Dr Afridi’s effect on polio eradication

Polio drops given to a child

With the story going through so many changes so quickly, the truth about Dr Afridi’s case is cloudier than ever. One thing is clear, though – Dr Afridi did engage in one indefensible act: Using a critical healthcare programme as cover for his activities. Unfortunately, in expressing concern about Afridi’s willingness to risk the credibility of his work, we are forgetting that even this is part of the real threat to healthcare in the country – extremism and conspiracy theories.

It is widely accepted that Dr Afridi was running a fake polio vaccination campaign. What is not clear at this time is whether the polio vaccines were fake, or just the programme he claimed to be part of. This matters quite a deal – what prevents polio is the vaccine, not the programme. If the vaccines were real, the doctor could at least be forgiven for improving prevention, even if under false circumstances.

The real threat to polio prevention programmes, though, is not that people are concerned that they are being given treatments that won’t work – it’s that they believe these treatments are part of a dangerous conspiracy against them. And they didn’t get this idea from Dr Afridi, they got it from extremists.

Underlying those factors [preventing polio eradication], however, is an intense mistrust among some Pakistanis for the vaccines and the people who supply and administer them. Radical clerics seed rumors that vaccines are un-Islamic because they are made from substances derived from pigs, or that they cause infertility. Some clerics try to convince parents that polio vaccines are made from the urine of Satan.

The reluctance by some Pakistanis to trust polio vaccination programs is also driven by a belief that the U.S. is behind the campaigns. Anti-American sentiments are more fervent than ever in the country, stoked this year by the case of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, who shot to death two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, as well as by President Obama’s decision to not inform Pakistani leaders in advance about the U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden in the city of Abbottabad in May.

Before anyone had ever heard of Dr Afridi, they were already being told not to accept polio vaccines because of crazy conspiracy theories being spread by extremist Imams. Dr Afridi’s acts will be used by extremists to play to the irrational fears they have already planted, but Dr Afridi is not the source of the mistrust of polio vaccine.

Using a critical health care programme as cover for his activities was wrong – even prominent Americans are saying it was a mistake. But whether Dr Afridi is punished or not for this mistake, Pakistan will continue to be plagued by a disease wiped out in the developed world not because of Dr Afridi – not even because of the CIA. Our children will continue to die unnecessarily until we are willing to eradicate the plague of extremism that allows polio to spread. Until then, Dr Afridi is just a distraction.

No Terrorism In Pakistan Before 2001? Think Again.

America top terroristA discussion on Twitter the other day brought up a dusty old Ghairat Brigade talking point – there was no terrorism in Pakistan before 2001. Actually, I find that even among my friends and family it’s widely believed that terrorism was brought by the Americans as part of their ‘War on Terror’, and it will leave with the Americans. If it wasn’t for ‘America’s war’, Pakistan would still be as peaceful and tolerant as it was before. This is a great talking point that provides an easy solution to one of the most grave problems facing the nation. Too bad it’s utter non sense.

1986: Pan Am Flight 73 highjacked in Karachi, innocent passengers killed

1987: Bombs kill 72 and wound 250 in Pakistani city.

The bombs exploded half an hour apart amid crowds of rush-hour shoppers in the heart of Karachi, the country’s biggest city.

1995: 2 Americans shot to death in Pakistan.

Gunmen shot and killed two United States diplomats and wounded a third this morning as they were driven to work in Karachi, a sprawling port city that has long been ravaged by violence…

More than 1,000 people have been killed in Karachi since January 1994 in a wave of ethnic, sectarian and factional violence. Of these, more than 275 have been killed this year, including 13 Shiite Muslim men and boys who died last week in a massacre in a Karachi mosque. The victims, who had gone to the mosque for prayers celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan, were lined up against a wall in the mosque and gunned down.

1995: Widespread damage: 40 die in Peshawar car-bomb blast.

PESHAWAR, Dec. 21: At least 40 people were killed and nearly 120 injured when a powerful explosion rocked the central part of the city, blowing up a number of shops and setting others on fire. The blast was said to have been caused by a car bomb.

1995: Suicide bomber attacks Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad, kills 15 and wounds 59.

A suicide bomber rammed a pickup truck packed with explosives into the gate of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad today, killing 15 people and wounding 59 others. Islamic militants claimed responsibility.

Most of the dead were Pakistani security guards and people applying for visas. One Egyptian diplomat was also killed, hospital officials said.

1997: Retribution?

The four Americans were killed this morning when unidentified gunmen opened fire on their station wagon. The vehicle’s Pakistani driver was also killed in what police described as a deliberate attack. According to police reports the car carrying the Americans was forced off a road in Central Karachi, then riddled with bullets at close range. The driver and the four passengers died instantly, according to the police. The four Americans worked for the Union Texas Petroleum Company–the largest international oil firm in Pakistan. Today, at Union Texas headquarters in Houston, John Whitmire, the company’s CEO, said he and his colleagues were stunned…

Pakistan was a long-time Cold War ally of the United States and a partner in the decade-long fight to oust the Russians from Afghanistan in the 1980’s. In recent years the country has suffered from political turmoil, ethnic violence, and economic stagnation. So far, no one has taken responsibility for today’s attack. But both Pakistani and U.S. officials speculated that it could be linked to the case of Mir Aimal Kasi–a Pakistani national charged with the murders of two men, both CIA employees.

