Taking off from Dhaka and subsequently landing in Karachi is a study in contrasts – you rise above this incredibly wet and green world, crisscrossed with rivers, lush and verdant, and then 3 hours later you begin descending across this brown arid wasteland, crisscrossed with dry wadis and the occasional rock strewn escarpment. The two places couldn’t be more different.
The other thing one notices about the flight is how long it is. It takes something like four hours to go from Bangladesh to Pakistan. And this is in a modern 21st century aeroplane. God knows what it would have taken in 1947. It's during this long flight that I began to realise what a doomed and faintly ridiculous idea it was to create this one country with so much (sporadically hostile) territory between its seperate bits. Who thought it might be a good idea? It's amazing that it actually lasted for 24 years before imploding. For anyone wishing to read about the mess that was East and West Pakistan, and the resultant civil war/war of independence/brutal response to Bangladeshi uprsising, this Wikipedia article is worth a read. I had read before about the atrocities and the brutality that Bengalis suffered in that war of liberation (mostly in John Pilger's "Heroes"), but I had forgotten just how brutal and atrocious it really was.
On other historical matters, while I was in Karachi, I had a long and involved conversation with a (semi-famous?) writer on the subject of the founding of Pakistan and the role and philosophy of Muhammed Iqbal. To be honest, I hadn't heard of Iqbal before, though he was obviously crucial in the creation of the "idea" of Pakistan, and is still seen as the grandfather of the nation (with Jinnah as its father). I opined that founding a state on religious grounds (or ethno-religious grounds) was something I couldn't quite get my head around. The only two such states that I know of are Pakistan and Israel, and while I understand the rationale behind the formation of both, the "dream" on which they were founded seems to have run aground in both cases. My interlocutor said that he saw Pakistan as being founded upon an idea, rather like the US was, which I am not terribly sure I buy, but I suspect that's because he was coming from the literary perspective of the study of Iqbal. We were agreed, however, that whatever the ideal of Pakistan was, the reality was nowhere close.
Pakistan in general is more and more seen as the centre of the world - at least in a Huntington-esque clash of civilisations world. Military dictatorship vs Islamic fundamentalism vs secular / islamic-with-a-small-i democracy. The British government have realised this, it seems, and are devoting lots of resources to education there. Maybe they've got the message that education is more likely to win hearts and minds than bombing the fuck out of people, and then torturing those who are left alive. (Surprisingly the latter approach seems not to be terribly effective).
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