Greame Smith from the Globe and Mail, who traveled to the village of Suwan narrates the story of the mountainous region post the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. If one recalls, these were devastating earthquakes that left many people dead, while displaced many more. Greame narrates a story told to him by a resident of the village named Saber Shah, who discusses both the disadvantages and advantages of foreign aid.
This story is absolutely brilliant – we are given the first hand opinion of an individual directly influenced by the aid. There has been research done on the impact of US aid, but what Saber has to say is very telling, not just because he uses religion to justify some of his displeasure, he is more concerned with culture and the impact foreign influence will have on it.
Saber Shah explains that foreign aid assisted in the rebuilding of the remote village, while mentioning that newer technology allowed for more efficient methods of communication. It did though have a negative effect – it took away the spirit of a simple life style. One prominent example is that Saber has a distinct method of whistling he uses to communicate with others far away from his location, a method that he clearly holds dear, since it must have been taught to him by his father, and in turn passed down by his ancestors. This method is lost to the younger generations since they have cell phones to communicate with. Essentially a piece of his culture is lost because of the assistance of foreign aid.
Therefore, it is necessary to stress that while the United States’ goal in Pakistan and in Afghanistan may be noble, the people themselves are threatened, as their identity will gradually be changed forever. There will always that group who will persistently fight against this influence, even if the influence itself is an honest attempt of assistance. This is something the West in general and the United States in particular must remember, especially if they wish to assist those in Pakistan. Most people will fight to keep their identity, therefore concepts such as democracy and human rights should not be flaunted around as specifically American and Western values. Do not get me wrong, they are key aspects within Europe and America’s concepts of life, and of course Pakistani’s want their voice to be heard, especially as they do not want to be beaten by the police. However some individuals, in the attempt of keeping what little is left of their ‘culture,’ may push away those ideals that ideally should be implemented within the country.
Saber himself admitted that respect for foreigners had increased dramatically, and that aid had truly assisted his village and his family. However, Saber’s brother says something very profound that really helps explain the mindset of most Pakistani’s:
‘we know the foreigners do not only want to help us, they want to change our culture, and this countries future may depend on whether they succeed’