1999: Explosions rock Islamabad

Several explosions hit Pakistan’s capital today. Rockets struck near the US Embassy, the UN office, an American cultural center and other buildings, rocking Islamabad with at least seven explosions, officials and witnesses said.

These are just a few examples of terrorist incidents that occurred before 2001, putting to rest the false claim that we can sit and do nothing and the problem of terrorism will magically disappear when American troops leave Afghanistan. Also, do you notice how many incidents involved the killing of Americans? These incidents also disprove the false claim that anti-Americanism is a result of drone strikes or American troops in Afghanistan. The fact is that authoritarian tyrants have used the bogey of America to exploit sentiments and manipulate the people for decades. It’s nothing new, and we should stop being fooled by the same old tricks.

These are just a few examples that I was able to easily find news articles about doing some basic research, but it’s just a drop in the bucket. Terrorism in Pakistan was not imported by Americans, and it’s not going to leave when they go home in 2014. We will never be free of this menace until we face the uncomfortable truth that we are allowing the problem to grow as poisonous ideologies fueled by hatred and violence are allowed to spread unchecked. Until we are willing to face the internal threat head on, we are going to continue to suffer. That’s not a talking point, that’s reality.

About Americans: A Pakistani Journalist’s Perspective

Fida Ali Shah GhizriMisconceptions and misunderstandings create distance among the habitants of the world.

That’s part of the reason I decided to come to America.

I am among 14 journalists from Pakistan currently visiting the United States. The U.S. State Department sponsors our five-week-long visit.

The main purpose of this visit includes my own professional growth and learning but also the chance to share experiences, skills and ideas. We interact with the American people about our culture and tradition and also learn about their living style and culture.

We attended a three-day orientation in Washington D.C-based International Center for Journalists, the organization which works to advancing journalism worldwide. The center provided the journalists’ arrangements in the U.S.

We arrived in the U.S. on Sept. 13. Each member of the team was attached to a different newsroom in 12 states. I have been attached with The Oakland Press here in Pontiac.

When I left Baltimore’s airport to come to Michigan, I was worried with many questions in my mind about the American people and society.

When I landed at Detroit’s airport, my feelings and thoughts changed and I found Americans most cooperative, kind and humane.

Being human — the great creature of God almighty — everyone has to play his or her role to make this world more peaceful and safe.

We should accept diversity and pluralism on earth. The world must be considered a garden and people its flowers, who keep that garden attractive and graceful.

I have found Pontiac to be a beautiful city and a place of beautiful, civilized and kind people. People here are hospitable and kind to strangers, welcoming newcomers to the city and going out of their way to help them.

During my stay here, I observed that people are busy with their pursuits and business, do not waste time and believe in hard work. I used to talk to the common citizen of United States and try to know their impressions about Pakistan and Pakistanis. They are not much aware about us. A very small group of people knows about us.

The people of United States appear to love and respect all humanity without discrimination and hypocrisy. The majority of Pakistanis are also good, polite, civilized and hospitable. We respect and love visitors but a minority are presented as all of Pakistan in Western media. That hurts the innocents people of Pakistan.

I had an opportunity to visit the courts around Pontiac with my Oakland Press colleagues. I came away really impressed by the system in the courts. Justice is done without any delay and nobody can force or interfere in the matters of the court. They set petitions and wait for justice and judges offer a transparent justice.

It was beyond my imagination that judges asked to a murderer sentenced to life in prison, would you like to say something in front of the court? And he replied in the front of the judge and hundreds of other people with their eyes full of tears “I wish it could be taken back.” I had watched such thing in movies but not in real life.

This was the actual face of United States, which unveiled for me on that day. We have courts and judges in Pakistan to do same job but honestly, it might not have happened.

I closely observed how the media works here. It is a good experience for me. Media is really a watchdog here, playing its role with the great sense of responsibility.

I went to a store with a colleague recently — a store being investigated by the police and a state agency. My friend stood outside the store and I asked, why we should wait here? Let’s go inside and see what’s going on. My friend smiled and said, Let them to do their job first. Then they will share the information with us, and then we’ll do our job. It’s a very normal attitude for Americans but for me, it was enough to open my eyes and mind.

This exchange program provided such a golden opportunity to see the people of United States closely. We Pakistani journalists are observing the working style of the state owned institutions and as well as private institutions.

I hope during our stay we will see a lot of good practices and good aspects of American culture and society and also share something reality about my country’s image badly projected in the United States. I will share with the Americans that we are also the human beings and we are not terrorists. I will try to prove that Islam is not the religion of terror but instead, a religion of peace and harmony.

The author Fida Ali Shah Ghizri is reporter for Baang-eSahar. He is visiting The Oakland Press newsroom until mid-October. This piece was originally published by The Oakland Press on 30 September 2011.

Economic Consequences

In its editorial of Wednesday, ‘Change of tone‘, Daily Times makes an important point that is not getting enough attention in the latest round of anti-American fist-waving. What is the economic impact of this behaviour?

