See a different side to the Pakistan we keep hearing about

3:51 pm - August 7th 2013

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by Anwar Akhtar

Power shortages, food crisis, water shortages and a military obsessed with cold war doctrines and strategic power games. About 60 million people in Pakistan (one in three) live in poverty, half of adults – including two out of three women – are illiterate.

One in eleven children die before their fifth birthday, with 12,000 women dying in childbirth every year, and almost half of children under five suffer from stunted growth, which can affect brain development.

I am a British Pakistani who cares deeply for Pakistan. We should be prepared to speak out much more frequently about the huge injustices and hate crimes against Pakistan’s minority communities. How sectarian organisations use religion as cover for oppression of women. Civil rights and equality apply to everybody.

By looking at the work of brave civil rights activists in Pakistan, opposing violence against women, challenging corruption or working on education and health programmes, we can also inspire young people to raise their ambitions about what can be done through social activism in Britain.

I have visited numerous welfare organisations in Pakistan, such as the Citizens Foundation, the Edhi Foundation and the Simorgh Women’s project. I have seen many of the same values at work as those that are rooted in our British identity. Organisations such as the Salvation Army, Barnardo’s and the suffragettes were, not so long ago, dealing with challenges and social evils similar to those that Pakistan faces today.

I want to promote cross-cultural dialogue and trust in the UK and Pakistan, by profiling the many different faces of Pakistan, supporting those working in the arts, welfare, education, human rights, civil society and citizen journalism. To build stronger links between Pakistani social projects, Britain and the British Pakistani community.

People trying to improve society in Britain have actually got a lot in common with people working to do the same in Pakistan.

The RSA and (a site I run) launched Pakistan Calling, a film project to promote cross-cultural dialogue.

The films depict Pakistani civil society organisations and individuals attempting to tackle the country’s many problems, and also Pakistan’s many links with Britain. Pakistan Calling is not just aimed at the British Pakistani community, but anybody who has an interest in Pakistan and issues of identity, culture and citizenship.

So I ask readers at Liberal Conspiracy to take some time, to watch the films and help spread the word about the civil rights, education and welfare organisations, whose work the films feature, as one positive way to help civil rights and social justice groups in Pakistan today.

Another way to help would be to join or subscribe to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Films making up Pakistan Calling include I Am Agha, the story of one of Pakistan’s 1.5 million street children, an exclusive interview with Channel 4’s Jon Snow on Pakistan in the media, Midnight’s Grandchildren by the Asian Dub Foundation on identity, race and religion, and Tehmina Durrani on women’s rights in Pakistan.

Anwar is Director of a culture and news site with a focus on South Asia and Britain, he is part of and an associate of , Manchester based regeneration practice. Twitter @aakhtar

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Reader comments

Firstly, I don’t want to distract attention from Mr Akhtar’s videos. They’re interesting and worth your time.

With that said, I see this kind of sentiment around a lot and don’t really understand it…

How sectarian organisations use religion as cover for oppression of women.

I don’t think that it makes sense to claim that Islamic totalists – or, indeed, members of any other religion – use their faith as a cover for the hatred of women.

Some people might find religion appealing because they are misogynists, yes, but the millions of people in nations like Pakistan who endorse gender segregation; the stoning of adulterers and so on are not simply woman haters. Millions of them are women. The will to oppress has to originate in something, and this is sometimes culture and, yes, religion. I’d guess that most of those represented in the poll I linked to are not bad people so much as devout people in thrall to bad ideas.

I admire the sentiment here and am sure there are pockets of progress in Pakistan. In fity years time there could have been real progress and change there. In a hundred years time certainly. But in the meantime, places like Karachi face huge, seemingly impossible problems.
The Telegraph’s Peter Oborne did a really intersesting programme about Karachi a couple of years ago. This one.

Karachi, Quetta, the NW Frontier Tribal Provinces – the country has a mountain to climb. And it could well become a failed state before there is real improvement.

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