Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Hippie Trail, Osama Bin Laden and the Swat Valley

Pakistan is no stranger to the news media.

From suicide bombings, military operations, and global terror plots to caves supposedly sheltering the world's most wanted man (
Osama Bin Laden) Pakistan is on CNN quite regularly.

It is normally for all the wrong reasons.

A young Pakistani girl with mehndi (henna) painted on her hands

Pakistan's colourful history deserves more credit.

In the 1960s and 1970s, it was on the '
Hippie Trail' to Kabul (Yes - Kabul, Afghanistan - songs have been written singing praises of the supposedly legendary Afghani hashish!). At the time, trekking in the (now famous) Swat Valley was almost compulsory for members of the long haired tribe.

The 1980s saw Pakistan became a frontline state in the war against communism and the Soviet Union (anyone seen
Charlie Wilson's War?). It also had the notorious distinction of acting as a transit point for almost 90% of the world's supply of heroin during that decade. Religious bigotry and extremism was actively encouraged by US foreign policy and dollar diplomacy during the First Afghan War (some may recall that Rambo III was dedicated to the people of Afghanistan!).

The 1990s was Pakistan's lost decade. Even a valiant attempt by a transvestite to reform the nation (see my
Transvestites, Prime Ministers, Religious Scholars and Pakistan's Future) failed to prepare the nation for the new millennium.

While poverty and Islamic extremism were married in the 1980s, their Godson (the
Taliban and Islamic militancy) was born 20 years later.

The post 9/11 environment again catapulted Pakistan into the front line of both the 'War against Terror' and also the daily news. The
Second Afghan War, although with different flags and uniforms, started in late 2001 and remains in progress as I write.

This decade's story is still unfolding, although with
serious electricity shortages plaguing the nation, it is a difficult story to communicate. US aid in the form of power plants will win much more sympathy than a larger embassy in Islamabad!

Whether Pakistan is a victim of circumstance,
geography or just inept leadership, it is difficult to say. What one can say with certainty is that 160 million people (including approx. 2.5 million Afghani refugees leftover from the First Afghan War against the Soviet Union) call it home.

With all this talk of terrorism, military operations and the like I thought it will be useful to write about some of the more congenial aspects of Pakistan.

In the next few weeks I will share with my readers 5 little known but interesting facts about Pakistan.

Stay tuned ...

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