Lauren is a senior in the Peabody School studying Human and Organizational Development and Political Science. She writes on international issues and is interested in transitional justice processes.
A thought-provoking poll recently published by the New York Post expressed how 65 countries point to the United States as the current “greatest threat to world peace”.
Pakistan, the leader when it comes to anti-U.S. sentiment, falls in second after a wide margin.
The idea of United States intervention has been the cause of much debate in the past century. From critiques of the seven-year Iraq War, to the most recent case involving Syria, it has been questioned whether western invention does more harm than good.
As an undergraduate here at Vanderbilt University, I have been graced with the unique opportunity to converse with students from the Boy’s Govt. Muslim High School in Multan, Pakistan over Skype through Vanderbilt-Pakistan Connection. The underlying purpose of the program founded by one of Vanderbilt University’s very own Ingram Scholars, though initially created to teach English to students of Pakistan, is to cultivate positive interactions between the two nations to ease existing tension.
The rift between the United States and Pakistan can be traced back to the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War when the United States did not provide military support for Pakistani-initiated conflicts with neighboring territories. This lack of aid led to public outrage, especially since the United States had signed a mutual defense agreement in 1954, with the hopes that this pledge of assistance would forge a democratic stronghold in the Middle East to combat the growing threat of communism.
A more recent reason for the complicated and heavy U.S. involvement in Pakistan is largely due to the fact that Pakistan lies in the Persian Gulf, significance being that the area is the source of roughly 40% of the world’s oil supply. Pakistan is undoubtedly the most affected nation when it comes to the turbulent “war on terror”, with the violence responsible for a $78 billion loss to the Pakistani economy. Subsequently this spirals Pakistan into a social-cultural disadvantage, where since government funding is being allocated to support military ventures, there is a lack of the necessary support for the much-needed educational reform.
From a research study conducted in 2013, Pakistan possesses the second largest population of children out of school with 49.5 million illiterate. One cannot forget the gunning of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai by the Taliban in 2012 for her secular support of women’s education, exemplifying the deeply rooted sense of fear in response to modern, non-traditionalist ideals.
The absence of knowledge is cause for fear. Within the past decade, it can be affirmed that the relationship between the United States and the Middle East has been particularly strained. The still traumatic event of 2001 seems to have solidified the American public’s general negative opinion of the geographic area. But this ambiguity, when it comes to defining the Middle East, just goes to show the lack of understanding between nations.
Cross-cultural exchange opens the door to peace. Being able to approach a disparate community with a wide breathe of understanding and cultural sensitivity, is essential when it comes to bridging the cultural gap between countries from contrasting areas of the globe.
Similarly, in order to remove Pakistan from its current cycle of poverty, a door must be opened to lift its societal structure into the modern era. Hope is to be found, with the apprehension towards the unknown being slowly eroded with movements such as that of teaching young girls sex education in schools to the recent celebration of social justice with Malala Day. Voices are being heard.
Educational awareness allows for peace and is the key that will lead the world into the future.
Image from http://www.glamour.com/images/inspired/2013/10/malala-yousafzai-2-w724.jpg