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October 22, 2010

Wandering talk on Pakistani floods riles audience

Renowned Pakistani journalist and political analyst Imtiaz Gul discussed the recent floods that have ravaged Pakistan in front of a crowd at International House Tuesday.

According to U.N. statistics, the July floods left 21 million people in Pakistan injured or homeless, and Gul, chairman of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said it impacted half a million Pakistani farmers.

“The rivers of Pakistan are like a monster cutting through the country,” Gul said.

Gul strayed from his topic, however, discussing the difference between Pakistanis’ image of themselves and the international image of Pakistan, showing clippings of fashion shows and photographs of terrorists.

And in an impassioned question-and-answer session following his talk, some called the shift into question.

“Who speaks for those in Pakistan who live off $2 a day and who don’t give a damn about either the bearded men or the fashionable women you’re showing us?” asked South Asian language and civilizations professor Choudhri Naim.

Gul didn’t directly address the question, suggesting the role of the national parliament in alleviating poverty as a possible answer.

Other audience questions covered the range of Pakistani politics, including President Zardari’s tenure and separatist movements in the country. “This happens with any discussion on Pakistan. The conversation always drifts away to violence, politics, and Pakistan’s foreign debt,” said third-year Maha Ahmad, leader of the student group UChicago for Pakistan, in an e-mail.

Nevertheless, Ahmad said it was important that the talks took place. “It was probably the first lecture on campus thus far to discuss one of the worst natural disasters of our time,” Ahmad said.

The lecture, sponsored by the Center for International Studies (CIS), the South Asia Language and Area Center, the Committee on Southern Asian Studies, and the Pakistan Club at the Booth School. It was part of The World Beyond the Headlines lecture series, sponsored by CIS, that will take place at International House throughout the quarter.

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