GOWANUS Winter 2000

Letter from Pakistan

By Abbas Zaidi

This Issue

Back Issues

Mangoes: the Millennial Wish

"If only  Pakistanis would just disappear!" my teacher, Dr A. H. Khayal, once said. He was enumerating all the resources God had given Pakistan and found those resources either misused or totally neglected. "Pakistanis have successfully prevented Pakistan from becoming a paradise. As long as they are in such plentiful supply  Pakistan has no future.".

At that time I thought the professor was only playing with words. It was only after I had completed my education that I came to understand the reality of what he was lamenting: total corruption, hypocrisy, dishonesty and selfishness; total disregard for the feelings and condition of the poor and needy; total indifference to the honor and even the murder of  women; child abuse and worse in the name of religion. 50 percent of 140 million Pakistanis live well below the poverty line; 30 percent on or just above the line; 15 percent  are middle class; three percent upper-middle class;  two percent are super-rich, super-powerful and absolutely above the law. 

But it was only later, in Brunei Darussalam, that I lost what was left of my faith in my country. "You can take a Pakistani out of Pakistan, but you cannot take the Pakistan out of him,"  I thought. 

In May 2000,  the Pakistani High Commissioner in Brunei launched a Pakistani-Mangoes-in-Brunei campaign in the local media. I soon  heard  rumors that the entire Pakistani community in Brunei was making fun of him, saying  the mangoes would never arrive. But they did arrive, at the end of June, and the High Commissioner turned their arrival into a Pakistani Mango Festival.

The Festival started on June 29th at 10:00 am. But a couple of hours later the prospective mango-buyers were asking, "Where are the  mangoes?" 

They were sold out.

Despite the fact that the mangoes were expensive ($8 per kilo), within minutes  two thousand kilos were sold. People were told that the next consignment would arrive the following Monday. The consignment did arrive the following Monday, but those who went to the market in the afternoon could not find a single mango. The last consignment arrived the following Thursday. It was also sold within hours. Those who had tasted the mangoes spoke highly of them; those who did not said that next year they would be the first to grab them. 

It was an extraordinary sight to see Chinese, Indians, Malays and Caucasians all seeking out Pakistani mangoes. A number of people even came from the neighboring Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak to buy them. A Canadian friend jokingly said that instead of sending fighters Pakistan should send mangoes to Kashmir. A number of Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis admitted that for the first time something associated with Pakistan had won unqualified admiration from people across the board. It was true: Pakistani mangoes accomplished what all the state visits of past and present Pakistanis could not accomplish. For the first time, the  Pakistani expatriate community had come together around something they were all proud of: the We-Are-Doctors-and-Therefore-Superior Group, the Always-Boycott-Everything Group, the arrogant We-Hold-Other-than-Pakistani-Passports Group, the High Commission-Is-Always-Right Group, the Only-We-Are-True-Muslims Group, the We-Only-Speak-English Snobs. And there are only 400 Pakistanis in all of Brunei!

When people expressed their appreciation of Pakistani mangoes, the Pakistan High Commissioner replied, "I shall convey your sentiments to the mangoes!"

I could only wish for the government of Pakistan to run its foreign affairs along such successful business lines. If Pakistani products can  win for that that nation what the highly- and wastefully-paid armies and diplomats  have failed to do since 1947, bring on the magoes! 

Pakistani Woodpeckers in Cyberspace

"Dear Sir

"Some how r other I have came to know that you could help me. I am in deep, deep trouble. You did not know me but my heart is saying that u are the only person who can help me in the most bad days of my life. I am 23 years old and just young.  I need 4000 US$ .If I could not got this money then I will be die very soon.  In fact I get loan of 15000 US $ form a person for own work. But my luck was not with me. I lost almost 12000 US$. Now the time has just come when I have to give the person the money. I have arranged 8000 US$. From friends and from family. But I still need 4000 US $. Please for god sack help me and send me 4000 US $ at the address."

If you are a rich, or thought to be a rich, Pakistani, have an e-mail address and have not so far received a message like the above, you will. My friend in  Auckland is the recipient of the message quoted above, from someone in Lahore. 

How Pakistan-based crooks get their fellow Pakistanis' e-mail addresses is beyond my ken, though some of the explanations they claim are: "Prophet Muhammad came in my dream and he ordered me to get in touch with you," and, "As I was reciting the Koran and praying to Allah regarding the problem, it was revealed to me that you are the true Muslim brother I should write to."

This might seem a merely laughable phenomenon, and on one level  it is. But the Internet is developing into a dangerous weapon in the hands of such con men. A number of Pakistani expatriates have received e-mails from individuals claiming to represent organizations with Islamic-sounding names. The e-mails describe how in Rabwa the Ahmedis destroyed Muslim homes: "Since Ahmedis have infiltrated in Army and bureaucracy, the government has not taken any action to save the Muslims of Rabwa." One e-mail forwarded to me by a friend in the United States claimed that in Bhakkar the Shias had burnt the holy Koran and killed many Muslims who tried to save the Book. Another describes a secret pact between the Agha Khan and the Mossad against Islam. Some Pakistanis have got e-mails saying that Pakistan must be cleansed of the Kafir minorities because "Pakistan was made in the name of Islam." After stating his case, the crook requests money to "rebuild the destroyed houses and families of the Muslims" and/or wage a "jihad against the Kafirs."

Years before personal computers became popular, Pakistanis had introduced the acronym "PC"  into lexicons with a different meaning. "PC" meant "Photo Change"--i.e. to the passport. Countless Pakistanis benefited from the PC industry and migrated to the West and elsewhere after stealing or buying passports with valid visa stamps. My own relative "lent" his British visa  passport to a friend who is living in the UK, using my relative's name  though with his own photograph attached.

But the e-mail scams are potentially more destructive. The pseudo-Islamic version is still in its infancy and a stylistic analysis of the e-mails shows that the same person or group of individuals working together have probably authored them. Soon it will develop into a major industry. At that point, no one should be surprised if Pakistan-originated hate sites become  established in cyberspace. With the financial backing of Pakistan's "brotherly" Islamic elements in the Middle East and beyond, such sites will continue Pakistan's sectarian and ethnic wars in the new electronic medium,  and whatever is left of our moribund civil society will meet its end sooner than it might otherwise. Needless to say, the "Kafir" or the "anti-Pakistan" minorities will also be forced into establishing their own sites. Others will set up sites asking for donations to fight for causes like child labor and women's honor killing. Many of these con artists will even pose as women to do so.

To whom should we address this problem? The educated classes of Pakistan? Hardly. Pakistan's present dismal condition is entirely due to them. It is they who control Pakistan in the government bureaucracy, the military, the feudal and spiritual ("Pir") fraternities and as the urban elite. The crooks operating in cyberspace are themselves educated people. 

A solution to this problem will be  possible only when the different groups in society learn to tolerate one another and when society begins to operate according to ethical principles. But all too often wealth, greed and foul play continue to be the guiding principles in  Pakistani society, a nation that has never known tolerance and peaceful co-existence along ethnic, linguistic, economic or sectarian lines, where religion itself has been used by corrupt governments to divide the people for the sake of maintaining their own authority.

The prophetic writing  on the cyber wall is extremely transparent, perhaps so transparent that those who have the power to do something about it are the very ones who can only look through it  and not at it.