a young pakistani doctor blogs...
Sunday, November 26, 2006

My convocation is in a few days. The time when they give us our degrees for all the pain and suffering we subjected ourselves to for 6 years. I will not be going, even though my fiancé (and class fellow) has repeatedly asked me to come. When I left Peshawar after the last viva more than a year ago now, I turned my back on the place for good. It would be nice to meet some people again, but there really isn’t anyone whom I’d be looking forward to seeing again.

Why is it that after 6 years of living in a place, I have no real friends to call my own in Peshawar. Does it say something about me? Or the place that is Peshawar? A part of me is bitter and angry that I seemed to have spent so many years in that place riddled with self-loathing and - yeah, let’s just say it – in hate for the entire city. I hated the mentality of the people there, who seemed light-years behind the rest of the world. The biggest enemy the pathans have are themselves, not Some Great Big Evil Western Devil, but the devil in themselves. I am reading “The Crisis of Islam” by Bernard Lewis these days and along with the many interesting things he has to say, he points out something that struck a chord. He talks about the influence western imperialism had in the 19th century over the countries it conquered:

“The contrasts can be seen very clearly by comparing the countries that suffered under the imperial yoke, like Egypt and Algeria, with those that never lost their independence, like Arabia and Afghanistan. In Saudi Arabia universities were late and few. At present, for an estimated population of 21 million, there are eight universities – one more than the seven institutions of higher education established by the Palestinians since the Israeli occupation of the territories in 1967. Slavery was not abolished by law in Saudi Arabia until 1962, and the subjugation of women remains in full effect.”

Peshawar, which borders Afghanistan, has also evolved from the fortune or misfortune of not having been influenced by the more positive aspects of Western “imperialism”. To this day, Punjab, the province that had the heaviest British presence prior to independence is the most culturally and economically advanced part of the country. It’s certainly an interesting thesis: to suppose that Western imperialism of the last century had some positive imprint on the lands that it ruled.

In the last couple of months, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a group of friends from AKU, 3 of whom live here in Islamabad (Uzer, Shakir and Hussain). The other two are fellow bloggers Usman and Moiz. They are a very close knit group and meeting them made me realize what I had missed out on in Peshawar. I thought Peshawar was an extremely insular and backward place. Hussain and I would argue when he was still here in Islamabad over which city was the asshole of Pakistan. He insisted it was Karachi, while I said it was definitely Peshawar. While physically, the two places might look the same, Hussain and his friends had each other, and a world-class university that brought the best minds in Pakistan together under one roof. The year that I joined my college, there was an enormous and violent fight between the Jamaat-i-islami students and the outgoing final year students over the right of the latter to celebrate their passing out by playing music in the college and dancing (after the classes were over of course). In the ensuing battle, several people were sent to hospital, some with serious injuries and gun-toting jamati-i-islami students fired indiscriminately, although miraculously, no one was hit. The worst of it was that after the dust settled, the principle of the college was thought to be involved in organizing the mess, siding with the jamaat in order to teach the outgoing final year students “a lesson.”

These things just don’t happen in a civilized place. The exam system was horribly flawed, there was widespread corruption in the administration, professors more interested in flirting with the girls than teaching, unethical practices by the doctors, and a student population who had never talked to a member of the opposite sex until they entered the college.

I don’t mean to say of course that all this is the case because the NWFP of Pakistan was not as soundly colonized by the British as the rest of Pakistan. Of course not - but it’s just interesting how the above passage in the book leapt out at me. I was born in Saudi Arabia and lived there till I was 17. Then I lived in Islamabad for 2 years before going to Peshawar for another 6 years. It’s strange how I seem to have lived in those two parts of the Muslim world which are the most retrogressive in the world (barring some war-striven countries in Africa). I never fit in in Peshawar, and I would never want to live as an adult in Saudi Arabia (growing up there was great though).

A friend of mine who has lived in the US for the last 10 years, having been born and raised in Jeddah like me, told me once that he “was a westerner” before he arrived there. I know what he means and in a sense I think I am one too. I used to think I want to come back after my residency and work in Pakistan, to “serve my country” so to speak. Now I don’t know. I don’t know where I belong. Having spent my teens in one country, my 20s in another country, and making plans to spend at least 6 years of my 30s in a third country, I don’t know where I belong. I don’t want to spend another 6 years like I did in Peshawar, not fitting in, not making close friends, not being comfortable with where I live.

