U.S. Diplomat Gerry Feierstein in Pakistan: 'Prevent Extremism in the First Place'

"Where I started in 1976 -- when this was a very kind of Western-oriented, almost socialist society. [Compare that] to the Islamization and this very conservative, religious characteristic of the country today. I really saw all of that unwind over the years of my experience. And now, of course, what we're seeing is that many of these things ... it's coming back into Pakistan and it's affecting society in the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and the [Northwest Frontier Province] and, increasingly, here [in Islamabad]."

Why? What happened to make an almost Socialist society a conservative, religious one?

"[Under President Zia in the '70s and '80s], I think that there was a sense that emphasizing the Islamic culture and the Islamic aspects of the society were something that would be unifying, a unifying characteristic, something that would help build more of a national identity. [Then] the emigration of Afghans from Afghanistan into Pakistan because of the situation in Afghanistan ... they ended up in the refugee camps that were right on the outskirts of Peshawar, and began to have an impact on the culture and society there, making it more conservative, more religious. [And] beginning with the Soviet invasion in December of '79 and then on through the collapse of the government in '92 ... the influx of the guns and the whole jihad culture that really took a hold in on Afghanistan and then in Pakistan as a result."

How did you meet your wife?

"My wife worked at the embassy. And she was probably the very first Pakistani I met."

Today, meeting a Pakistani isn't exactly easy for an American. Was it easier then?

"Well, it's not easy. We would go to parties and see each other there, eventually we decided to get married. Got married here in Rawalpindi in the Catholic Cathedral [in] '78. ... We spent six weeks down in Karachi, then took off for the States."

What was Islamabad like back then?

"This was not a very Pakistani city. [U.S. Ambassador Arnold] Raphel's great line about Islamabad at that time was that it was 18 miles outside of Pakistan.

"People used to love to have dance parties here. And it was very relaxed. It was very open between Pakistanis and Westerners. A lot of mixing and people would -- the houses are great for it. People would have big parties and just hang out ..."

When you first came here, what did your patents say?

"My parents were unhappy with the fact that I joined the foreign service in the first place. I think my mother is still unhappy I didn't become a lawyer.

" I joined the foreign service in 1975. And I had never been out of the United States my whole life. I had never even been to Canada."

And what was your first impression of Pakistan?

"I got on the airplane in August 1976 ... and ended up in Karachi at two in the morning. And coming out of the airport into this sea of people ... I had a couple of suitcases with me and I had a cat that had come with me in my carry-on luggage. And when we got out of the airport, there were all these guys trying to grab your suitcase, carry it to the taxi cab and all that, and they were trying to grab this cat away from me, and I was holding onto my cat for dear life, because I was sure I would never see it again if I let go of it."

You were probably right.

"That first impression of being here was something that was so enjoyable and positive, and I knew right then that I was going to like it here."

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