Meeting the Hidden People
My trip to the United States
by Liaquat Ali, co-spokesperson, Pakistan Green Party
In April I visited the United States of Amer≠ica. My trip occurred at a very precipitous time as conflict was escalating in the Swat Valley of my country Pakistan, creating close to a million refugees and raising international fears about the stability of the government and the safety of its nuclear arsenal.
The main purpose of my trip was to tell people in the U.S. about the ongoing situation in Pakistan, and help them be aware of what is facing the U.S. government if it gets more involved there, assuming the media and U.S. government are not always telling the truth.
Being co-chairperson of the Pakistan Green Party and active in the Asia-Pacific Green Network, before I left Pakistan I contacted California Green Mike Feinstein, whom Iíve met doing international work on several occasions. As a member of the Green Party of the United States (GPUS) International Committee, he was able to arrange a seven-city tour that took me from Texas to Manhattan, with several stops in between.
I started my journey in Houston, Texas with an appearance on a public access cable TV program there called GreenWatch. The show is co-produced by local Green Art Browning and focused this time on South Asia geopolitics. I argued how important it was that in addition to there being a close relationship between the U.S. and Pakistani government, the peoples of our two countries also need to know each other better, so the relationship between our nations can be more ìbottom-up.î
Browning arranged meetings with Greens running in non-partisan races for Houston City Council this year (Alfred Molison, Deb Shafto, and Don Cook), from whom I learned a lot about how Greens work on the local level in the U.S. and with whom I shared much about Green politics in Pakistan.
I was asked about the role of women in Pakistani society and female education. I was surprised people in U.S. think women in Pakistan are not allowed to pursue higher education and participate in daily life. It was a surprise for them when I told them about 70 percent of students are female in medical education and 60 percent in science fieldsóand 35 percent of national and provincial parliamentarians are women.
It seems the media projects a bad image of society and hides the good, not only about Pakistan but also the United States. In Pakistan the media, which is the only source of information, projects the U.S. as a rich peopleís country and an ideal model society, free from discrimination and corruption. Then I came here and heard about corruption in the police departments. Police in Pakistan are some of the most corrupt, but I wasnít expecting that in the U.S.
My second stop in Texas was Austin, the state capitol and a beautiful place. I met Bill Stout, who serves as the state Legis≠lative Liaison for the Green Party of Texas. We talked about U.S./Pakistan politics, opportunities and political blocks for the Green Party, national media consolidation and misconceptions portrayed in the press. While in Texas I also met number of leaders of the local Pakistani-American community, including author Mr. Manzoor Ahmed Memon, Mr.Akhtat Abbass Wakko, and the Pakistani Consulate General Mr. Moham≠mad Aqil Nadeem.
My next stop was New Orleans, Louisi≠ana. I was excited to meet with Malik Rahim and to see post Katrina development. Rahim is the director of Common Ground Relief, a community group that helped provide food and housing for people after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. Last Decem≠ber Rahim also ran for the U.S. House of Representatives as a Green.
My visit to New Orleans left me with more questions than answers. I saw a large imbalance in society and a stream of poverty that made me think I was in any developing country. What Rahim told me about post-Katrina New Orleans made me upset and I saw how the Mississippi River divided rich and poor. On the positive side, I also met common people sensitive toward killing of innocent people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq by U.S. forces.
This was first time I considered how the U.S. gives aid to poor countries, but doesnít provide for its own people living in poverty. I also visited the famous French Quarters, with people walking the narrow old streets, enjoying the 24-hour nightlife, but apparently oblivious to or just ignoring what occurs in other parts of the city.
Next I landed in Chicago. Local Green Jack Ailey, took me to the Illinois Green Party state meeting in Champaign, two hours south. I briefly addressed the delegates there and also got to understand more of the U.S. political system, especially how difficult it can be for small parties to even contest elections in the U.S.
Recently the Election Commission of Pakistan recommended some changes in the electoral system adopted from the U.S. system and supported by U.S. organizations, including the International Foun≠dation for Electoral Systems and USAID. Knowing what I do now about the U.S., I believe the Pakistan Green Party should be very skeptical of attempts to reflect the U.S. election system.
I also talked with members about how U.S. drone attacks are killing innocent people in Pakistan, causing more than 900 deaths and thousands of people to mi≠grate from those areas. I found everyone worried about war and killing of civilian people and the so-called war on terror. It was the first time I felt hope there are people who do not consider war as good business.
In Washington, D.C. I visited the GPUS national office where I met volunteer David Bosserman and GPUS Political Director Brent McMillan. I also worked with GPUS Media Coordinator Scott McLarty to craft a public statement. The GPUS did a joint press release of the Green Parties of Paki≠stan and the U.S. calling for an end to U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistanís borders.
My next stop was Philadelphia, where Vivek Ananthan, another member of the GPUS International Committee, met me. Later that night I was the guest speaker at a local Green event. When I left Phila≠del≠phia I took the Amtrak Train, which I took from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia, all the way to New York. There is not a lot of passenger rail in the U.S., but this rail corridor is the busiest.
In New York I stayed in Brooklyn at the home of Gloria Mattera, a former Green Party candidate and state party co-chair. I gave a formal speech to a meeting of local Greens and also made a lot of friends just traveling on the subway. Mattera showed me a page of the New York Times, which had pictures of Pakistanis on a motor bike with beards and caps, a caption reading ìTaliban gathering.î I found it incredible how they were represented, since it was a picture of common people from the northern part of Pakistan.
I finished my trip by meeting with GPUS International Committee members Julia Willebrand (New York) and Justine McCabe (Connecticut). We discussed fut≠ure cooperation and linkage between our two parties.
I finished my journey with many an≠swers, but even more questions. Iíve come to know more of the U.S., its people and the Green Party. Thatís why I give this the title of the ìHidden People,î because I met the real people of the U.S., hidden by the media in our country and their issues along with them. I went to this country to share the problems of my country, but came back knowing there are similar problems facing both.
Back home, my trip to the U.S. also made news. On May 13th I was quoted in the context of an impending meeting be≠tween Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in The News International, the largest English-language newspaper in Paki≠stan. While the world tends to say the people driven from the Swat Valley are Intern≠ally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and are the responsibility of the Pakistani government to provide basic amenities, I was reminded that time and again the U.N., U.S. and world at large have said that war against terror is a global war. These displaced one million people, and any one who is affected and displaced due to combat against terrorism, is a refugee affected by a global war and deserves the attention and assistance as a ìrefugee,î not as an IDP.
I believe Greens in our two countries need to be in greater contact. I invited all those that I met to visit Pakistan and come to our national party Congress in Lahore, August 23-25, 2009. Together we can bring peace to this planet.
More information: www.pakistangreens.org
Knowing what I do now about the U.S., I believe the Pakistan Green Party should be very skeptical of attempts to reflect the U.S. election system.