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Pakistan: America’s poor, polluted, plaintive ally

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Posted: Friday, March 26, 2004 10:00 pm

The car was the size of a golf cart with an 800 cc engine designed to run on gasoline but converted to natural gas which dropped its power down to the power of a 600 cc engine. It had no seat belts and I could run it at a maximum speed of 54 mph on a flat road without being too unsafe.

The traffic was unrestrained — drive anywhere, cut in front of anybody, and pass anyone at any time even if it is not safe. I persisted in this unsafe situation for over two months. This certainly was quite a contrast to 10-times-bigger 6000 cc Hummers that are part of our lives in the U.S.

Taj Khan


Public transportation is in private hands. Many of the mass transit vehicles on the road are unsafe. The latest accident claimed 62 lives when the tie rod of an old bus broke while going over a bridge. The bus slipped into the river and help was not available.

There was no hue or cry about the victims and nobody complained about the unsafe condition of the bus. No accountability for the inspector who signed off on the yearly “Fitness Certificate” for the bus to operate on the road and carry passengers. I wondered about the size of the bribe which caused this catastrophe.

The traffic signs are sparse and those that exist are pasted with billboards for a political or religious meeting a few years ago and have never been removed. The stop signs are non-existent. The roads are full of traffic hazards such as potholes, speed bumps, a tractor towing a trolley without any lights day or night. The names of street and sign boards are missing. If you want to go somewhere you have to know the directions to where you are going or you will have to ask someone.

The environment is polluted.

Filth is everywhere.

The plastic shopping bags are discarded on the streets and clog the storm drainage system in the rainy season.

The water is polluted.

Thanks to the natural gas, engines in the cars the air is little cleaner. But the trucks and buses belch out smoke from their diesel engines right at face level when you ride a golf-cart-size compact car.

The government schools are dilapidated and the teachers, although paid better than their private school counterparts, are not much interested in teaching. Most people who can afford it send their children to private schools where the teachers who may get paid less than a minimum wage but work harder than the teachers in government schools. The primary purpose of the private schools is to make money for the owners.

Every street has a cyber cafe, but they do not serve coffee or tea or any other food items. What they do serve is the youth with a heavy dose of pornography. In these cafes, each desk has a computer connected to the Internet and there is a wooden booth around it where the computer savvy youth can watch, in privacy, the smut propagated by the Web sites established by people outside this nation.

When you talk to the shopkeepers and the ordinary people on the street they will complain because complaining is a harmless national pastime. They believe no one cares for their needs and their issues and their problems. Although corruption has been reduced considerably in the last few years, it is still high for a developing nation of 160 million people. The democracy is in place, at least in name, but it is without people’s voice and consent.

This is the country of Pakistan, which is fighting the war on the front-line against terrorism for us.

This is the country where not many on the street have respect for American policies or believe in our objectives or support our cause. They do not care for the policies of the current president who is towing our line.

And this is the country which had to develop a nuclear bomb against the will of the U.S. to protect itself from the ongoing threats of its neighbor.

I could not help but wonder where the U.S. will be if the current president of Pakistan is no more and a new person in power follows the democratic will of his nation.

Taj Khan of Lodi is a consultant and retired engineering manager for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

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