Does any good news come from Pakistan?

When one thinks of Pakistan, images of terrorism, poverty and natural disasters are usually what come to mind. Given what Australian television news usually reports from that state, this is hardly surprising. After all, there is a lot of bad news to report. One of the most prominent stories to come from Pakistan are the repeated drone strikes conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency and the disproportionate amount of civilians who are killed along with senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda commanders. Of course, violent attacks by the Taliban have also dominated the headlines in western states. This was been exacerbated by the Taliban’s targeting of polio vaccination workers, an atrocity deemed unthinkable by most.

Image courtesy of thehindu.com

Image courtesy of thehindu.com

The idea for this post came from a conversation I was having in the car with my parents. “Well, Pakistan’s going down the gurgler. It seems like nothing good can come from there.” said my mother. Considering that both my parents get most of their news from the first half hour of SBS World News and The Australian newspaper, this isn’t surprising. In response, I told them that the news isn’t indicative of what actually happens. According to Ray Williams writing for Psychology Today, bad news stories can outnumber good ones by 17 to one. To explain this, Williams says,

 “The answer may lie in the work of evolutionary psychologists and neuroscientists.  Humans seek out news of dramatic, negative events. These experts say that our brains evolved in a hunter-gatherer environment where anything novel or dramatic had to be attended to immediately for survival. “

Back to the car ride, I decided to issue myself a challenge to my parents. To prove that the nightly news and Murdoch-controlled press do not paint an entirely accurate view of Pakistan, I went searching through online news to find examples of good news from Pakistan. So, here’s what I found.

Iran set to sign 1,000MW export deal with Pakistan

According to this report from Tehran Times on December 29, the Iranian and Pakistani governments are about to sign a memorandum of understanding on electricity export to Pakistan. This agreement will precede the construction of a power station in Iran’s Zahedan province specifically to generate electricity for export. This is a significant news story for two reasons. The first is that Pakistan is currently facing an energy crisis and any extra source of electricity is badly needed. The second reason is that this deal was possible even after several turbulent attempts at economic cooperation. There was an agreement to build a gas pipeline between the two states. However, Iran decided to stop funding the Pakistani side of the pipeline because of problems that the Pakistanis are having with financing their own $2bn contribution to the project. It should also be noted that that such deals between the two states run the risk of economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union, meaning that Pakistan had to tread very lightly when dealing with Iran. Despite these problems over the past month, the two states have managed to overcome these to sign an energy deal which is crucial to helping Pakistan’s energy crisis.

Indian company agrees to build power plant in Pakistan

Another source of power is coming from another one of Pakistan’s neighbours. On December 25, The Economic Times from India reported that the governments of Pakistan’s Punjab province and India’s Punjab state were keen to cooperate on energy projects. Four days later, the Indian-based Deccan Chronicle reported that the Indian and Pakistani governments had signed an agreement allowing the Indian firm Universal Biomass Energy to help set up a power plant in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The memorandum of understanding between the two states also allows for the construction of additional power plans in Pakistan. According to the Pakistani publication The News, Provincial Minister for Agriculture Dr Farrukh Javed claims that the plant could generate 1,277MW of energy from 10.94 million tons of waste from the province’s crops.* Like the energy deal with Iran, this news story is significant because the deal with India will also help alleviate Pakistan’s energy crisis. However, what is far more significant is that these two states are engaging in economic cooperation at all. Keep in mind that these two states have gone to war several times since their independence in 1947 and maintain a highly militarised border. Any small step away from conflict towards cooperation is most definitely a piece of good news.

Indian and Pakistani school students partake in exchange program

Continuing the theme of warming bilateral relations between these two states, the Citizen’s Archive of Pakistan (CAP) has been organising student exchanges through the Exchange for Change (EFC) program. The third phase of this program will begin in January 2014 and will see 2,500 from both India and Pakistan exchange communications such as letters, postcards, collages and oral histories. A total of 3,500 students took part in the first two phases of the program. Last year, 24 students and 12 teachers from Pakistan visited their counterparts in India. Cross-border dialogue is something that the students are very keen to partake in. According to one student, “I always prayed for India and Pakistan to be friends and now my prayers are answered.” One of the most important steps to ending transnational disputes is to rid the next generation of the ‘sins of the fathers’ mindset. Programs like this are essential for India and Pakistan to overcome their decades-long animosity.

UAE to fund $1.2m clean water project

In January 2011, in response to the devastating Swat River floods, the UAE government founded the United Arab Emirates Pakistan Assistance Program (UAE PAP). Since then the UAE PAP has funded dozens of development projects throughout Pakistan focussing on four areas, infrastructure, water, healthcare and education. On December 28 2013, President of UAE PAP Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed ah Nahyan announced that an extra $1.2m was to be spent on a clean water project. While this may not seem like a lot of money, it is enough to provide clean water to 12 villages in Northern Waziristan, one of Pakistan’s poorest and most remote areas. This funding is the start of UAE PAP’s second phase of development projects. The first phase saw more than $5.7m spent on 64 projects in Southern Waziristan, Khyber Pakhtuntkhwa and Bajuar. However, when all UAE PAP projects are added up, including expensive projects like bridge construction, the total amount of money spent is around $300m.

IMF sends $554m loan to Pakistan

In a story by The Economic Times of India on 24 December 2013, Pakistan has received the second tranche of a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund. The total bailout will be $6.7 billion. Like the energy deals with India and Iran, this money will be crucial to solve Pakistan’s energy crisis among others. After the first tranche of $540m, IMF officials approved this second loan after witnessing good economic progress during their visit to Pakistan in November 2013.

In the interests of not going on for too long, these were only a few of the good news stories I found on Pakistan. What’s more, the span is these stories is a little less than a week and were collected over a period of 12 hours or so. Granted, there were also a lot of bad stories from Pakistan as well. These is simply an indication of the truth that there are a lot of bad things going on in that state at the moment. Also, some of these good news stories relate overarching bad news stories such as the energy crisis and harsh poverty in the remote areas. However, what I have shown here is that, contrary to what the news might tell you, good things do happen in Pakistan. And this is the same all over the world. Yes, a lot of bad things do happen as well. Mainstream western news (most of the news stories in this post were sourced either from Indian or Pakistani publications) does not lie about what happens. It simply selects which stories are to be told (this process is called ‘gatekeeping’ in the journalism world). However, if you look beyond what is served up to you on the nightly news and daily newspapers, you will find that some supposed basket cases are in fact capable of producing pieces of good news.

* To me, these numbers seem very high. However, I wasn’t able to verify these.

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