The soul of the ‘Land of the Pure’
By Robert Grenier
It is the sheer scale of the devastation that leaves one speechless. As one surveys the overhead photos of vast lowland plains inundated with swirling brown water or stares at the upland images of mighty torrents washing away roads, bridges, entire villages, it is the utter scope of the disaster which almost defies comprehension, which far outstrips the power of words to convey.
Only the flint-hearted could be left unmoved by this. The heart aches for Pakistan.
But it is only in the photos of the people that one begins to grasp the full dimension of what is happening and, through that prism, to gain a glimpse into the soul of the Land of the Pure.
One hears the stories of building frustration, of bitter complaints against a government so often indifferent in the best of times, and simply unequal to the challenge in these, the worst of times.
But this is not what I see in the photographs, in the images of entire families clinging to trucks to gain higher ground, of people stranded on roof-tops or on the raised strips of highways, of those isolated and forlorn, reaching for a bottle of clean water or a packet of sodden food dropped from a helicopter.
In these images one looks in vain for signs of hysteria, or for righteous indignation. What one sees instead is what one always sees in Pakistanis – endurance: Simple, often noble, endurance.
I have lived some years among Pakistanis. I cannot claim to have done them much good. Instead, my preoccupations have been those which animate the game of nations. I have served a great power which hunts its enemies, pursues its interests, and tries to meet what it sees as its responsibilities in distant places, far from home. I make no apology for this; neither do I expect great credit.
But one cannot travel among the Pakistanis, as I have been privileged to do, without developing a great admiration for their decency and their dignity….
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Robert Grenier was the CIA’s chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. He was also the director of the CIA’s counter-terrorism centre.