Just The Facts

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Friday, November 04, 2005

South Asia Survived Genghis Khan; It’ll Survive Another Year of Me

ENROUTE TO PAKISTAN, October 21, 2005—As if South Asia hasn’t suffered enough, what with G. Khan invading, Osama and the Taliban setting social policy, and having cricket as its major sport, the benighted area will now have to suffer my presence for yet another year.

Having spent the last year helping Afghanistan rush madly into the 11th Century, my next assignment will be in its neighbor, Pakistan, helping the President and Prime Minster communicate their policies to the UK and USA. I’m sure you are all aware of how well the President did on his last visit to the US. It probably didn’t come as a surprise that his dinner with Gloria Steinem and Susan Estrich, with Gloria Allred serving, had to be cancelled.

I have been to Islamabad a few times and found it to be Ottawa without the soul. Actually, it’s a very pretty city, some fifty years old, marked by broad, tree-lined boulevards and stunning public buildings. In fact, I believe the PM’s secretariat is the nicest public building I’ve ever been in, certainly much better decorated than jails and police stations or so I hear.

While there is apparently only one restaurant in the city of 1.5 million that serves drinks with dinner, I’m sure that in no time I’ll find my own little “D Block,” my former boite at which I spent so many Afghan Happy Hours. I am a little concerned that the selection of The Vintners Art might be a little lacking, but sacrifices are inevitable as we fight the Global War on Terror (GWOT.)

Actually, this duty will be a far cry from my past fourteen months in Afghanistan. Perhaps the best news is that I will no longer be a State Department employee. My experience as a State Department employee is worth a separate tome, similar in vein to the Grand Guignol. Let me say, while I met many dedicated Foreign Service Officers, my general impression of State was it combined all the sclerotic elements of tenured positions, government employment and a strong union.

I’ll no longer be living in a 20’ x 8’ shipping container, having secured a very nice three-bedroom house in Islamabad, furnished with all the elements, TV with remote and a 500 channels, a high-speed Internet connection and staff to serve my every culinary wish, needed to make it a fine place to live. The TV is very interesting. While I have hundreds of channels the only English language ones are the BBC, an execrable, anti-western bastion, a porn channel and some Christian religious channels. I find myself watching the BEEB, getting furious, changing to the porn channel, then, since I’m too old to appreciate it, changing to either a Christian channel or an Arab religious channel with either preachers or mullahs chanting and exhorting their followers to do something. I guess among the three options the porn channel is the most honest!

Since the lovely Cindy will be joining me, it will be a little different than the locked down hootch living that made the Kabul experience so ….memorable. While there are some downsides, the odd earthquake for instance, I look forward to a nice living arrangement, though I’ll miss all the nights outside D-20, drinking to excess and listening to the great stories of my friends and colleagues in Kabul.

I also won’t be encased in an up armored, bullet-proof SUV when I take to the streets. (I think that’s a plus.) Rather, I’ll have my own car and driver and he won’t be packing heat! I’ll also be able to walk outside, on real sidewalks without having armed guards following my every move. Sounds like a little bit of heaven to me.

As for work, I am, for the fourth time, getting a check from my long-time employer, Hill & Knowlton. I’ll be a one-man outpost in Islamabad, working closely with the Prime Minister and President and their respective staffs, making certain that the efforts they are undertaking in building a moderate Islamic nation while at the same time being the USA’s strongest partner in the GWOT are communicated to western audiences. For all of you who know my commitment to the GWOT, I assure you that I have been assured by the senior members of the US government and military that Pakistan is our ally in this war and is doing all it can, under difficult domestic circumstances, to help us. I am also convinced, after speaking directly with the PM and the President, that their vision of a modern, moderate Islamic state in South Asia is rational and achievable. As with much in South Asia, the journey will be long, arduous and not without setbacks. Though Pakistan has far more natural resources and a much stronger economy than Afghanistan, it still is beset with sectarian and religious violence, an almost feudal system in some areas and other problems endemic to South Asia. Perhaps the earthquake relief effort, which brought Pakistan and India together if even for a short time, will help move the country forward. I certainly hope so.

Stay tuned.