I guess the convocation and my total lack of interest in it unleashed a big can of worms. Sorry for the rant folks.

is AKU a world class university? having AKU student's in US is a separate case and it doesnt meant that they are in US because of AKU. MAtching in US depends on the score in USMLE basically, a standardized test. any student, from any college of Pak could get a decent shot in US with good undergrad marks and an awesome USMLE score. but has AKU really revolutionzed the scientific world? this is coming from me after hearing some stupid arguments from high school fellows who were comparing AKU and NED with MIT, UPenn, Princeton, UofT, UWaterloo, Cambridge etc...@!
I'll let the AKU readers of this blog answer that one, but my post didn't have anything to do with USMLE scores.
Anonymous: I would not go to the lenghts of describing AKU as world class but still it really depends wht you are looking for in university.
I would not argue about USMLE scores either becuse you re right in saying that anyone can score on a standardized test and anyone from AKUcan score low too.
But then again AKUhas done its shre of polishing those that could take it.
Comparisons should not be drawn between Upenn, princeton nd AKU.
Research involves money and AKU doesn't enjoy that amount of money. In US on the other hand or any Western University money is spent like tissue paper and that determines the quality of reserch that is carried on there.
AKU hs done quite lot in basic dat gthering for this country. Our deprtment for community health sciences has somethin to boast about.
It is only the beginnings.
sorry about the missing 'a'and 'g'. its not me its the keyboard.:)
Thought I agree with the fact that imperialism did leave some positive effects , everything does I think , nothing is purely black or white. However I don’t think that that was the aim of colonisation. The british didn’t develop any part of punjab because they were bleeding tears of sympathies for the native , they did it to propagate their own means ( vis a viz the setting up of the beaurocracy) my point in all the rambling is that every issue is multisided , what is important in my opinion is the intention , there is a difference between a good which comes out as an accident (eg imperialism and the positive attributes you cited , infact to be precise a lot had to do with the way the native culture internalised and implemened those things so if anyone is to be praised it’s the natives) and something which is consciously implemented.
Talkin of peshawar and the pathans , yes they I agree with the secular culture and all the frustration and pervertedness which accompany it , but coming from someone who comes from a mixed potpourri of backgrounds and has met a wide variety of diverse people , don’t you think the problem is rampant in the so called “cosmpolites” of our country too. I can quote 5 people offhand from some of the best universities pakistan has to offer (including aku and lums) who leave people from peshawar looking like modern super heroes. I don’t believe one can generalise anything about anyplace , there are always exceptions and I don’t think in this world of chaos there are any averages by which you can measure the population
The situation is dismal but I see it as being dismal globally be it america , europe or pakistan. Just like heart is where the home is , in the same manner contentment is dependant on inner peace.i learnt the hard way that people will be people everywhere , you just have to search for the gems hidden under the dirt …for they are hidden everywhere
PS: btw at the risk of starting a pro/anti pathan debate( which isnt the point) I found pathans the best when it came to respecting women and being chivalrous ( and yes I know most are frustrated but then so are the rest and the lack the good looks and the chivalry)

PSS: honestly you can argue any issue a thousand ways if you are good with words but whats the point ? :)
Regarding the role of imperialism, I think the quote's point is way overblown. North Africa and North Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sham, etc) have for millennia (before Islamic times) been highly populated and have had plenty of exposure to people from all sorts of cultures. They've been host to a number of empires, and have been incorporated in them as well. That is probably a much, much bigger factor than what he said. The Arabian peninsula was more or less always ignored. Even in the times of the Ummayads and Abbasids and beyond, I think most of the interesting achievements came from the northern parts (Baghdad, Damascus, etc).

That is probably also why the "Western" imperial powers put time and effort in those regions. Not vice versa.
I am afraid you'll have to do better than using Bernard Lewis as an example. His writings are orientalist and was considered neo con gospel a few years back. His comments about slavery are silly because they are done with scant regard for the actual date of independence of the countries.

Your comments about Peshawar obviously stem from personal bitter experiences, but that does not mean they are exclusive to Peshawar.

The IJT and it's tantrums are far worse in Lahore and don't even let me start on student violence in karachi!
One would be going a bit too far to describe AKU as a world class university. Universities don't become institutions overnight. They need a background of scholarly tradition and a mind that works on scientific method, both of which are sadly lacking in our society. Furthermore, as Moiz pointed out you can't expect miracles with the budgetary constraints a third world university has, even if it has all the talent at its disposal. In any case, its a step in the right direction.

One great disadvantage AKU has is its location. I have seen some of our best faculty leaving because of the city and its law and order situation. After the Shia doctor killing spree that took place a couple of years back, we lost some of our best physicians. I know it wasn't specific for Karachi but after having been robbed on gunpoint, i'll never feel safe in that city again.
For a university to be able to make a difference on the thouht process of a nation or set of people in that nation it hs to develop culture of inquistiveness and independence within its paremeters. An environment is made where free thought is cultivated and there are no restrictions and no limitations. If we want a university to be a vector of change we have to produce the right environment within its boundries.
Although there is a lot of dry competition within the walls of AKU but the general environment within the students themselves has tended to decline for the worst over the past years. The general desperation of the society has replaced the idealistic mind set of the student and they have thus been rendered hopeless and idealess.
That juice in thought is certainly lacking.
we will have to make an effort to develop cultures in our universities which are more secular and free to any type of question. this in itself guarntees reason for the existence of extremists.
The culture of curiosity and inquisitiveness has to be inculcated right from the formative age of 5-10 years. Unfortunately the urge to ask questions is smothered in our schools and our curricula further strengthen the mindset that there is no need to ask questions as i won't be tested on anything that's outside my textbook. No matter how much money we spend on our universities, if the general attitudes of the society do not change and free thought is stifled, we will remain invisible on the world science and technology map. And the change has to start from our schools and colleges...
Wow. And I thought going to nursing school was hard...and it was difficult to get my transcripts because I had to call all over the place and pay for them with the VISA and then they were mailed directly from one University to the next...like you could change your scores or something. Wonder what you'll think of the whole US University experience. Culture Shock I'm sure. I am a nurse at a hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. That means I cannot speak the Spanish even though 70% of the population in this area speaks that language...which makes it a nightmare trying to explain things to people....in my own country...Brush up on Your English....you'll need it...and hey, learning Spanish would definately be a plus.
Hello all!

