Marion Schneider

Pakistan

February, 2009

ABU DHABI

16.20 pm 15.00

Abu Dhabi International Airport

Terminal 1 Departure

Gate No. 4

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Pakistan

City of MERB, one of the highest centres of Islamic learning – only Buchara left. 1 Mio. people were killed by Genghis Khan. Mohammed Usman, Mervandi.

He came to Multan. He stayed in Sewan Sharif und opened a Rehab Centre (Khanqah) for people who suffered from the Genghis Khan invasion. Qalander (only 2 in the world): an advanced system of Sufi reformism.

Shah Abdul Latif  9 Annemarie Schimmel. Tomb built in the late 18th century; top of minarette coated with pure gold.

Mosque

Poets from Sindh are buried here. Destination for the Sindh Holiday.

Sunnis und Shias peacefully together. 

February 18, 2009: 

Oh, how completely different is Pakistan from what I subconsciously expected it to be (consciously, I had thought that I had no expectations nor stereotypes which, as you will see, proved wrong). As it calls itself the first Islamic Republic, and based on my information from more then thirty years of TV viewing and newspaper reading, I thought that Islam was strict and narrow.minded there, so that it would be hostile to me as a Western woman. For this reason, I took three kerchiefs with me to cover my hair. During the full seven days we spent in Pakistan, I did not need any kerchief and never felt rejected due do the fact that I did not wear the clothes Pakistani women wear. To be honest: I felt very much at home there! People are very friendly and warm-hearted in Pakistan. They are excellent hosts and overwhelm their guests with gifts and generosity, with attention and care. The Pakistani people in the streets liked it a lot that I looked different. With my blond hair and my blue jeans and sneakers, it happened several times that young people – both boys and girls – asked me to be photographed with them.

While in Pakistan, I shared the same joys and suffered the same pains as the Pakistani people. In Islamabad, there are police roadblocks everywhere. On the one hand, this gives you a feeling of security, and on the other hand, it restricts freedom. Streets are often even blocked unexpectedly, so that one has to make u-turns, etc. There are sometimes blackouts, and one is left without power supply for a while. On the other hand, one feels a great proximity to politics in Islamabad. One reason for this is the centralisation of the political power, but the newspapers there also give one the feeling of being well informed. The “Daily Times” is an exceptionally well edited international newspaper with the most diverse political discussions and opinions, deserving of my highest respect. “Dawn” is the second political daily newspaper which is worth reading due to its dense and rich body of information. I am not sure if I will want to live without these sources of news when I am back in Germany.

Another attraction is the fact that Islamabad was created from scratch as an act of the will of the young and energetic state of Pakistan in the ‘60’s of the 20th century and now has a population of more than a million inhabitants. Due to the Bauhaus influence on its architecture and to its character as capital, and because of its similar history, I immediately thought that Islamabad and Brasilia should become sister  cities – what a joy and what a learning experience this would be for both of them!

Just as differentiated as I found the political discussions in the “Daily Times” (today, for example, there was an article about [by?] Fidel Castro in it!) was the information given me by my hosts and new friends. One important thing was that while most of the people I met were not interested in expressing their opinion in public, they were most ready to given me their real views and standpoints in private. I find the Pakistani people extremely honest and outspoken, and I’m very grateful for this, as it enables me to gain understanding quickly (of course, I asked a lot of questions, and this probably didn’t always make things easy for my partners in conversation). Most of my new acquaintances were academics or entrepreneurs, or were working in the political system as employees. Expressing your political opinions openly, or let alone actually putting them into practice, will either bring you behind iron bars or will kill you – I heard this several times. So taking this fact into consideration, we should value the active involvement of Pakistani citizens in politics very, very highly – especially when they plead for democracy.

The overwhelming impression I gained in Islamabad and the region of Hyderabad is that the vast majority of the Pakistani people want democracy and hold the struggle of the Bhutto family for their country in high esteem. There is, however, a small but very powerful group of people – men, I assume – who want to impose their viewpoint, a kind of Pakistani-style dogmatic Islam, on the whole country. They are fundamentalists in their most extreme form, meaning that they are ready to kill in order to impose their convictions. They have thus created a great deal of fear which is still to be felt and experienced – they have turned involvement in democratic action into an issue of life and death; – this is still highly noticeable to this very day.

