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Author discusses U.S.-American/Pakistani relations at the City Club

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent  

 

The Cleveland Foundation awarded Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid with the Anisfield Wolf Book Award for his fiction novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist—a tale of a Pakistani immigrant living the U.S.-American dream, caught in the whirlwinds of post 9/11. The award recognizes books that challenge, open minds, and promote understanding between races and cultures.

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“We are suffering from a crisis of empathy… a failure to put ourselves in the shoes of other people,” said Hamid at the City Club of Cleveland on Friday, Sept. 12, 2008. He said fiction allows the reader to shed personal biases and imagine life from another person’s perspective, encourages understanding and communication.

 

A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law, Hamid is a trained lawyer and has worked as a freelance journalist in Pakistan. His works have been published in the Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and many others. Though born in Lahore, Pakistan, Hamid has lived abroad for more than half his life and currently resides in London, UK.

 

He talked about the U.S.-American/Pakistani alliance in the War on Terror by providing a brief account of the states 61 year political history and the three dictators allied with the United States, their demise, and a period of democracy in the 1990s.

 

“When Pakistan was in this democratic state, they were also subject to sanctions by the United States,” he said.   Hamid said the two countries have repeatedly been allies against the Soviets in the Cold War, Afghan invasion, only to sour.

 

Following September 11, 2001, as the need arose to attack Afghanistan, the U.S. rekindled its alliance with Pakistan under the military rule of General Pervaiz Musharraf and exchanged $2 billion a year in aid for military assistance in Pakistan along the North Western Frontier Province—a hot bed for Taliban activities.

 

In Feb. 2008, Pakistan held elections, granting power to Democratic parties and rejecting religious parties by 97 percent. General Musharaf resigned handing over rule to civilian law under Asif Zardari, the widower of assassinated leader Benazir Bhutto.

 

Hamid credited Mushraf for liberalization of the media, which offers a platform for Pakistanis to debate and express opinions and to access global information ranging from news, ideas, and U.S.-American popular culture. “Suddenly there’s a very powerful and fiercely independent media that is very critical of the government when it needs to be,” Hamid said.

 

He said in the wake of these changing conditions U.S.-American policy and attitude needs to shift and respect the sentiments and feelings of the U.S.-American people. “It is no longer possible to be an ally of a General in charge of the country; it is only possible to be an ally to the people of the country,” Hamid said.

He said Pakistanis share the concern of U.S.-Americans regarding terrorism and the rising death tolls of innocent Pakistani civilians creates a desire to solve the problem of terrorism. 

 

U.S. President George W. Bush recently authorized ground troops to pursue military raids in Pakistan without prior approval from the democratic government. Hamid said this undermines the U.S.-American/Pakistani alliance and hardens anti-U.S.-American sentiment among Pakistanis who are suspicious of U.S.-America’s motives. “U.S. is insisting that the potential threat to its citizens from activities in the border region trumps the immediate and lethal threat faced by Pakistanis,” he said.

 

Hamid said the two nations have the common interest in building a stable region but it will require mutual respect, caution, and slow progress. “As opposed to the U.S. saying this is what we want, this is what you must do, and if you don’t, here are the consequences…,” Hamid said, the U.S. will benefit by lowering its expectations a little and working with the Pakistan government to set a long-term, shared vision. He described the border region as a complex situation that has taken centuries to develop and warned there is no quick fix.

 

Hamid said the conflicts raging along the border can not be seen as problems between two sovereign states because the tribes consider themselves to be one people who are Afghan by race and Pakistani by default of being born within a fictitious border sketched by then-imperial Great Britain.

 

He said Afghanistan and Pakistan need to work toward bringing the benefits of government rule to the tribal belt which will neutralize the extremists. “We have people here are of both places and we need to jointly think of a solution,” Hamid concluded.

 

To listen to Hamid’s entire speech visit http://www.cityclub.org/content/podcasts. For more information on Hamid’s books and articles visit: http://www.mohsinhamid.com/

 

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