Hands Across the Water
It’s no secret that relations are strained between the United States and Pakistan. The Wilmington Rotary Club and its Pakistani counterpart are working together to change that.
(page 4 of 5)
Our briefing at the State Department is a mixture of highlighting both large- and small-scale attempts at smoothing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. Two officials from the department’s Pakistan desk preside over the 90-minute briefing, and they are as optimistic as they are cautious, making sure that everyone in attendance—Wilmington and Lahore Rotarians—know that the Pakistan-U.S. relationship thing is, well, complex.
Over the course of the briefing, the officials outline steps the U.S. has taken in getting billions of dollars in flood relief aide to Pakistan since July. They touch on President Barack Obama’s renewed sense of diplomatic possibility when it comes to our mutually beneficial relationship. They address how deeply sincere the United States is in its desire to maintain a positive relationship with Pakistan, assuring the men from Lahore that there will be no abandonment like the one they saw in 1989. The officials reiterate time and again how crucial efforts like the Wilmington Rotary’s Pakistan Project are in the ultimate goal of peace and understanding.
Walking back to the State Department lobby, I catch up with Ed Dunn, one of the two officials who briefed us. He says he’s very encouraged by everything the Pakistan Project is attempting to do. He talks about how important communication is in any bilateral relationship. He admits there are challenges, but he applauds the effort. It is but one piece of the puzzle.
I start to ask a question, but have trouble articulating exactly what I want to say. “Do you think projects like this—I mean, it’s all good for now, while we’re in it, but does it have—I guess what I’m saying is—is this quantifiable in any way?”
Dunn stops and smiles as we wait for the elevator to the lobby.
“No, I get it. Sure. You want to know if it’s not just all handholding and ‘Kumbaya.’ I understand,” he says. And that’s just one more of the challenges. How do you quantify the results of this? The challenge is figuring out the results, and I would argue that this is more than just a drop in the bucket. If you want to overcome a trust deficit, if you want to change attitudes and move forward with a relationship, this has to be a part of it. It’s not just so-called ‘heart policy.’ It’s all encompassing.”
On the bus I sit behind Mian Bilal Hanif, the CEO of Mian Agriculture and Poultry Farming in Lahore. This is his first trip to the United States, and he’s eager to express how deeply the experience has changed his perception of this country.
He says the media in Pakistan consistently paints a negative portrait of the United States. They don’t emphasize the billions of dollars in aide Americans have supplied since July floods ravaged the country and displaced its people. They don’t emphasize delegations like this one from the Lahore Mozang Rotary. And they certainly don’t emphasize the ways in which we can all better understand one another.
But then again, neither does the media on this side of the world.
“There are steps being taken now that should have been taken 10 years ago, but I suggest that the United States makes sure those steps are being projected in the Pakistan media, so the common people really know what the Americans are doing for them,” Hanif says. “They don’t even know. The media plays a very vital role, even if it can change the mind of just one person. But they always want to show the darker side of the mirror.”
After sharing lunch at a downtown Indian restaurant—with the Wilmington Rotarians delightedly anxious about a cuisine many of them have never before tried—we stop at the Embassy of Pakistan, where we get a view of the international relationship similar to the one we got at the State Department. And while this time it’s from Pakistan’s perspective, the overall tenor is positive.
“I think the type of outreach you’re seeing with the Pakistan Project is far more effective than anything going on between our leaders,” says Don Hackett, governor for the Rotary District that comprises Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland. “It’s not political or partisan. It’s humanitarian, average people doing extraordinary things. We don’t have any hidden agendas or political motives; it’s simply out of service to the community and trying to focus on how we can fulfill that objective of the Rotary. We don’t have a gun in one hand and a political agenda in another. We are simply reaching out to other human beings.”
When I finally get a chance to catch up with Jovindah on our long, traffic-jammed ride back to Delaware, it is this point he focuses on over and over again—the simplicity and power of human beings reaching out to one another. His voice is as measured as it is lilting, as he speaks with unhinged
excitement about what this project will ultimately achieve. For a man who lives in such a cynical world during such cynical times, and comes from a country so mired in the tragedy of global misperception, Jovindah is nothing short of remarkable.
“They all say that the journey starts with the first step, and I will tell you one thing: This is going to go a long way,” he says, smiling at the glare of a sun now setting on I-95. “This has a multiplying effect, because these seven men will go home to Pakistan to their seven families, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. This passion, this great momentum, is the real issue. When this delegation goes back home, it will have a huge impact in Lahore.”
Jovindah then talks about how excited he is to host members of the Wilmington Rotary, a handful of which will be travelling to Lahore in February, doing the same thing there that their international brothers did here. He is excited for them to see his family, and the families of his friends. He is excited to share his country’s culture and history and hospitality, knowing that the experience will spread through Delaware—and, hopefully, America—like wildfire, eventually burning down those seemingly endless forests of misconception that divide us.
“I’ve been coming to America for many years, and not a single time, not on the Internet or in a newspaper, have I seen a positive story about Pakistan. I have gardens that are more than 600 years old. I have civilizations that have a 6,000-year history. I have cities with architectural planning that goes back 5,000 years. This is my history. But nobody talks about that. Nobody talks about how out of the 20 tallest mountain ranges in the world, eight are in Pakistan. It’s amazing! Nobody tells the world that among the top 10 most beautiful valleys, at least four are in Pakistan. We don’t pick the positive side of Pakistan. You don’t hear those stories. And it’s not until you’ve got a true picture of a place and its people that a partnership can develop. That is what we are doing here.”
Page 5: The Epilogue