /
Infinitely suffering thing. (T.S. Eliot – Prelude)

Yours most sincerely,
Feryal Ali Gauhar
[email protected]


30 Comments

  • farrahshah |

    Read something after a very long time written by Faryal.

    beautifully written,intricate,soft, painstaking ,attention to the detail,indeed like a stitch of an embroidory ,so that there is no caos.

    She paints the pain of people.

  • N. Baig |

    Great commentary.

    But Ms. Gauhar is wrong about T.S. Eliot. He was an American who became a British citizen.

    Authors should make sure they get facts correct. A simple google search would have sufficed.

  • JJ |

    Hilary Clinton, as a representative of USA, is heartless and unfeeling. She views Pakistanis as farm animals. According to Hilary Clinton, Pakistanis are farm animals who have a big job to do on behalf of America. She prefers farm animals be killed then her precious fellow Americans. Thank you, Your Excellency. what time do you want the animals to report to work tomorrow ?

  • readinglord |

    Technically speaking, a good write-up indeed! But in the garb of womanish pathos she pleads womanization of society, i.e., the rule by dakoit Phoolan or fraud-Mai Mukhtaran. What is required today, in fact, is the humanization of the society as preached by Bulleh Shah, four centuries ago, in his famous couplet:

    "Masjid dhaa de mandir dhaa de, dhaa de jo kujh dheindaa

    Ik bande da dil nah dhaawein, Rab dilaan wich rehnda"

  • chandru |

    For your kind information, it was Indira Gandhi, a woman, who went on with the war that led to the birth of Bangladesh…

  • Azar Ali Zain |

    A nice reading, and a moving article. Indeed, it seems like an embroidery delicately done. But I would agree to someone's comment that we need Humanization more than Womanization.

  • Raza M.Qureshi |

    When I start my computer, I saw one e-mail from Teeth.com, when i opened it I saw picture of Feryal Gauhar with her wonderful article. I don't know much about her, only a talented tv star, and watched her in some tv's drammas, but after reading her this article I am very much impressed. WE NEED SUCH GRACEFUL PERSONALITIES IN OUR POLITICS, SOCIETY, AND IN OUR BELOVED COUNTRY, AND NOT THE DIRTY PERSONALITY WOMEN LIKE,FIRDAUS AWAAN,FAUZIA WAHAB,SHEERE REHMAN AND MANY MANY OTHERS WHO ARE SITTING IN THE ASSEMBLIES OF PRESENT GOVT OR IN OPPOSITION.

  • Sharmin Farooqui |

    “That you are a woman signifies the possibility that you will bring sanity to the White House, and by extension, to the Pentagon…. It was, and still is, my firm belief that women will not choose war over negotiating peace, that given a choice, they will not produce children who must go hungry”

    ……..excuse me!

    Sorry to say but the Honorable Hillary Clinton is hardly THAT women. She is a sister

    to some of the worlds most ruthless women:

    —-Condoleezza Rice

    “What we’re seeing here, in a sense, is … the birth pangs of a new Middle East and, whatever we do, we have to be certain that we’re pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one.”

    On the hundreds of civilian casualties Israel has inflicted on Lebanon

    —-Madeleine Albright

    “ I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

    On asking if the price of half a million iraqi children, more than that which died in Hiroshima, was really is worth it.

    — Golda Meir.

    “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn't exist."

    statement to The Sunday Times, 15 June, 1969

    –Margaret Thatcher, Milk Snatcher

    A medieval embargo was imposed on Vietnam and Cambodia; the Thatcher government cut off supplies of milk to the children of Vietnam.

    –Tzipi Livni

    “A [military] response is important, even if it doesn’t automatically end the Palestinian rocket fire, there is something important in the impression and Israel’s deterrence ability”

    during a conference in Tel Aviv

    “ For if the world was to be run by women………..”

    I DON’T THINK SO!

  • pk |

    Excellent Sharmin

    I completely agree!

    stop looking and licking up to americans, they were never our well wishers and never will be

  • Aamir Mughal |

    Sharmin Farooqui on November 3, 2009 @ 3:57 pm

    ===============

    Excellent.

    Ms Faryal Gauhar was one Musharraf's favourite "Intellectual".

  • farrahshah |

    Power hugry people are always ruthless,it is not a matter of gender.

  • Aamir Mughal |

    Power hugry people are always ruthless,it is not a matter of gender. [farrahshah]

    =======================

    Ms Farrah is right and my comment above were not aimed at women [women are also mothers, sisters, wife, and daughters] but the policy statements of US/UK and Israeli Ladies and policies are formulated by Selfish National Interests not the Gender.

  • nota |

    @Sharmin Farooqui

    "…excuse me!…"

    Exactly! And thanks for a much better list than I had in mind .

    @Aamir Mughal

    "Ms Faryal Gauhar was one Musharraf’s favourite “Intellectual”"

    Never heard of Ms Gauhar so thanks for the intro. No wonder every sentence started with "Your Excellency"! Old habits die hard I guess!!!

  • readinglord |

    Te fact is 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. It is not the question of gender. My experience, however, shows that the woman is generally more revengeful and ruthless than the man. Beware of her beauty which can deaden all the good sense of the man and remember a wise saying "Treachery, thy name is woman".

