Difficult Decisions and Stark Choices Await Pakistani Elites

In a country roiled by terrorism, bad economy, overbearing military, and political paralysis, tough problems that present difficult choices are many in Pakistan. But now an unexpected new development has has presented a far tougher set of choices, never before faced by Pakistani opinion makers, leaders and elites. A popular journalist and talk show personality put it starkly:

As though the choices facing them are not already tough enough, people in positions of power, business leaders, journalists, opinion makers, and public personalities are all wondering: “What should I buy now? iPad 3 or the iPad mini? More importantly, what should I do with the iPad 2 that I already have?” uffff! Such a big headache making these decisions, na?

A cross section of the society in clifton—who had gathered to discuss whether Pakistan should wait till 2014 for US withdrawal from Afghanistan or cooperate with the US right away and enjoy the benefits of increased aid—vigorously debated if they should wait for the inevitably thinner and lighter iPad mini 2 in 2013 or if they should jump on this opportunity to get a smaller iPad which fits better into their bags. At the end of this inconclusive debate, hard pressed for time, they decided to meet again later to debate cooperation with the US.

Cooperation with the US has tangible benefits for Pakistan, but drone attacks, sovereignty and honor have proved to be prickly problems. Pakistan has a honor bound society and honor is a big factor in its dealings with the world. However, considerations of honor frequently forces Pakistan into rigid and impractical positions with little room to maneuver. Some feel that dispensing with honor and exploring compromise is a more pragmatic solution. A prominent right wing analyst serving in a national think tank observed “The attractive thing going for iPad mini is its size. It fits into my hand and I can carry it everywhere. But I don’t want people to think that I bought it because it is cheaper. So we should all buy iPad 3”. This point was refuted by a left-leaning pragmatic opponent who was quick to note “You would be cheap only if you bought an Android tablet like Nexus 7, an iPad is an iPad. Nobody should mistake a Pakistani buying an iPad mini as being cheap. Where is the question of honor in this issue? We should compromise. It is an iPad after all.”

Despite such overwhelming popularity of technology invented in the US and billions of dollars in aid, US and  American companies remain deeply unpopular. A prominent socialite working for an NGO expressed her hatred: “My hands get tired tweeting all day about Malala on a 9 inch screen of an iPad. I would very much love a 7.9 inch iPad mini, which I can hold in one hand, scroll through my tweets, read and RT the latest outrage and terror incidents in Pakistan. But I am not sure if Bollywood movies would look good on a smaller screen. God I hate hate hate hate Apple for making me choose! They are doing this on purpose! I HATE APPLE!”

But english language social media alone might not solve all problems in Pakistan. Pakistan lags behind in basic social indicators like education and health care. In this environment of illiteracy and hopelessness, religious leaders who preach radical ideas based on extremist and literal interpretation of Islam have flourished. As a result, unemployed and illiterate youth have thrown in their lot with radicalism and violence. This has placed extraordinary demands on the rich, westernized elite in Pakistan and saddled them with the great responsibility of guiding the country forward. A prominent activist speaking in a workshop arranged by the British consulate to promote interfaith harmony said “iPad mini is not a real iPad. The essence of an iPad is its retina display with 264 pixels per inch, fast graphics on A6x chip, and gorgeous 9.7-inch LED-backlit multi-touch display with IPS technology. iPad mini has an older A5 processor and has only 163 pixels-per-inch which is well outside the retina territory” He then hurriedly added “And oh yes, I forgot!! the Islam preached by the radical Mullahs is not real Islam”. When asked if he could better articulate his interpretation of Islam, he said “I am not sure. There should be a difference no? Maybe like, more liberal or something? I have to check. Let me fire up a browser on my iPhone 5”

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