One of the most frustrating things about being a foreigner in Pakistan is that everyone thinks you’re a spy. Everyone. It’s deeply annoying.
Of course, nobody says it to your face. Pakistanis are far too polite for that. When I tell them that I am here to raise funds for an NGO which provides education and healthcare to people too poor to afford it for themselves they nod and smile and thank me – but I have no doubt that somewhere at the back of their mind is a niggling suspicion that I’m doing something else entirely. That I’m not an NGO worker but instead Jason Bourne, or James Bond. The fact that I’m not going to my office in the back of a fancy car but instead am sweating it out on the bus like everyone else doesn’t seem to dissuade them. Maybe that’s part of my elaborate cover.
A cartoon showing the Afghan Emir threatened by Russia and the UK, both of whom professed to be his friend and ally.
To be fair, their suspicion is partly logical. There is a long history of Westerners meddling in Pakistan, from the days of the Great Game when British spies headed north in disguise to map out mountain passes and to bribe local leaders, all the way through to Raymond Davis, the moronic CIA contractor who shot dead two men in Lahore and bribed his way out of trouble. You can’t blame Pakistanis for being angry about it. Wouldn’t we be angry if a Pakistani intelligence official shot people in Birmingham or Liverpool and got out of trouble by handing over a suitcase of cash to the families?
But to attribute such nefarious motives to every single foreigner in the country is baffling. I know many people who have dedicated their lives – their entire working lives – to providing healthcare and education to impoverished Pakistanis. Doctors who could be earning six figure salaries in the West who spend their days sweating it out in Multan or Tank, saving the lives of people in return for a puny salary. Foreign aid workers who come to Pakistan to administer aid grants from Western countries – immense amounts of money, donated by taxpayers in the West to strengthen educational systems in remote areas – who aren’t allowed to renew their visas and are forced to leave. An entire hospital in the south of the country is on the point of closing because the only doctor can’t obtain a visa “for security reasons”. Quite how an elderly female doctor working in a remote area poses a mortal threat to the stability of Pakistan is anyone’s guess.
Pakistan is a profoundly cynical and suspicious country. That comes from being the punching bag for the world’s superpowers, I guess; it is reasonable enough to suspect the motives of people who have screwed you over in the past. But to tar everyone with the same brush? To attribute the same nefarious motives to every single foreigner who come here? That is simply illogical.
So there’s not much point saying this, since people here suspect everything and trust no-one, but here goes: I honestly want to see Pakistan strengthened, made prosperous, to see its education system improved so that everyone can go to school, to see the economy flourish, to see clean water and power and books available to everyone, everywhere. And you can quote me on that.