The cost of the downward spiral in US-Pakistan relations has already sent shock waves through the economy. The stock exchange plunged amidst fears of a breakdown in relations, the rupee floated to around 90 to the dollar, partly because of the ‘dollarisation’ currently underway amidst fears for the future. These negative signals should give pause to all stakeholders to reconsider their fiercest belligerence against the US. We may not like much of what Washington does or even how it does it. But it is not only the US that has constraints so long as it is engaged in Afghanistan. We too have considerations to weigh, first and foremost the struggling economy and the future of a rescue sans US aid and goodwill.

Leaving aside for the moment the unquestionable foolishness of thinking we can defeat an American attack*, we need to consider what impact this anti-American drum beat is already having on our nation.

Yes, Hamid Gul and Ansar Abbasi are crowing about ‘national unity’ behind hating America; and Imran Khan calls for officials to refuse US aid from his sprawling Bani Gala mansion; and self-appointed patriots blog from their AC apartments in Dubai about how cutting ties with the Americans will magically revive the Mughal Empire.

But let’s set aside fantasy fiction and for a moment. Even if Pakistan refuses the billions in aid provided by the US, what about the $5 billion in trade between the US and Pakistan? Are we ready to give that up as well? What about the $1.8 billion in remittances that were received from Pakistanis working in America? Do we expect American companies to look kindly on Pakistani job applicants if we declare war on them? American aid might be ‘peanuts’, but a billion here, a billion there – pretty soon you’re talking about real money!

I know, I know. The cost of war greatly outweighs the meager sum we receive from the Americans. The security situation in Pakistan now is scaring away investors. Who is going to invest in Pakistan once the Americans are gone? Oh, yes, China. But actually, China only accounted for 4.4 per cent of exports last year compared to America’s 15.9 per cent. And even though American aid to Pakistan is ‘peanuts’, Chinese aid amounts to only 3 per cent of those peanuts. Just shells, really.

I know that we are all frustrated. We’re sick of the bloody war and would like an easy solution with a clear villain to blame. But the situation is much more complex than that, and we need to be realistic about the consequences of our actions. The Daily Times is spot on:

Emotion may be cathartic, but it is rarely a good substitute for calm, considered policy, especially in the delicate position Pakistan is placed in, and the fact that the country the gung-ho amongst us want to take on is the sole superpower in today’s world. Not only should the current furore be cooled, diplomatic efforts must find ways to continue to enjoy, if not the goodwill and friendship, at least the tolerance of the US. Any other path will damage Pakistan immeasurably.

If you want to know the alternative, just look at how Afghanistan ended up.

*Spare me the comparisons of an American-Pakistani stand-off to Battle of Badr, please. I know my history, and I also know that the kafirs in 7th century Arabia did not have F-117A Nighthawk stealth aircraft armed with GBU-27 laser guided bunker buster bombs and submarine launched inter-continental ballistic missiles.

Living in America

The following is a clip from a post for ExpressTribune by Taimur Ahmed published on 8 August titled, ‘American life through the eyes of a Pakistani’. The full, original piece can be read by clicking here.

Taimur AhmedOnce you are at immigration you are asked the same questions you were asked when you got your visa.The officers asks you what kind of vegetables you are carrying with you on that particular day, which firearms you decided to bring along and how many times you personally met Osama Bin Laden.

Once you’ve answered these extremely relevant questions you move on out of the airport and hail a cab. The whole ride you think about how unbelievable it is that you are finally in the country where all your favourite movies have been made, you tell yourself you’ve seen that building in some movie and you take picture with your brand new Blackberry to upload it on Facebook.

And then, something unexpected happens.

You reach your destination and contrary to what everyone has told you, the locals are actually nice to you! It’s the Pakistani’s who try to keep their distance. They don’t seem to want to be associated with you, they don’t seem confident enough to let everyone know they are from Pakistan. But it’s okay, because you’ve already made tons of American friends. They are all really nice to you and make you feel really comfortable. They ask you plenty of questions because they seem to know that everything they’ve been shown on TV can’t mostly be true. And that’s when you realize it’s not the American people who hate us, not even the American government.

They do not have any hidden agendas against us; they do not want to harm us.

They just want to make sure that we will in no way harm them. When they see that you will not, you are welcomed as one of them. You have been accepted.

You see, it is not America or the American people who have developed this feeling towards us, they had no need to. It is the hero of many, Mr Osama Bin Laden and his countless followers who have done this to us. They have cast doubts upon us; they have made sure that we are the last ones to be looked at when there’s a job opening even though we might have a better GPA then most of our class.

To change the way they look at us Pakistanis we must change our behavior. We cannot go there and attempt to blow up bombs, it is not right.

Sure, they’re not treating us in the best way possible right now, but why should they?

We fostered the world’s most wanted terrorist, Pakistani’s tried to blow up Time’s Square, Pakistani’s funded terrorist organizations and Pakistani’s come from a country that is nuclear powered and is reportedly on the brink of collapse.

If we do not change ourselves, then it is only a matter of time before we are denied entry not only into the United States but into every civilized society in whole world.