October 26, 2010
After the Floods: Pakistan's Double Jeopardy
The country is going through a defining moment, says visiting security analyst.
In the first of three events in CIS's World Beyond the Headlines series, students, faculty, and members of the community filled the Home Room at International House on October 19 to learn more about the disastrous effects of the floods in Pakistan from renowned security analyst Imtiaz Gul.
Gul addressed the implications of the flood within the broader security situation in the region. According to the International Red Cross, up to 2.5 million people have been affected by the devastating floods that began this July. Gul presented maps of the flooded regions and noted that the floods have impacted half a million farmers in Pakistan.
"The river is like many snakes that come together and form a monster that is displacing millions, destroying crops," Gul said. "The country is facing an imminent food shortage."
Gul is Director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad and author of The Most Dangerous Place: Pakistan’s Lawless Frontier. He emphasized that the environmental disaster alone cannot explain the situation in the country today.
"Pakistan faces a double jeopardy," Gul argued. "Besides the flood, Pakistan has become a battleground for the war of interests between Al Qaeda and the United States. The picture that has emerged as a result of the discourse in the past few years is one of the military, hunger, and terrorist attacks,” he said.
Turning briefly away from the natural and military catastrophes, Gul sought to dispel myths about Pakistani culture. He screened a series of fashion runway and music video clips from Pakistani television and, juxtaposing these against images of "bearded men," explained that Pakistani society is marked by much greater economic and cultural stratification than is commonly understood abroad.
"Chicago appears to me as a region of contrasts," Gul said, "and perhaps Pakistan is similar. Islamabad is like Hyde Park."
Rizwan Kaidr (MBA ’97), president of the Chicago Booth Pakistan Club, was gratified that Gul offered a multi-dimensional view of the recent devastation and violence.
“Individuals always talk about Pakistan in a negative manner,” Kadir said. “Gul was instead able to look for the opportunities Pakistan faces.”
Gul then quickly opened the floor to the audience. The discussion ranged from media coverage of the flood, Pakistani politics, President Zardri’s tenure, the role of Pakistan's large foreign debt in the recovery process, and the possible disintegration of the country as provinces like Balochistan see a rise in separatist activity.
Asked to reflect on similarities between Chicago’s transformation after the Great Fire in 1871 and Pakistan’s current situation, Gul noted that the country "is going through a defining moment today. For the first time, the two major parties are not at each others throats. The judiciary is reforming, and all the rulings within the recent months have been unanimous. This is unprecedented.”
Among the audience members was History Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty, who noted that “Gul created a good depiction of the contrasts between Pakistan’s political and natural concerns.” Chakrabarty, whose recent work includes a critical reevaluation of environmental history, suggested that the floods exposed the difference between short-term political problems and long-term environmental problems.
"The talk didn't take this larger point about the timescale and the scope of the challenge into account," Chakrabarty said. "Perhaps this is reflective of the situation within Pakistan."
Speaking after the talk, Gul concurred. "The difficulty of focusing on the long-term is universal, but it is even more apparent in Pakistan right now," Gul said. "The government is preoccupied with the judiciary and shows no interest in the long-view. No long-term view is possible."
The event was sponsored by the Center for International Studies, the South Asia Language and Area Center and Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and the Chicago Booth Pakistan Club, in cooperation with the American Institute of Pakistan Studies. The World Beyond the Headlinesseries brings scholars and journalists together to consider major international issues and how they are covered in the media.