A letter from Pakistan / Princeton to President Obama

Thursday, May 07, 2009
By Sehar Tariq

I came to America at age 17 as a college freshman three weeks before 9/11. And when the world changed forever on that fateful day, I never realised the extent of it because I was sheltered by the loving arms of Mother Yale. She provided guarantees that no harm would come to my person despite the threats being issued nationwide to people of my religion and nationality. University President Richard Levin wrote a beautiful letter to parents assuring them of the efforts Yale would take to guarantee my safety and well-being. My parents tear up, even to this day, when they read this letter from a stranger promising to protect their only child. It was this selfless compassion of Americans that won my heart.

In the four years that I was a student at Yale, I benefited from a generous scholarship that probably came from donations made by American families and corporations. It was this unprecedented generosity that made me love America and its people. I write to you in the hope that you will enable more Pakistanis to see this side of America.

I write to you in the hope that you will show us how to achieve the American dream of justice and liberty for all and spare us the terror of the American bomb. I write to you in the hope of inspiring change within your government regarding its policies towards my country and its honest and hardworking people who fight your war and constantly live in the hope of change.
Your Af-Pak policy is no different from your predecessor’s. It’s dressed in more dollar bills and in the words of hope and change but we, the politically astute people of Pakistan, recognise that there really is no change. What your administration does not recognise is that we, the people, are inherently political. There is a reason why we have more news channels than entertainment channels. We might not have a 100 per cent literacy rate but we have a keen sense of history and we have not forgotten how your country has used us and then forsaken us in our times of greatest need. We are resilient and patriotic and love our country despite its warts. I hope you will change your policies towards Pakistan keeping in mind our propensity for politics and our patriotism.

We are a proud nation. Do not scold us. We are not errant children. We are a nation of 170 million people. Your rhetoric towards Pakistan must change. Rebukes from Senator Clinton will not win our hearts and minds. They will not urge us into further action on your behalf. The might of our mountains has sheltered your strategic interests for years. The muscle of our military has flexed on your behalf. The blood of our boys has fuelled your war. Give us the respect that you would a soldier in battle that shields your body with his own.
You continue to view this conflict through the lens of a military offensive. You see us as the enemy and not the ally. You send drones to bomb us. You kill one terrorist. You give birth to 20. You anger a hundred and seventy million. You have effectively alienated all those sections of the Pakistani population that would have given you support. How long will you stay to fight the terror and anger you constantly create?

The constant din of ‘do-more’ drowns out our strategic concerns. You strike controversial deals with India on sharing nuclear technology but will not give us favourable trade agreements to boost our industries. You exacerbate the regional power imbalance. Ignoring border dispute issues such as Kashmir and the Durand Line leaves fault lines in the region that will periodically lead to violence and instability. Use your regional power to resolve these disputes. Get the India-Pakistan peace process back on track. Regional stability is the key to global security. You cannot keep ‘India Shinning’ at the expense of Pakistan burning. Ignoring regional security concerns and power imbalances in the short term will exacerbate the potential for violent conflict in the long term.

You surround yourself with ‘experts’ on Pakistan but with no people who live amidst and understand this great mass of humanity. You talk to those who walk the corridors of influence in Washington but not those who form the real epicentres of power in Pakistan – its streets, its valleys and mountains. You continue to engage with the political and military leadership but ignore those who are the real forces of change – representatives of civil society, journalists, lawyers, Islamic scholars and students.

The politicised epicentres of power are throbbing with people ready to resist the forces of extremism. Historically, resistance to all kinds of injustice has come from these folk. It was the brave women of the Women’s Action Forum that first stood up to the barbaric rule of General Zia and its treatment of women to win women much needed rights. It was the lawyers who stood up to the injustice of the Musharraf regime for the rule of law. Our media is a force that can mobilise millions and mould the views of even more. Engage with our media. Train them and equip them. They will launch a media offensive against perpetrators of terror. Give our activists platforms to voice their concerns. They will rally the masses against the extremists. Give our young people scholarships and economic opportunities. They will be the force that drives away obscurantism and ushers in innovation, peace and prosperity.

But aid is not a long-term solution. Give us trade with dignity. Help us fuel the furnaces of our factories and revive our economy. Open your markets to our textiles. Give us trade agreements through which our businesses can generate jobs, increase our imports and strengthen our economy. European countries made such agreements with us post-9/11 but not the US. If we can be an ally in war then why can we not be a partner in business?
As long as your political engagement in Pakistan remains invested in individuals you will not succeed. Changing from Zardari to Nawaz is not a change of strategy. It’s a change of face. For far too long you have supported the politics of individuals at the cost of our institutions. Invest in our institutions. Invest in our businesses. Strong institutions will give the people the justice and liberty they seek. They will give you the security you need.
Today the Taliban sit 65 miles outside my home city of Islamabad. The people of Pakistan are ready to lock arms and battle this beast. The question is whether you will stand by the people of Pakistan in this battle on their terms or choose the Af-Pak policy of no hope and no change. You are either with us or against us – us the people – in whose veins the blood runs green not red! Pakistan Paindabad!
The writer is pursuing a master’s at Princeton University. Earlier, she attended Yale University. Email: stariq@princeton.edu

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