May 19, 2010

Nicole Tung: Pakistan's Currents

Nicole Tung is an American photographer who traveled to Pakistan overland from China in November to document the internally-displaced people from the Pakistani Army’s counter-insurgency in the Swat valley and South Waziristan. But before she could do so, she and her translator were detained by the police for eight days near the Afghan border. This is the first of three posts of her photographs and experiences.

There are so many complex currents to Pakistan, especially involving its societal and religious restrictions. I have a lot of mixed feelings about it, especially as a woman. There are so many pros and cons about the place. As it pulls one way, then the other, I think we —journalists and the public alike — present and perceive the country as a monolithic monster: hydra-headed and overwhelming.

The violence is devastating, exacerbated by poverty and lack of education, shady political machinations, and the disaster of institutions that normally uphold a functioning society which are failing and failing badly. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid‘s Descent Into Chaos describes a dangerous situation becoming even more so: the education of children in madrassas run by the most extreme Islamists; the haven for the poorest, of which there are plenty. They are replacing secular schools because the pupils get a meal and a place to sleep, and neither Pakistan nor international organizations can throw enough money at the problem. Despite abundant aid, the conundrum remains how to pick people up off their feet, and support local tribes to resist coming under Taliban and Al Qaeda influence. One solution could be to work at a grassroots level to ensure these local tribesmen and their leaders can feed their kids more than one meal a day, provide proper school, and make them understand that the madrassa isn’t the only place they can turn to.

Or maybe that’s pure idealism; my fear is that corruption will ruin everything anyway, as has too often been the case throughout Pakistan’s history.

–Nicole Tung


caption of color image: En route to Rawalpindi/Islamabad, a 32-hour bus ride from Gilgit in the Northern Areas, on the Karakorum Highway. A man prays while blasting on the road ahead delays traffic for two hours.

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Nicole Tung
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