I have just returned from visiting some good friends in Pakistan, friends we have known and loved for 23 years. I was also introduced to many more new and wonderful people who have a real passion and heart for this great nation. Below are some simple observations from my visit:
- The nation is suffering financially: Urban unemployment is on the rise across the country as the fallout from the China downturn bites, corruption saps incentive and the high national debt drains finance from the country.
- Many families I met are struggling. Most rent, so employment is crucial as there is no safety net. Everyone is worried.
- The ugly specter of the corona virus is real. Many Pakistani’s suffer from chronic coughs and colds because of the poor air quality in the cities. On some days the visibility was down to 2-3 kilometers when I was in Lahore. It will wreck havoc with the health of older people.
- The minority religions are also suffering. In spite of this the minorities are resilient and strive for the greater good for their country.
- Generosity abounds. The people I met were often poor but incredibly generous with their hospitality and even gave kind gifts that they could ill-afford.
- The Christian churches are stuck in the traditional Western mold and are only now getting a vision to take the love of Jesus to the Muslim community. Some are far ahead of others, but generally the Western system of doing church encourages passivity on behalf of the congregation and empire building on behalf of the leadership. This was particularly evident with some of the local Christian media ministries.
- One church in particular is doing a great job of adapting the Gospel away from the Western tradition and into the pattern of the New Testament.
- The country survives on the mighty Indus river irrigation scheme, the largest in the world. With the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and the drying of the Himalayan alpine climate, the long term future of this irrigation system is under threat. I also saw widespread salt damage on irrigation in the lower Sindh Province.
- Lahore is light-years ahead of Hyderabad! Lahore is the leading city of the country with wide avenues, a great transport system, the best hospitals leading universities and a new metro. Hyderabad cant even fix the thousand potholes outside the main railway station or the raw sewage that fills those same potholes!
- Pakistan is surprisingly British: Weekends are Saturday and Sunday. They drive on the British side of the road. Almost all advertising is in English and British legacy buildings and infrastructure is everywhere.
- Politics is incredibly corrupt. Power is the goal of most people in politics, and money gives you power. Corruption pervades most economic and political activity, particularly in the south where Hyderabad was crippled for years by a mafia gang.
- The military are the true rulers of Pakistan. This will never change. There are military bases scattered through the suburbs of Lahore to a level that is almost uncomfortable. Most military commanders live in luxury and control large business empires.
- The streets are dominated by men. Whether day or night, men are to be seen everywhere. During the day the ratio is 70-30. At night the ratio is 95-5. Women are almost never seen out at night while the men are obviously enjoying a great social time. It is a very unbalanced mental memory and one that raises significant questions about the status of women in the country.
- Phones have given young Pakistani men access to things they should not see. There is great concern over the safety of daughters from every father and mother I met.
I could go on, but this is a quick glimpse of today’s Pakistan: Half modern, half ancient. Half progressive and half ultra-conservative. Half developed and half economically backward. Half religious and half secular, but always and everywhere greeting me with a big heart and a big smile!