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May. 15 2009 - 9:07 am | 157 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Everyone is a jerk except me

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Updated: The graphic below was originally published by the New York Times

I was reading the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal today. Okay, shut up. I know, I know. The WSJ is terrible. It’s not that I expect to come across good ideas, or valuable information, in a newspaper that’d have a real world personification of a fat businessman standing atop a mound of dead immigrants, shouting: “FREEDOM! MONEY! OIL!”

However, reading the WSJ always gives me a giggle. Except the days it gives me a headache, which is today. This guy named Bret Stephens wrote an article titled “Pakistan’s Existential Challenge.” This immediately caught my eye because I had no idea Pakistan was currently undergoing a crisis of existential proportions. If anything, I thought the United States was experiencing existentialism, meaning a change in its subjective view of the world, which causes anxiety and a great deal of fear.

Actually, it’s business as usual in Pakistan where they’re used to dealing with the “Taliban,” a mix of real Taliban and northwestern tribal members. Pakistan is also accustomed to ignoring the Durand line (the line that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan) because: A) They’re not British, and B) Afghanistan’s Emir Abdur Rahman Khan died in 1901. And those are the only people who cared about that line. Everyone else realizes this is what the region actually looks like:

swaraaj-pashtun-ethnic-1

Graphic by the New York Times

It’s no wonder that drawing a line that divides the Pashtun population in half is causing so much trouble. When I recently interviewed professor Noam Chomsky, he summed up the Durand line, “as if someone drew a line between Cambridge and Boston.” I’m sure drunk Red Sox fans would handle that in a calm, rational manner.

But at least the Taliban is heavily armed and funded. Back when the Russians were the baddies, Reagan poured money and arms into Afghanistan’s Mujahideen, which would eventually become the Taliban. Consult the above map, and you can see that arming Pashtuns in Afghanistan essentially meant arming the northwestern provinces of Pakistan, as well. Of course, 1980s Americans were incredibly myopic since they were the dominant leaders of the world. There was no need for self-reflection or careful planning, which is why America backed every single military dictatorship in Pakistan.

“[America has] prevented the organic development and flow of democracy and democratic values,” says historian and novelist Tariq Ali. “Very little happens in Pakistan without the approval or green light being given by the United States.” And yet while the US funnels money to arm paramilitary forces, it completely ignores the most vulnerable members of societies. “The United Nations development figures for Pakistan show that over the last twelve years, 60% of the children born in Pakistan are born severely or moderately stunted because of malnutrition. Do any of the politicians talk about it?  No.”

But back to Pakistan’s whole existential crisis thing. An existential crisis can occur when one suddenly becomes aware of one’s own mortality as Americans most certainly did on 9/11. Americans experienced a sense of fear and isolation, particularly when our leaders kept hammering home the message that terrorists want all of us dead. The financial bailouts reminded Americans that their country is run by a corrupt oligarchy that harbors no sympathy for average Americans’ meager lives. That bred temporary populist rage, immediately followed by a sense of hopeless. The bad guys will get away again, but this time with taxpayer money.

If anything, it sounds like America is the country experiencing existentialism. What is our purpose? Why are we here? Why am I reading the Wall Street Journal? But in classic projectionist style, Stephens hands the blame to Pakistan. America isn’t the country redefining its purpose. It’s Pakistan! Crazy Pakistan! And while Pakistan is certainly a chaotic state, it’s only volatile because of circumstances thrust upon it. If tomorrow America lost all its wealth, the world refused to send aid, and China injected the United States with nothing but arms and inconvenient borders that split communities in half, all hell would break loose.

So back to the question: What is our purpose? The answer may be in Indonesia. Back when the War on Terror was building up steam back in 2003, America’s approval rating in Indonesia (a country with the largest Muslim population in the world,) was a pitiful 13%. But after the tsunami hit Indonesia, and America started sending aid instead of war to the Muslims, the US approval rating climbed to 38%. 

Maybe instead of predator drones, the US should try investing in Pakistani children, and prevent the Taliban from acquiring new recruits. Of course, solutions like that are never as fun as writing about existentialism and accusing everyone else of being irresponsible assholes.



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  1. collapse expand

    As a fellow blogger, and New York Times employee, I notice that this map, which is central to your post, seems to have come from an article published in The New York Times in 2001 explaining the region’s demographics, but you didn’t publish the credit or indicate that you’d taken it from that source. Seems like you should.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/21/world/nation-challenged-roots-afghan-pakistani-tribe-lives-its-guns-honor.html

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