Monday, January 07, 2008

Updates from Pakistan!

I just arrived in this magnificent city days ago and while it may have only been two years since my last visit, a lot has changed. And im not surprised! The story of our economic prosperity has yet to reach the Western media, so allow me to tell it :)

There are so many trade centers and shopping plazas here that parking has become a major issue. So are the countless cars on the streets of many of Pakistan's cities. The new money that's flooded homes and businesses is reflected most evidently in cars and clothing.

I am still trying to fathom how Islamabad, the capitol, is getting the world's first 7 star hotel. It's actually 5 stars for technical reasons but how is this possible in Pakistan, and why Islamabad of all cities?

Anyway, on to some socio-political issues. Benazir's assassination has caused obvious political turmoil, but what the Western media has yet to report is that this time around, a lot more has been affected. With the rioting and violence that ensued shortly thereafter, many people have experienced a tremendous loss in amount of gas, water and electricity to their homes. Pipes carrying either of these commodities were damaged in the riots (yes, they are above ground, not underground like in many other parts of the world), so even doing a simple thing like writing an email has been troublesome. Wedding season is in full swing and people have had to rent alternative power supplies which run on petrol. Prices of candles have gone up nearly 300%. Wheat is in shortage, so bread is expensive too. People are basically waiting and hoping and praying for rain so the dams produce something, anything.

And this is the story for everyone. The rich can minimize it because their money can afford them that level of comfort, but even they are affected. My aunt's husband is now retired, but was the highest-ranking official in the federal government's law department/ministry, and they have barely had hot water to cook, bathe, etc. for the past month.

The general sentiment in the public has been overwhelmingly consistent regarding Benazir's death: She may not have been the country's best leader, but she was extraordinarily brave, courageous and very charismatic. She was at least one option for the masses. Scotland Yard is investigating but everyone knows it's a farce. Elections have been delayed. People are trying to get by.

I have been taking lots of pictures, so I will try to upload those as well, but the portrait I can paint without over-generalizing is that poverty still affects so many people. Most of the aid from the West has gone straight to the army with nearly zero accountability. Testimony to the enrichment and consolidation of the army in civilian life is the presence of grandiose housing societies/colonies for senior army officers. Their presence in NGOs cannot be underscored either. What work does an armed forces person have in civil society? Stay on the borders, please! Standing at a traffic light makes one realize how fortunate those of us are who have the means to lead a decent life. If only others were given that chance too.

I will try to update soon, and might add minor addendums to previous posts in future posts.
As always, please pray.