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An insight into Pakistan

April 24, 2018

by Franca Brüggen, International Student Representative

Presenting Hibakusha Worldwide exhibition posters to PDPD leader Dr. Tipu Sultan

After Kelvin Kibet and I attended the international seminar on “the landmark treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons” in Delhi from 24-25 March, we wanted to extend our trip to Pakistan. Our intention was to revive the student chapter there and to improve international networking, but also to better understand the circumstances in Pakistan.

Our visit became even more important when the Pakistani delegation did not get the chance to take part in the seminar in Delhi due to visa issues. Unfortunately, my fellow Co-ISR Kelvin did not get a Pakistani visa in time, either. I therefore had to travel alone, feeling a little nervous, but also very curious, motivated and inspired by the strong spirit of action from the Indian student chapter. My nervousness disappeared as soon as I saw the smiling face of Dr. Rauf at the airport in Multan. He was going to host me for the next six days in Multan and Lahore. He and his entire family made me feel very comfortable and welcomed all through my stay.

Students at the Bakhtawar Ameen College

The morning of my arrival, we were scheduled to meet students at the Bakhtawar Ameen Medical and Dental College. I had the chance to speak to first-year medical students and their professors. We decided that it would be better to not speak about the issues of nuclear weapons straight away, as these students were completely new to the topic and might feel overwhelmed. I rather wanted to make them aware about their social responsibility and that they can use their knowledge and position as health-workers to establish a peaceful and healthy environment.

I caught their attention by starting with questions on peace and violence in general and the session ended in a very fruitful and lively discussion. In order to provide them with some guidance, I introduced them to the e-learning program “medical peace work.”  A few days later we even got invited by the chairman of the college. He explained to us that nuclear disarmament is indeed a very sensible topic in Pakistan, but he emphasized that especially young students should be trained in medical peace work. He was very interested in the e-learning program and offered to bring together a group of students to take this online course. Dr. Rauf offered to support this group wherever help is needed. Our experiences from other student chapters showed us that the medical peace work program is a very fruitful approach to get new students involved in our movement.

Another meeting with students took place one evening in Dr. Rauf’s clinic. Again, they were completely new to the topic, but very open-minded and interested in this wider appreciation of their medical profession. Even the young boys we met in the S.O.S. children village listened very well to my spontaneous talk about peace and health, and the chairman of the village was very interested in a collaboration with IPPNW, maybe through an online lecture or volunteering work of medical students in their facilities.  Unfortunately, I was not able to speak to the group of active students in Multan, because all of them were on spring break, but a report of their recent activities will be out soon.

Meeting with former chariman of the chamber of industries and commerce, Mr. Sheikh Multan

I also had the chance to speak to influential people, such as the former chairman of the chamber of commerce and industries. He had an ambivalent opinion about disarmament. On the one hand, he described population growth, unemployment, and poor education as the greatest problems of Pakistani society. On the other hand, he justified the military budget, which takes up about about 70% of the GDP, as a necessity, because of the constant threat posed by India. He also made the point that the arms-sales industry has a huge interest in keeping the conflict between India and Pakistan going, whereas the people themselves have so many things in common that a settlement seems very feasible.

Speaking about nuclear disarmament with him and other industrialists, I realised that “the bomb” is much more than only a weapon of mass destruction. It not only symbolizes military strength, but also international diplomatic acknowledgment of their Islamic country.

Dr. Tipu Sultan, chairman of the PDPD, whom I met in Karachi for the last two days of my trip, talked about the nuclear weapons in this region as “Islamic and Hindu bombs,” explaining why doctors fighting for nuclear disarmament also got affected by the sectorial violence in Karachi between 2011 and 2015. “Some people say, that whoever is against the nuclear bomb is also against Muslims,” he said. Religion—and especially Islam—still has a high influence on the society, and there are still religious leaders who are narrow-minded and very restrictive. On the other hand, there are many positive impacts, such as the great value of philanthropy. Pakistan ranks among the world’s top nation in the world giving index. Projects such as the S.O.S. children village are completely self-financed by donations from the Pakistani people.

During my stay in Karachi, I also got to experience the great social gap between the rich and the poor in Pakistan. Only a few minutes out of the city, we visited a charitable hospital run by the family of Dr. Tipu, where they offer palliative and maternal care as well as nursing-training to the poorer people. About 30% of the people in Pakistan live below the poverty line.

Bernard Lown wrote once that “if we want to secure a future without weapons of mass destruction, we need to clear the economic and political inequality that separates the nations.” I think this is just as true, applied to a national level. One of the professors at the medical college in Multan mentioned that without tackling the social inequality, we’ll never be able to end armed violence.  The existing poverty also has an impact on the upcoming elections in Pakistan this year, because, as Dr. Tipu said, “someone who is hungry every day cannot understand the principle of democracy” – their voting behaviour will more likely rely on ethnic or religious connections than on rational decisions.

We as health-workers, however, have a special position in society, as we are well respected by the ordinary people and by the decision makers. So we can convey the message of non-violent resolution of conflict, harmony and peace to both groups. We should do so by not to getting too much involved in political matters, but by sticking to what we can do best: outline the impact of violence and weapons on the mental and physical health of the people.

Since 2015, the situation in Karachi has improved and I was able to introduce IPPNW and its goals to medical students at the Aga Kahn University. However, Dr. Tipu mentioned that this would not be that easy at a public university and we still must be selective and careful about whom to talk to. Many of the students I met at Aga Khan University were very ambitious and focused on their own careers, but at the same time very thankful and open minded when I explained to them how students get involved in IPPNW. I promoted our e-learning program, the summer school in Berlin, and the refugee camp in Palestine. I think IPPNW seemed very interesting to them because we empower young people to take action in society, while at the same time  “maximizing your CV” through international conferences, summer schools, and exchange programs.

I hope that our work will flourish and we’ll soon have a stronger student chapter in Pakistan. Dr. Tipu’s message—that conversation is the only way forward—emphasizes the need for closer networking, especially between India and Pakistan. We hope Indian and Pakistani delegations will finally meet during the Asian Regional Meeting in Mongolia this September. I recommend that students be strongly represented in the delegations.  Dr. Tipu also offered to organise a one-day conference in Karachi, coinciding with the next international event in India, so that a bigger international delegation can visit both of the countries.

All in all, this trip has made me change my assumptions about Pakistan. The hospitality of the people is admirable, and I was amazed by the cultural diversity and prosperity. Starting from the wonderful mosques and old-city in Lahore, to the enchanted shrines in Multan, to the cosmopolitan life-style in Karachi. I want to thank Dr. Rauf and his family for their effort in making my stay so wonderful, as they also cared about my personal well-being very kindly and let me have a great insight in their diversified family life, with birthday parties, dinners and high-tea sessions. I also want to thank Dr. Tipu and his family for hosting me and arranging the two-day program in Karachi, which has made my insight in the country and all its diversity even deeper.

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