BY INDIRA PRAHST
Instructor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology
THE new Consul General of Pakistan, Dr. Muhammad Tariq, told me in an interview that the negative perception of Pakistan has to be cleared up. “We need to invite people from this part of the world so they see the situation on the ground,” he added.
Dr. Tariq was reacting to my own experience in Pakistan a few years ago. Just before boarding the aircraft for Pakistan, I came across a magazine cover with the headline “Pakistan the most dangerous place in the world.” Yet what I experienced was completely different.
He suggested that incidents such as the horrific massacre of school children and others by terrorists in Peshawar last December “and the fact that we have been carrying a long war on terror exaggerates this perception of Pakistan.” He noted: “It’s human nature that they focus on negatives, but forget the good things.”
And Pakistan for sure has a plethora of good things. Dr. Tariq pointed out that people generally think that Pakistan was created only in 1947, but the fact is that it has a history that stretches back more than 10,000 years. “Pakistan is home to different civilizations … and the Indus Valley Civilization,” Dr. Tariq said. “So it’s quite a long journey this land has had. … We have more than 70 languages spoken in Pakistan, so it gives a lot of diversity to the whole Country. You might be aware of Pakistan’s 100 peaks and the 8000-metre-high mountains in the Karakoram Range.”
In fact, I found out from Wikipedia that “the Karakoram is home to the highest concentration of peaks over 8000m in height to be found anywhere on earth, including K2, the second highest peak in the world at 8,611 m (28,251 ft).”
Dr. Tariq highlighted his country’s diverse geographical features stretching from the snow-peaked mountains to the desert. He noted: “It’s quite an interesting and amazing place to see and this aspect probably is hidden from most people, not only in Canada, but also in the rest of the western world.”
Dr. Tariq comes to Canada with impressive experience in Pakistan’s Foreign Service. Just prior to his posting here, he worked in the foreign Ministry in Islamabad, first in the South Asia Division, where he also dealt with the issue relating to SAARC, Kashmir, and other South Asian countries and then as Director General dealing with Africa.
Here is the rest of the edited interview:
PRAHST: How is Pakistan moving forward on the economic front?
DR. TARIQ: We do have a number of challenges and Pakistan has been affected by the global economic down turn. However, the current government since it came into power has embarked on a number of measures to put the economy on track. One of the biggest challenges for us has been the energy crisis in Pakistan, so the government is working on a priority basis just to end it especially through initiation of a number of hydro-power projects. We have a number of mega projects, especially in hydro power sectors – the Tarbela Dam (on the Indus River is known as the largest earth-filled dam in the world). We have been holding a number of events to attract Pakistan investment from abroad and a number of companies are there. Yes, we have challenges, but we are on the right track.
INDIRA: What about Canada?
DR. TARIQ: If you would go back into the history of Pakistan, a number of mega projects were carried out with the assistance of the government of Canada, including, Tarbela Dam, Warsak hydro power projects near Peshawar city and you might be aware of Canadian assistance in the building of the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP). So these are some of the important projects and my mandate as a Consul General of Pakistan is to promote trade and have Canadian investors especially from British Columbia in Pakistan for hydro projects etc. which are of immense importance to us.
INDIRA: As you know, Nankana Sahib is the birthplace of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, and Kartarpur Sahib is the gurdwara where Guru Nanak Ji spent the last years of his life. As such, it is the dream of Sikhs to visit these Sikh shrines. When I was there for Vaisakhi, I saw how well protected the visitors were at these sites. So what would you say to people who want to visit Sikh shrines for Vaisakhi ? Have the security conditions changed since last year?
DR. TARIQ: There are isolated incidents that cannot be generalized. For our Sikh brothers, Pakistan has always been a hospitable country and we have always loved them. It’s always amazing to meet a Sardar wearing his turban and wherever he would go in Pakistan he would always be received with warmth. I don’t think there are any incidents that happened to Sikh pilgrims. … You must know about how Pakistanis are friendly and peace-loving people who welcome foreigners irrespective of their affiliations.
INDIRA: What is new in the relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan?
DR. TARIQ: Pakistan and Afghanistan have traditionally symbiotic relations. We have deep-rooted relations and our government has given priority to those relations. They are one of the biggest trading partners of Pakistan and there have been recent high-level exchanges. The President of Afghanistan, Mr. [Mohammad Ashraf] Ghani was in Pakistan recently and they had fruitful interactions. Since then a number of high-level exchanges at the civilian and military level have taken place. I am sure these recent exchanges will take our relations to new heights.
INDIRA: How does Pakistan benefit from this relationship?
DR. TARIQ: Pakistan has been host to a number of refugees. No other country has been more profoundly affected by the war in Afghanistan than Pakistan. So a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is in our good interest and in the interest of the whole region. We have been working together on a number of projects, including TAPI pipeline. With Afghanistan there is an opportunity to direct commercial and business ties besides our cultural linkages.
INDIRA: Kashmir continues to be a contentious issue. What is Pakistan’s position on Kashmir?
DR. TARIQ: The solution of Kashmir lies is continued dialogue, Pakistan being a strong believer in dialogue. Besides Kashmir there are a number of issues, such as water issues and security etc. The Indian Foreign Secretary will be in Pakistan shortly. Pakistan is open to discussing all outstanding issues with India.
INDIRA: For you as a Pakistani, there is a lot of love and pride in your nation. So how do you feel when you see a different image of your nation?
DR. TARIQ: We have always been a very resilient people. I pointed out earlier that our history is more than 10,000 years old. We have challenges, but we enjoy challenges. A challenge is always an opportunity. We are not bothered or deterred by one or two people who form an opinion about us as Pakistanis because we know about our inherent positive (outlook) and goodness. I was just gathering all these books of the history of Pakistan; there are a lot of books to promote.
INDIRA: I know there are many books about Pakistan’s history. Last year, I was gifted a new book on Sikh shrines when I was in Lahore. It is important because in the Western world there is a perception that Pakistan excludes minorities.
DR. TARIQ: We have many people from different communities: Christian, Hindu, Sikh and others. The constitution of Pakistan provides full liberty to the minorities to practice their religion. With regards to the minority issue which has reached the headlines, I must say that it is not specific to Pakistan. No country has a perfect human right record. There are some issues like blasphemy laws in Pakistan making international headlines. The blasphemy laws exist in many countries. The existing Blasphemy Law is the continuation of the Blasphemy Law introduced by the British Government in India. The law is non-discriminatory. Since 2007 to 2010, 253 persons have been convicted under this law of which only 9 were non-Muslims. Similar laws prohibiting Holocaust denial exist in European Union legislation. The basic aim of the blasphemy law is to prevent the use of religion for inter-religious violence. An independent judiciary, free media and a vibrant civil society provide safeguards against the misuse of this law.
INDIRA: Locally here what are some events you will be involved in with the Pakistan community?
DR. TARIQ: The Pakistan community is mostly in the Surrey region and some here in Vancouver. They have been actively involved in organizing events and some have been organizing for March 20 [Pakistani Canadian Cultural Association of BC (PCCA-BC) is celebrating Pakistan Day on Friday, March 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Royal King Palace, Unit 365 – 8158 – 128 Street, Surrey]. The Pakistan community is newer and small as compared to some other communities especially our Sikh brothers who have been here for more than 100 years. The Pakistan community is growing and is able to project themselves in a nice way, as peace-loving people and law-abiding Canadians of Pakistan origin. Whenever they need our support, we make sure we are there to support them.