Experts succumb to Hollywood fantasies

By Nadeem Hussain, Dawn/Asia News Network

WASHINGTON — The city of Washington, D.C. looks at everything outside the United States as if it is taking place in an action/suspense Hollywood film. Policymakers and “experts” tend to speak about Pakistan and its problems in a sensational way, and talk of their work as something that is salvaging a country that is on the verge of collapse. The experts paint everything as good or evil, and expect an end where the good — that is, the U.S. — will ultimately win against all the evil — that is, everything in the “outside” world. The experts in Washington have succumbed to fantasies created by filmmakers. But what they see as a movie playing thousands of miles away is reality for millions of people living in Pakistan. The crux of the problem is the ease with which one can become an expert on Pakistan in Washington and the subsequent race among them to be remembered as a Brzezinski or a Kissinger.

Most of these experts were formerly working on the Middle East or other related regions. They tend to have degrees in Middle Eastern studies from reputed schools, have little or no travel experience to Pakistan and forcefully try to understand or analyze Pakistan through the same lens and theoretical models that they previously used to analyze the Middle East. Still, they have the confidence to proclaim themselves as experts on a “seriously messed up place” such as Pakistan. Since the focus of the U.S. has of late shifted entirely to Pakistan, and there has been a massive migration of experts from the study of different areas to the Pakistan studies section, the competition to rise amongst the ranks has become a little stiff. This has forced the experts to become proactive in fleshing out the issues in Pakistan. But if all you’re looking for are stories with which to thrill the audience in the U.S., you’re certainly going to end up scratching something out of nothing and amplifying a reality that doesn’t exist on the ground. Instead of truly trying to understand the situation on the ground, the experts more often resort to attempting to display their expertise by using Urdu words every now and then, especially on social media such as Facebook. This, they believe, shows their advanced knowledge and understanding of Pakistani society. Similar is the effort to pronounce the country’s name correctly. Since President Barack Obama made an effort to do that, it has become a symbol of expertise among the crowd working on Pakistan.