[lg policy] The end of my Pakistan adventure (The writer is the Director of the British Council in Pakistan)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 13 15:39:26 UTC 2012

The end of my Pakistan adventure
By David Martin
Published: April 12, 2012

The writer is the Director of the British Council in Pakistan

As I approach the end of my posting in Pakistan, Fasi Zaka made a
suggestion that I might write a retrospective piece. Taking him at his
word I went to the archives of the first British Council
representative who had written in the first paragraph of his 1948
Annual Report: “Pakistan, surviving the bloodshed which attended its
birth, has passed through a momentous year…”

There are signs that the country is well on the way to economic
stability. Its currency is well established, its credit stands high
and its trade is developing. These achievements are all the more
remarkable when it is recalled that defence obligations have made a
disproportionately heavy drain on her exchequer…” He goes on to
describe education in Pakistan, issues to do with language policy, the
three universities in Pakistan and the difficulties of finding
suitable office and residential accommodation. He ends on a positive
note, recalling the warmth and goodwill he had “encountered among the
young men and women of Pakistan”.

“It is foreseeable that the Council’s work in Pakistan will gain a new
momentum as promise unfolds into performance. By the time the Council
has regained possession of its premises (which had been occupied by
the newly-established CID) staff and equipment will be in their places
to start on the great adventure.”

Over 60 years later, the great adventure continues. Fortunately, I do
not find myself having to share a hotel bedroom with my deputy, like
my predecessor in 1948 (though one of my colleagues on being deplaned
in Paris, on account of bad weather on his way back to London on
leave, found himself sharing a hotel bedroom with a married couple,
courtesy PIA).

We have once again entered the fray on the language policy through
engaging in policy dialogue with a range of influential academics and
policymakers, leading to the publication of Language in education in
Pakistan: recommendations for policy and practice, by Hywel Coleman
and Tony Capstick, 2012.

In 1948, my predecessor forecast the decline in knowledge of English.
He could not have foreseen the global importance of English as the
language of international commerce and higher education. In 1948, the
declaration of Urdu as the official language and the medium of
instruction in schools was a reflection of the need to forge a
national identity. The impact of this on regional cultural identities
and the learning of children whose mother tongue is not Urdu likewise
could not have been foreseen. Already the representative was facing up
to the challenge of meeting expectations with limited resources “in
this vast country”. He had recently completed a 5,000-mile tour, by
road, of the country and everywhere found a demand for education,
books and other resources.

The challenges are similar today, even though we have a staff of 200
instead of two. Cultural relations involve building enduring
relationships between peoples of different countries and we struggle
now, as ever, to reach a sufficient proportion of the population to
have an impact. Fortunately, we are not alone. The British Mission,
has over the past few months, been ‘Celebrating Connections’ between
the UK and Pakistan. Those connections take many forms and go far
beyond the relatively small programmes of the British Council, the
British High Commission or even the UKAid. They include the many
thousands of women and men who have studied in the UK and returned to
Pakistan, forming part of the bond between our two nations.  That is
why the British Council seeks to promote opportunities for young
people to benefit from UK education, through study in the UK, access
to UK examinations (like GCE, ACCA and IELTS) and study at
institutions running UK university courses in Pakistan.

When I was posted to Pakistan, a country that has been described as
‘possibly the most dangerous country in the world’ my friends’
incredulity was tempered by their knowledge that I had been at my
happiest in Zimbabwe and the Palestinian Territories, neither of which
are seen as havens of peace. This perception of Pakistan is damaging.
It not only discourages inward investment (in turn causing British
investors to pass up excellent opportunities), but it also strengthens
corrosive stereotypes on both sides, and encourages extremism. It also
makes our work much harder in that nervous British academics, teachers
and artists are often reluctant to travel to Pakistan.

It is almost amusing when visitors finally overcome their fears and
are then surprised by the warmth of their reception, the beauty of the
country, the ease of travelling around and the thirst for further
engagement. As I return to England (for the first time in 18 years), I
will continue to celebrate diversity and difference, to promote
cultural relations and the breaking down of stereotypes amongst my
British compatriots.

The Daily Telegraph ran a headline recently: “An Oscar win is probably
the only good news from Pakistan you’ll read this year”. Well, I have
news for The Daily Telegraph: in 2012 warmth and goodwill of the young
people of Pakistan are its greatest resource. There are many more
young people like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Pakistan faces challenges
that would intimidate any government but the adventure continues.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.


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