How the US will win

Published: November 9, 2011

Otero listened, laughed and empathised with our condition and she offered us warm words of encouragement

It’s not often that you end up on the same table with characters carrying such hefty, esteemed titles as the KarachiKid, TeethMaestro, DiscoMaulvi and US Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs.

Not unlike the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the US Consulate General Karachi tossed a motley crew of media folk, bloggers, local Twitterati and ‘youth leaders’ into a quick brunch with US Under Secretary Maria Otero just to mix things up a little for the visiting diplomat. The selection of the guests was geared to create an “interactive session focusing on youth initiatives and blogging” as the invitation read.

For independent bloggers hoping to get a foot into the US Consulate General and meet with a distinguished personality, this was an unexpected treat. For us media folk it was that, and a question mark – why, oh why is a top US diplomat interested in mingling with the likes of us Chotay Log (unimportant people)? What could we possibly offer her from our life experiences that she, and the vast US intelligence network at her disposal cannot gather and present as a report replete with bullet points, fancy fonts and according to recent reports, even Twitter updates courtesy the CIA’s ‘vengeful librarian’ team.

Yes such a meeting is every Zaid Hamid follower’s “Aha!” moment, and I won’t deny it, myself and another (unnamed) blogger at the event whispered between ourselves:

“I bet this meeting is the first step towards our eventual brainwashing… In fact, we must be brainwashed already to be here.”

How did the US proceed to brainwash us amisdst servings of tea, palak paneer, naan and coffee? Well. They asked a lot of questions, mostly focusing on broad issues people in the room were passionate about. They asked about the potential (or lack thereof) of blogging towards activism and social change (Occupy Pakistan anyone?).

Otero spoke with a soft tone and impeccable manners, bewitching us all, and disarming us with the fact that she had been born and raised in Bolivia. We spoke on women’s rights, the need for Urdu blogs, democracy and why a Maulvi would add the word ‘Disco’ in front of his Twitter handle.

Otero listened and laughed and empathised with our condition. She offered us warm words of encouragement while the scratching sound of US Consulate General pens taking notes of our words felt oddly empowering. It was an exchange of words and ideas, at times stirring, at times unimportant. In its utter normalcy it was perhaps at its best. The US plan was definitely afoot. Talk to enough people and show them we are all humans working on the same issues, dreaming the same dreams is probably a winning strategy.

Jahanzaib Haque

Jahanzaib Haque

News buff and Web Editor, The Express Tribune. Jahanzaib tweets @Jhaque_ twitter.com/jhaque_

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://insaf.pk/ Antebellum

    esteemed titles

    ..says it all. Continue to live in your own tiny little world.Recommend

  • Noon Meem

    http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jGuH2XxQaLndlUL9ZyCHrblyaUKA?docId=f68575549db04fcf992161e4bcbbb191

    Read the above to understand who might have recommended your name for the meet up!!

    You are the “chosen-one” :-)Recommend

  • Err

    Seriously is that what it took – a bunch of chai and pakoras – for the US to soften you guys; a bunch that is already liberal slanted and elitist? The US record on democracy from Chile to Cambodia has been a joke. It has supported and continues to support about as many tinpot dictators across the globe as the Soviets once did (include our Mush). And oh please talking at exclusive teaparties is not a winning strategy, people are now starting to take matters into their own hands. Just ask the Tunisians and Egyptians!
    And this article has been embarrassingly effusive and gushing for all the wrong reasons. I dont have a problem with the Americans per se, I am sure the lady must be a sweetheart, but how is her personal manner demonstrative of the US government’s policy in the region, which has been completely chaotic and flawed from the start? In reality,you were a window dressing and this event was their PR exercise which you just helped deliver.Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    OF Couuuuuuuuuurse.!! J.H. That would be your explanation. Now tell us how much of donation will ET get under US AID, oh that’s when they invite you guys on Bar B.Q. Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Jahanzaib-Haque/149352001744540?ref=ts Jahanzaib Haque

    Chai and pakoras is a winning strategy – I stand by my argument. Also, I am assuming the brainwashing device worked, although I really didn’t think I was being that gushing per se.

    Recommend

  • Ali

    can we have more details of what was discussed and the reactions to the topics?Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    Aah!.. Speaking of brainwashing devices come on man.!! Like nobody knew International Herald Tribune isn’t a foreign paper. Recommend

  • hmian

    Boring ! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz !Recommend

  • seeker

    Talk to enough people and show them we are all humans working on the same issues, dreaming the same dreams is probably a winning strategy.

    are we really?

    do the americans feel the same pain as we do when one drone kills a lot of our innecent people including children?

    do they live as intensly with the religion as we do, and have the same definitions of modernity, gays,family,women rights, blasphemy——oh my God the list in neverending.
    same dreams, winning strategy——–RIDICULOUSRecommend

  • Abira

    So you were bewitched by her? See, most of us were just being polite although I do admit, she is prettier in person than her official picture. I think for most bloggers it was an opportunity to find bloggable material – with the terrible irony that if we choose to write about it, we would be disingenuous and fear monitoring if we were in any way critical. The palak paneer did nothing for me, neither did the kheer, which only the Consul General was interested in eating. Ordinary Americans are good people – but U.S. policies have been detrimental to Pakistan. We went there with the hope that we could tell them that drone warfare is illegal and a violation of the human rights of the people of FATA, and in fact American civil liberties organizations are planning lawsuits against them. However, I realized that it was neither the space nor the time for a discussion like that. What was curious about the whole event was the following

    Dynamics beteen the CG and her – at one point, he abruptly ended the conversation, and undermined her authority and she gave him this very polite and meaningful look/ glare….I mean, who is this guy anyway? I can see him at Kohls or buying charcoals for his fourth of July weekend in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. Why does he live in a mansion with lawns which could host three weddings at the same time? Shouldn’t homes for diplomatic staff be more modest? How about apartments in Creek Vista or something? Otero in comparison was much more brahmin – but whenever someone is from Latin America, as she is, it makes you wonder how they feel about what America did in Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala and its attacks on democratic leaders in the 70s and 80s.