  • bhulleyshah |

    Can any one guess when the coup Plotters get released?

    When they belong to the Masters….

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091103/ap_on_re_af/a

    JOHANNESBURG – Equatorial Guinea freed a British coup-plotter and four South African mercenaries Tuesday after a presidential pardon for their foreign-bankrolled conspiracy to overthrow the government and take over the country's oil riches.

    In a spectacular trial last year, Simon Mann testified that U.S. and European governments knew of the plan in advance and welcomed it as did international oil companies operating in the Central African nation, which is the continent's No. 3 oil producer.

    His testimony also implicated the son of former British Premier Margaret Thatcher as chief bankroller, which Mark Thatcher denied

    read more…

  • Kamran Suhrwardy |

    She has the right to present her views, but we are still running after false power points to get our rights. Dear, it is always people power, which can make the things move. So stop complaining and show deeds to take the destiny in your own hands. Some may thaught of this as rebellion, but a small pebble in a pond can transform it into a Tsunami.

  • Khuban Hassan |

    'Your excellency…Please give me some charity for the work i'm doing in Chilas…I would've asked my own government…but since you're a woman you'd FEEL our pain more'

    hahahaha…how pathetic…

    And I agree with Sharmin Farooqui's comments

  • farrahshah |

    @reading lord

    Treachery, thy name is woman”.

    I do not agree with the above.

    But the more realistic statement would be I find women even at Executive places still have very petty issues which they cannot ignore like her subordinate is younger and beautiful?

    They become very sarcastic and coldhearted as well,shamefully towards the women who are pregnant or have children ,if they themselves had worked hard to concentrate on career instead of having family.

    ……and yes being a women we have our insecurities….

  • farrahshah |

    In defence of Hillary

    ———————-

    I think the term of "YOUR Excellency " does not suit Hillary though.

    She was more open,warm and friendlier even when compared to her previous visits.

    I think this is teh first state visit where it was more of getting closer to the common people and getting their views.

    She was pinalised by the students and people alike.

    I like her visit to the shrine,and her choice of colours as well the way she was concious of Duppatta and how beautifully she carried it.

    Full marks to her for breaking a lot of protocol.

    On the equal side she would have gone home convinved that Pakistan people have their own openion about USA .

    It does not matter what the millitary or civil government signs ,People of Pakistan does not backup USA.

    You know I am very proud that my nation has done so well.

    USA has been defeated by the common Pakistanis ,rejected by Pakistanis ,no matter how much money USA pours in,Pakistanis are blinded to the wounds and sufferings of fellow citizens.

    Few years ago when USA wanted to invade Iraq,it was the people of Iraq who requested USA to save them……

    But in Pakistan ,very self determined Nation has said,"leave us alone,we will die our own deaths and we live our own.

    We will decide about our leaders and our army"

    Who says Paksitan will be disintegrated or Pakistan is a weak country.

    as I always say,People of Pkaistan are resilient and strong.

    I think i appreciate that Hillary took time out to visit Pakistan and stepped outside of Beaurocracy and got this message first hand from the people of Pakistan.

    Good team Obama & Hillary at least a genuine try to approach people and to listen and to understand…….

    She was in a shock at the statements she heard from Pakistanis,the allegations and the charge sheet against USA.

    USA would definitely would like to difuse this charge sheet,how Hillary wins friends in Pakistan is the challenege for her now.

    Would she succeed or fail?????

  • farrahshah |

    Correction

    Pakistanis are NOT blinded to the wounds and sufferings of fellow citizens.

  • dr jawwad khan |

    @farrah shah!

    i think you are preoccupied by hillary's gender,personality and her achivements.

    many people including me believe that she is a member of a global elite who are steering this world towards one global governament.

    her links with secret societies like bilderberg group is no more a secret.

    on personal level, i don't believe that she has a good character.fraud lawsuit by her former friend,fund raiser and millionare Peter Franklin Paul is an example.

    have a look at this video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq8aopATYyw

  • farrah shah |

    @dr jawwad

    many people think she is a hypocrate as well for staying with Clinton despite the scandle.

    I prefer Obama and Hillary as compared to Bush and Condarice,if we have to watch them in the news.

    and politicians are not to be trusted or liked.

  • Aamir Mughal |

    and politicians are not to be trusted or liked. [Farrah]

    ================

    Dear Ms Farrah,

    Not agreed because Jinnah was a Politician and Lawyer as well.

  • dr jawwad khan |

    farrah shah!

    we live in dajjali world…where truth becomes stranger than fiction.

    contrary to the general perception obama and hilary are no more than puppets for the forces behind the US president mafia. who successfully stage a play an election drama and playing with the public perception of the world through media. many american scholar call obama's presence in white house a SCAM IN US POLITICS.

    isn't it strange that bill clinton,george bush,barak obama, and many former presidents are relative with each other.

    the fact is obama is a distant cousin of george bush.

    just listen what webster tarplay says about barak obama.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-23301537

  • farrah shah |

    @dr.jawwad

    "the answer is the whole US politics is a SCAM."

    Congratulations you are enlightened by the Narvanah forces of the cosmos.