Pakistan venture, Part II: 2017

Jerry Fink, left, with Pakastani reporter Wali Khan Shinwari.

(Courtesy of Casey Nolen)

Editor’s Note: Jerry Fink’s journalism career began in 1974 when he became news editor at the Sequoyah County Times in Sallisaw for Jim Mayo. Fink says Mayo taught him most of what he knows about journalism, and about being productive, accurate and fair.
After going to work for the Tulsa World, Fink had an opportunity to go to Pakistan when that part of the world was becoming a war zone after the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. His goal was to enter Afghanistan and report on the war, but he only made it as far as Pakistan, the neighboring country.
Currently he is managing editor of the Eufaula Indian Journal, in Eufaula, and the McIntosh County Democrat in Checotah.
Recently, he had the opportunity to return to Pakistan, 37 years later.
Fink has written a lengthy, two-part story about his Pakistan experiences. Hopefully you will find them interesting and enlightening.

By Jerry Fink
Managing Editor Eufaula Indian Journal

When my exploration of Pakistan in the spring of 1980 ended I thought I would never return. It was to have been a once in a lifetime experience.

Then out of the blue, more than 37 years later, an e-mail sent to members of the Oklahoma Press Association popped up on my computer.

The message asked anyone interested in going to Pakistan as part of a U.S. State Department cultural exchange program to contact the The Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

The college works in concert with the State Department in the on-going program, which involves Pakistani journalists coming to the U.S. and American journalists going to Pakistan.
Joe Foote, Emeritus Dean and Edward L. Gaylord Chair at the OU journalism school, heads up the project and leads journalists on the tours.

He has extensive experience in that part of the world, beginning with a Rotary Club grant to India in 1981 and a Fulbright Scholarship to Bangladesh in 1985. He has travelled frequently in the area, pursuing his interest in politics and global affairs.

My resume and a letter explaining why I was interested in Pakistan were sent within minutes of seeing the e-mail.

I didn’t think I had a chance and more or less forgot about the application until a few weeks later, on Sept. 17, when I received a letter accepting me as one of the members of the delegation that would leave for Pakistan on Dec. 1 and return Dec. 14.

My interest in going to Pakistan was to see what had changed in the 37 years since I was there.

Foote said changes have been less dramatic in Pakistan than in India.

“Economic development in Indian has exploded. It is one of the 10 most vibrant economies in the world. It is being compared to China,” Foote said.

Before leaving, I did some basic research and learned that Pakistan had grown in 37 years. When I went there in 1980 the population was about 75 million. Now it is 207 million, making it the sixth most populace nation in the world.

Karachi, located on the coast of the Arabian Sea, is Pakistan’s largest city and the country’s industrial and financial center. On my first visit, it had a population of 5 million. Today, the city’s population is more than 16 million, the metropolitan population almost 25 million.

Agriculture accounts for more than 50 percent of the economy. The textile industry is another major source of income.

Illiteracy is high – anywhere from 50 to 70 percent, depending upon whom you ask.

Poverty is endemic.

Pollution blights the country.

Self defense
In the ‘70s, before a coup deposed its prime minister, Pakistan was a relatively safe and progressive nation.

Today, it is in a constant state of threats from inside and outside.

Inside, there are many radical religious groups, or groups claiming to be religious based, who often attack the more moderate population.

Outside, there are more extremist religious groups who flow into and out of the country through its porous borders ISIS. Al-Qaeda. Taliban.

The U.S. claims Pakistan isn’t doing enough to stop the influx of terrorists.

Pakistan says it is doing everything it can and is generally cooperating with the United States.

Many members of these radical groups owe their terroristic skills to lessons learned during the Soviet-Afghanistan War, fought from 1979 to 1989.

They fought the Soviet Union and the Afghan government and then turned their hatred to other perceived enemies.

The extremists are embedded in the mountains of Afghanistan and in the frontiers of Pakistan.

They recruit their armies from the legions of impoverished people who are desperate to survive and think the radicals can provide them with a better way of life.

When I visited in 1980, one of the most lawless sections of the country was an area in northwest Pakistan called FATA, for Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Tribalism ruled in that frontier territory.

But in the past few years the government has sent in the military and claims about 80 percent of the area is now under control.

While our delegation was there in December the Pakistan legislature was debating further laws and actions involving FATA.

Since 2004 U.S. forces have waged a drone war in Pakistan, primarily in the FATA territory.

Thousands of militants have been killed, but so have many civilians, including school children.

Drone warfare is one source of friction between the U.S. and Pakistan, who complain that the drones are killing innocent people and is psychologically traumatizing the innocent people of FATA, who are terrorized by the recurring sounds of the drones that may or may not kill them.

Another source of conflict is India.

Many Pakistanis believe that the U.S. has betrayed their country in favor of India.

Pakistan is predominantly Muslim, India predominantly Hindu.

Muslims and Hindus have been fighting for a thousand years or more.

Pakistan was carved out of northwestern India in 1947, after the British gave up control of India, to provide a country for Indian Muslims. 

During the Partition of India, when Muslims were headed east to the newly created Pakistan and Hindus headed west to India, an estimated 2 million people were killed in conflicts between the two groups.

The bitterness runs deep even today. There have been three wars between the two countries since Partition.

And so Pakistan, which became a nuclear power in 1998, devotes more than half its economy to defense.

“Pakistan has been more focused on internal security, but India is focused on its economy. Pakistan is obsessed with India. It always fears a U.S. tilt toward India,” Foote said.

While the United States cozies up to India, Pakistan is looking to others for badly needed aid.

As the Trump administration continues to antagonize its former allies and threatens to withdraw financial support, China is filling the void – helping Pakistan with its infrastructure, building tunnels, roads and power plants.

A Karachi businessman summed up how many Pakistani people are beginning to feel about the United States.

He said the invasion of Afghanistan by Russia in 1979 had a dramatic and far-reaching impact on Pakistan.

It generated lots of arms in this country, and the freedom fighters, who helped fight Russia, were radicalized and eventually turned its guns on the United States and the people of and Pakistan.
“There is lots of terrorism,” said the businessman, “and Trump not helping by befriending the Russians and India and criticizing Pakistan and Britain and other former allies – we see it as lack of leadership. Trump is believed to be unstable and dangerous.”

Karachi, Day 1
My first Pakistan trip was freewheeling. I went where I wanted, when I wanted with no restrictions.

But travel was safer then. There was fighting across the border in Afghanistan, but terrorism was not a major issue, although some radical students had burned the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad weeks before I arrived.

The rest of the story can be found in our Wednesday, January 10 paper.

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