    Otero was most interested in how the “Arab Spring” will come in Pakistan. She has some labor, environmental and gender work background – and seems to have her heart in the right place – But can her work ever be seen in isolation of American policies worldwide, including the wars in Iraq Afghanistan and Pakistan? The US’s intimate relationship with the Pakistani military? Some “good” may come from her work – funding though USAID to programs in rural areas or for education, but we need transparency and information about such such projects – U.S. social/ soft funding has had a negative impact, be it in fomenting the green revolution, or otherwise -

    But the question remains – what is our position in US involvement when we begin with such a murky slate? Shouldn’t we be questioning a lot more than what we do – time to shed superficial perceptions..

    How has the WTO crippled our economy and trade – imposing tariffs, restrictions, and introducing Monsanto cotton seed? How has the IMF usurped our social sector budget through debt servicing and by imposing structural adjustment programs and conditionalities? How will civilian drone victims be compensated and normalcy and prosperity brought to FATA? How is our military able to get away with complicity in drone attacks? Why are multinationals like Coke and foreign companies that exploit natural resources allowed free reign in Pakistan?

    I think if we want to have a serious debate, then we should be prepared on the specifics which we weren’t, and the conversation was overwhelmingly vague, general, egocentric, and self congratulatory. I am happy to take my part of the blame….although this is not where change will come from.

    Not sure what your article does – except sideline the issue.

    Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Jahanzaib-Haque/149352001744540?ref=ts Jahanzaib Haque

    sideline the issue? – there was no issue! Need i quote the:

    “interactive session focusing on youth initiatives and blogging”

    As such, I think I captured it fair well :P

    Recommend

  • yousaf

    A very thought provoking article indeed.You thought and I was provoked.You said ontero “laughed” well,they always laugh after they have made a kill.Do not agree? see western novels and movies and you will know.As for the reason of your wondering why she asked questions whose answers she could easily know through advanced gadgetry they possess is because they know,what they know we do not know so she used you as a medium to convey to us what they know we too should know.BTW I know that we are quite a saleable commodity,but so cheap?I sure did not know!just tea,palak-paneer,naan and coffee…..even a down trodden mountain-girl fetches more price for her father in the form of a goat/cow etc.which cost over 50 or more grands.If other media folk too,like you,think we are “chotay loag/unimportant” I am disgusted.Recommend

  • seeker

    @Ali:
    yes you are very right , we should get the details before commenting. Recommend

  • Ali Hasan

    Well they could have simply NOT had this event at all, instead of bothering to corrupt our all too easily corruptible minds, right? It was just a thing, not big deal. Our bloggers aren’t changing the world right now so it’s not like the US had deep ulterior motives and this meet was the Camp David of the War on Terror. Relax, y’all. Recommend

  • http://www.centcom.mil/ur US CENTCOM

    U.S. Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero was in Pakistan to meet with refugee women in Islamabad to underscore the U.S. government’s commitment to helping Pakistan support 1.7 million Afghans who continue to seek protection and assistance within Pakistan. Otero toured U.S.-funded projects for the refugees that included a multipurpose building that serves both as a primary school for refugee children and a community center, a livestock shelter, and new water pumps.

    In the new multipurpose center, Otero met with female beneficiaries of a tailoring and embroidering training program for Afghan women. “We are dedicated to promoting improvements in the lives of refugees, particularly women and girls. We recognize that improving the circumstances of women will lead to an increase in the well being of the community as a whole,” said Otero.

    In Pakistan, the United States works closely with UNHCR and local NGOs such as the two organizations working in I-12, Hashoo Foundation and Helping Hands for Relief and Development, in order to support the relationship between the Afghan community and their Pakistani hosts.

    On her visit to Karachi Ms. Otero hosted an evening for the younger Pakistani community of bloggers, social media folks and youth leaders. The purpose was not to brainwash them but to have an interactive exchange focusing on youth initiatives and blogging. Social media is a newer medium of communication and has become popular among the younger generation. Maria Otero is a representative of the US, coordinating U.S. foreign relations on a variety of global issues, including democracy, human rights, and labor environment, oceans, health and science population, refugees and migration, and monitoring and combating trafficking in persons. Her discussion with the younger Pakistanis was solely focused on these issues. Visiting US dignitaries often do so and it is not out of the ordinary.

    The United States has always believed in Pakistan’s importance in the region. Engaging the younger generation of Pakistani social media professionals is a good way to exchange views pertaining to both the United States and Pakistan.

    Maj David Nevers
    DET-United States Central Command
    http://www.centcom.mil/urRecommend

  • Fahad Raza

    @US CENTCOM:
    What can be read between the lines of the policy statement is “catch em when they are young and create an arrangement with those who can support US interests when it comes honing young minds to favor US. I wonder why couldn’t M/s Maria Otero meet those who differ with us policy in order to create real understanding like any Islamic religious institute. After all If you want to create understanding you reach out to those who don’t understand you rather that create a lobby to promote self interests.
    It will be wrong not to acknowledge the assistance US gives but meanwhile when the US is printing paper money out of thin air thanks to FED and unemployment higher that ever; why waste the money middle class US citizen give, on local NGO’s in Pakistan when New Orleans has yet to recover ????
    Fahad RazaRecommend

  • huma

    dont act naive… its called information gathering.Recommend

  • Tahir

    @Antebellum:
    Do you have any problem with that? Recommend

  • kaalchakra

    Grooming more moles in Pakistan?Recommend