I am a Pashtun from Peshawar and have been a student of Peshawar University.

What has this hate-addled "Pakistani" doctor said about Peshawar is indicative of his own mental retrogression and ethical bankruptcy.

As a Pashtun, I will not even further comment on your ethnocenteric non-sense, Mr. Young Paki Doctor!
I've always had a certain fascination for convocations...I probably wouldn't miss it no matter how horrible the place is.

I read a quote the other day: "Wherever you go, go with all your heart." - Confucious

You should look at the past as a learning experience and look forward to meeting better people in the future. I am not sure it has to with being western or eastern or even with the place.
Before I add anything I must say that I feel sorry for you that you suffer from identity crisis. Yes it is quite evident from the life history of others too that people who do not feel at home in early days of their life develop this menace of identity crisis later in their life which then slowly and gradually eats up their personality and they end up feeling belonging nowhere. That is the point where they start blaming others for their own shortcomings and those of their parents who failed to give them sense of security and personal pride. The fact that you lived in Saudi Arab for 10 years and then in Peshawar for nearly 6 years and could not call either your home is not your fault in first place. You simply did not belong there. What happened to you was natural. If you had accepted this fact then I believe you would have avoided bitter feelings about these two different cultures. When you live in a different culture you do not accept that your wishes should be fulfilled, you consider yourself a guest, develop a circle of friends, remaining neutral to local politics or religious activities. Thus, you can gain a lot from any society no mater how primitive it looks. Again I would say this was not your fault at all, though you parents seems to have failed in grooming you up for living in cultures and societies that were different to where you hails from. They simply put you in schools and left you to the merci of your teachers and class fellows.
If something was wrong with Peshawar and her habitants then why would you chose a phrase from a book where Arabs and Afghans have been tied because they refused to be ruled by the imperialists. Secondly, if it were solely Peshawar that you are discontent with then why would you say that you might not return to Pakistan after completing your residency in US? You could work in any part of Pakistan saving Peshawar. Again that reflects on us that nothing is wrong with Peshawar but you, a weak, indecisive and kind of immature personality. You want to attract the sympathies of the Pakistanis by telling them that the reason you will not return is because of Peshawar. You do not need to justify your decisions to anyone. More than 90 % of doctors that come to USA for residency never return to Pakistan and that include Pashtuns from Peshawar. It is your choice and you have the right to live wherever you want to. Pakistan in general and Peshawar in particular has many talented locally trained doctors who are serving peoples there successfully and with dignity.
As for the primitiveness of the society in Peshawar or Afghanistan is concerned, if it is at cost of the freedom from the imperialistic rule, Afghans (Pashtuns) accept that price and are proud of it. You cannot imagine and I cannot tell you in words (you will not understand) the feelings of being never subdued. The people who have fought for it or their offsprings who have been told this as bedtime stories by their mothers could only understand it. Unfortunately you are not one of them.

If in near future you could over come your identity crisis, you should start taking pride in that you have a degree from one of the beautiful, graceful universities of great reputation in Pakistan. Also, you should compare Pashtuns with your current and future colleagues and you will learn why they are famous for their hospitality, brevity and courage. You will learn a lot in your life and I am sure your concept about Peshawar and Pashtuns will change. Just to open your mind and start thinking about the positive aspects of your life in Peshawar you could start reading a book by Olf Cairo, the Pathan. Reading this book will let you understand how to observe a society that is different from your culture background and how to live there. You will find out your shortcomings as an observer.
I belong to Peshawar but got my education and work experience as surgeon from different parts of Pakistan and North America. In Abbottabad, the same religious cum student group that you are talking about in your weblog, did not allow us to celebrate our convocation and final year ceremonies. In Karachi during my postgraduate studies I faced the worst possible racism and humiliation. In North America I felt the obvious discrimination. None of these could stop me enjoying my learning and working experience because I knew I do not belong to them and I refrained myself from too much expectations. I made friends and take them as my income from the time invested in those societies. My friends respect me for that I never disrespected them by criticizing their society but in humble words reflecting my experience. They learn from me knowing the weakness and strengths of their society and I get explanation for the wrong expectation and misunderstanding due to miscommunication.

Dr. Nasir Khan
McGill University
Montreal, Quebec
i like this blog....
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Recent med school graduate from Peshawar, Pakistan. Started blogging when in throes of final year exams. Currently studying for USMLE Step 1. Aiming for the 2008 Match. I blog about my studies, my worries, and my thoughts on life. I live in Islamabad.

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