Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pakistan vs. Afghanistan: Developed, Safe, and Liberal

Rory Stewart, now at the Kennedy School, once said that even if we worked in Afghanistan for 30 years, it would only be up to the level of Pakistan.  This was a bit shocking, because I have always considered Pakistan a failed state.  

But after three days in Afghanistan, it feels SO good to be back in Pakistan.  Finally, I don't have to cover my head and wrap myself up in a chador (literally means "blanket").  I can wear jeans and decent shoes without worrying that I look too western.  There are women on the streets, and no blue burkas.  

I can also move freely.  Pakistan can be dangerous, and there are incidents every day, but life is bustling and it goes on.  In Afghanistan, however, people are very conscious of the security situation.  There is security everywhere-- foreign militaries, Afghan, and private-- and we were hardly allowed to walk on the streets.  

Afghans made surprising comments, like "Education in Pakistan is very good."  Pakistan is actually notorious for its failed education system, but the comment reflects that good education is at least available in Pakistan.  And after meeting officials in Afghanistan and seeing the level at which they were struggling, I realize how much more evolved, sophisticated, even effective, the Pakistani government is.   

The experience made me appreciate Pakistan much more, especially Karachi.  Instead of
 complaining about how backwards the country is, we should recognize the positive trends and focus on protecting them.  If we do not value the progress that has been made, we risk losing it to the trends of fundamentalism and violence that are taking hold in other parts of the country.  And once lost, as it was in the 1980s, it will take decades to recover from.

I am told that Kabul before the Soviet invasion was a stunning city.  If Pakistan's economy does not improve and Afghanistan's situation continues to migrate across the border, there is a danger that everything that Pakistan has achieved will be destroyed, as it was in Afghanistan.  


  1. Wow! Keep writing, Nadia. I'm learning stuff as well and Karachi is MY hometown =).

  2. great stuff nadia, hope you are enjoying yourself over there.


  3. really, you consider pakistan a failed state? i totally disagree. if pakistan is a failed state, then the term would be meaningless. in other words, if pakistan were a failed state, so would every corrupt state with ethnic violence-- meaning most of africa, + south asia, + south american + south east asia....

    i think calling pakistan a failed state is fashionable among US policy makers, but wholly inappropriate in describing the situation on the ground.

  4. I have to agree with regards to the failed state comment. I always the phrase was used by American and Indian policy makers to describe a seemingly complex situation that they could not understand or did not bother to understand.

    I agree that there is much wrong with the state, however I think when you think of failed states we should look to places like Somolia, or even Afghanistan early during 2001 occupation (and some would argue even in the present) where the writ of the goverment does not extend beyond the respective recognized capital.

    Instead of referring to Pakistan as a failed state I think we should start a campaign to refer to it as a dysfunctional state...I believe it is more appropriate characterization of the situation on the ground.

  5. Nadia, Chador means sheet or cover and it is not limited only to Afghanistan, many people in Pakistan especially in the NWFP & FATA, Karachi and Quetta wear it as well. Many women use a Chador or Saadar in place of a burqa because it covers more then a dupatta would cover. The wearing of burqa's and jeans is very much dependent on the environment that you are in.

    Look forward to hearing more about your adventures!:) Keep writing.

  6. Thanks for the comments!

    I should have said that I "had" (past tense) always thought of Pakistan as a failed state, because my reference point was my experience in the U.S. But the point of my post was that after going to Afghanistan, I realized that Pakistan is not so failed after all.

    And Niala, you're right on the chador. It's actually going from Kabul to Karachi (I accidentally said Pakistan) that things change the way I described.

    So I will cheat and make those corrections... =]