My top ten memories of Pakistan

Published: July 19, 2016
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It was good to see that such artisans, and Punjab’s vocational training entity, TEVTA, are keeping this art alive for the enjoyment of subsequent generations. PHOTO: ZACHARY V. HARKENRIDER

Three years is not much time in which to learn about a society as diverse, complex, and fascinating as Pakistan. However, for foreign diplomats, it is a fairly long tour. As I leave, I wanted to share with the Express Tribune readers what I hope will be an interesting and unique perspective on this great country; on some of the things that we, in the American government, have done with our Pakistani partners; and, of some of the things I have most appreciated during my time here.

1. Viewing Mughal Architecture

I have lived in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan off and on since 1999, and I have always been impressed by the symmetry, the beauty, and the science of Mughal architecture. Lahore and Punjab boast so many examples of 16th and 17th century architectural excellence that it is like a giant museum, open for the edification of all comers. Walled City Authority, the Agha Khan Cultural Service Pakistan, and the Punjab Department of Archaeology are doing an exceptional job of restoring and interpreting these treasures. In the future, I hope that more Americans and westerners will come here and have the chance to see what I have seen.

2. The Lahore Literary Festival (LLF)

This is one of the most positive things I’ve had the privilege to be associated with in my time in Pakistan, and I’m pleased that the US Consulate gives a grant each year to support the LLF. I’m impressed by the size and diversity of the crowds there. Clearly, this is an institution that Lahoris of all ages and walks of life embrace. In a very unique way, the festival sends a very positive message about Pakistan to the broader world, helping to advance the country’s image overseas.

3. Visiting Muzaffargarh with Chief Minister Sharif

Over the last several years, US assistance has helped Pakistan address one of its greatest challenges – the shortage of electricity. We have added 2,300MW of new capacity to the grid; helped save 212MW more through conservation; and, helped the distribution companies to reduce losses and gain revenues worth $429 million. Much of that 2,300MWs comes from existing power plants where we have restored machinery and capacity back to previous levels. In Muzaffargarh, we added back 480MW. I was pleased to share our progress with CM Sharif, who has shown such strong and committed leadership in the energy sector. We both attended the reopening of a power plant in Muzaffargarh, which added back 480MW.

4. Admiring Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage

Given Pakistan’s many architectural treasures, I’m pleased that the United States is doing its part to support their restoration and interpretation. We have completed 11 cultural preservation activities in Punjab alone, ranging from the shrine of Hazrat Sakhi Sarwar near Dera Ghazi Khan to the Lahore Fort’s Alamgiri Gate, to the Sunehri Masjid in Lahore. Currently, we are supporting the restoration of the Wazir Khan Mosque façade and Chowk in Lahore’s walled city. I had the chance to visit the site with our partners at the Agha Khan Cultural Service Pakistan.

5. Seeing the dynamism of Pakistani industry

It’s not just Pakistan’s ancient past, but its future that I find so inspiring. When I visited Dr Umar Saif (Chairman of the Punjab Information Technology Board and Vice Chancellor of the Information Technology University in Lahore) and met the young professionals at the Plan 9 incubator and Plan X accelerator, I got to see first-hand how young Pakistani tech professionals are growing a world-class Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) sector right here in Punjab. Their ideas were practical, marketable, and scalable, and they attested to the great creativity and talent of Pakistan. We are doing our part to support this excellence – organising a reverse trade delegation on ICT to Silicon Valley and Washington last year; funding an entrepreneurship and ICT-focused exchange program that introduced young innovators from Lahore to Austin, Texas’s tech scene; and, locating Lahore’s first American satellite cultural centre (or “Lincoln Corner”) at ITU.

6. The intellectual rigour and engagement of Pakistani students 

Some of the most genuine fun I had had come when I interacted with students. I was invariably impressed by the calibre of their questions, whether on American history, constitutionalism, or politics. We are working to build more bridges between students and America through “Lincoln Corners” (small American cultural centres) at universities in Sargodha, Multan, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, and Lahore; through the Lahore office of the United States Educational Foundation (USEFP) in Pakistan; and, through university partnership and exchange programs that bring thousands of students together with American counterparts every year.

7. Appreciating the beauty of Multani pottery

Another treasure that Pakistan can share with the world is its pottery. It was my privilege to witness its production first hand at the shop of a true master of the art, Ustad Alam, outside Multan city. It was good to see that such artisans, and Punjab’s vocational training entity, TEVTA, are keeping this art alive for the enjoyment of subsequent generations.

8. The rich history of Multani tombs

On my first trip to South Asia in 1999, I visited one of its most venerable and powerful Sufi shrines – the Dargah of Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, India. I felt the power of that shrine very clearly. I have felt the same thing at the shrines and tombs of saints that I have visited here, from Pakpattan Sharif to Hazrat Datta Ganj Baksh, to the ancestral tombs of Multan that Yousaf Raza Gilani and Shah Mahmood Qureshi so generously showed to Ambassador Olson and myself. These are powerful centres of faith and culture, and it was an honour for me to visit them.

9. Witnessing the great role American investment is playing in Pakistan’s future

We are not only Pakistan’s second-largest export market; American companies have created roughly 60,000 jobs across Pakistan with major investments in a variety of sectors, including consumer goods and food services. I took my turn making ice-cream at Cold Stone Creamery in Lahore, a particularly delicious example of how American investment is offering great options to Pakistani consumers and employment opportunities for young workers who are pursuing their education. Overall, US companies have invested $1.3 billion dollars in the Pakistani economy in the last seven years, and General Electric will soon introduce the world’s most advanced and efficient turbine generators to power Pakistan’s future.

10. The people

I have made some great friends, and been the recipient of much generous hospitality during my years here in Pakistan. From political and business leaders to students and colleagues, people made me feel welcome and conveyed an appreciation for the US-Pakistan relationship, even in the face of disagreements on certain issues. Pakistanis boast an ingenuity, a work ethic, an entrepreneurial ethos, and a resiliency in the face of challenges that augur well for the future of this country.

I would like to serve here again someday; even travel here as a tourist. Pakistan is a land of under-appreciated success stories. Obscured from view by the challenges of the moment, they nevertheless give me confidence that this country, based on its strengths, can realistically become one of the next global economic success stories.

All photos: Zachary V. Harkenrider

Zachary V. Harkenrider

Zachary V. Harkenrider

The author assumed charge as the US Consul General in Lahore on May 18, 2014. He is a career member of the US Foreign Service with over a decade of experience working in developing and post-conflict countries.

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