These persons where never named or identified in my presence, and I’m not sure whether this was a protective mechanism on the part of my partners in conversation, or their true state of mind. There is certainly no public discussion about these people, but rather a strong and serious attempt to get along with them.

Islam was introduced to me as a religion of love, peace, and tolerance. What a surprise! I find the everyday life of Pakistani people full of this love, peace, tolerance, and respect for one another – how different this was from the prejudice I had had without knowing it. Pakistani Islam has strong roots in Sufi mysticism, making it very unique and poetic, and also oriented towards music. Never have I heard so much about love, peace, and poetry within such a brief period of time.

Pakistani food is very rich. The favourite meal in the region in which I travelled is definitely chicken, and it seemed as if no day could pass without having it at least once. Vegetarians are obviously a rare breed, but will still find enough variety – but not so much understanding, I think. Bread was more common than rice – nan was the bread I ate daily –, and tea is offered either as green tea with a very pleasant taste, as if it were mixed with mint tea, or mostly as black tea with very, very rich milk. There is not much Western architecture, nor is there much of Western-style clothing. What I found is a rich and strong independent regional tradition which is very close to the heart of the Pakistani people. Respect for elders, parents, the family and the deceased is very great, and those who are regarded as saints, poets, or martyrs live on forever in the veneration, prayers, and everyday life of the Pakistani people.

When Benazir Bhutto was killed in her home region of Sindh, sadness and despair were so strong that for three days, life came to a standstill. The people showed their feelings by damaging cars, shops, and other material goods to such an extent that no traffic was possible any longer, and no shops were open. I understood that the uproar of the Pakistani people was so strong that Musharraf hat to leave office because people could not accept that he had not taken greater care of the safety of Benazir Bhutto. This could not be forgiven. In Pakistan tradition, the prayer for the martyrs – and the whole Bhutto family is revered as martyrs – is supposed to care for their well-being and uplift them to greater love and peace in their otherworldly existence. The same attitude is to be found concerning poets and saints. You can already be a saint during your lifetime, and saints are everywhere in Pakistan. Saints will receive a tomb when they are no longer amongst the living where people will visit them to pray – for themselves and for the saints.

Pakistan is a big country, and its landscape is highly diverse, as are its traditions, handicrafts, tools, musical instruments, and lifestyles. Its people are connected with each other by Sufi traditions, centuries of common Asian history, their common experience of British colonization (which is most evident in left-hand driving), by the English and Urdu languages, the new body of the Pakistani state and currency – and the clearly defined neighbours – and by Islam. But what Islam means for the individual is very diverse and most freely lived out. – Its spirit is founded on many centuries of common Asian history – at least, that is what I understood and saw. And this freedom in religion, united by the desire for and the attainment of love, peace, and tolerance impressed me more than anything else – and made me a friend of this wonderful country.

I would also like to say something about wealth and education. There are huge potential resources available insofar as the average working time of a middle class officer at least is between three and five hours a day – in the face of a desperate need for organisation and management all over the country to care for public health, safety, transportation, and education, as more than sixty percent of Pakistani women and more than fifty percent of the men are still illiterate. Illiteracy is a source of poverty and of danger to public safety and political stability.

Education is also a focal point for caring for the very pure and their sanity, health, and future public service. It is essential to create entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency of more people, especially of women who now are destined to stay at home and remain dependent, or to work extensively in poorly paid jobs and still be dependent. The majority of young women in the Sindh region are still not permitted by their parents to work – even with a good education. It will take at least another generation to change this – or higher demand for skilled workers on the part of the industries, compelling them to hire more women.

On the other hand, I saw very many very happy parents who were able to care intensively for their children and happy to do so. Seeing happy and harmonious families is very pleasant. I could also not see extensive working ethics which would make feel people guilty if they don’t work – quite the contrary: they enjoyed not working. So there is a rich future for Pakistan if its citizens will come to be able to identify with their democratic development and to be free enough to express their views publicly, which would mean that the political groups which are now opposing democracy open up for dialogue.