By Dr Shireen M Mazari
Visiting Brazil last
week was a most wonderful awakening in terms not
only of another world which we have chosen not to
interact with -- to our state's cost and our civil
society's loss. Here is the fifth largest country
in the world with a highly developed industrial
and educational base and until last year, we were
missing out on what can be a most fulfilling interaction.
But even more important, Brazil is an all-encompassing
experience like no other -- both at the human and
Brazilians are truly free from the biases and prejudices
that confront Pakistanis in the West. There is a
warmth and acceptance of diversity because Brazilians
are themselves an amalgam of global society. There
are of course the Brazilians of European descent
and the indigenous folk; but there are also Brazilians
of Japanese origin and there are more Brazilians
of Lebanese origin than the Lebanese in Lebanon!
So, on the streets of Sao Paulo or Rio, it is impossible
to tell the locals from the visitors. And the people
are all-embracing right from the time you step off
the plane. There is a welcoming smile, which I have
not witnessed at any immigration desk anywhere.
Even more exciting is the intellectual depth one
confronts. After all, it was Latin America that
provided the bulk of the intellectual meat for movements
of Third Worldism and underdevelopment. Today, one
can find the same intellectual excitement in Brazil.
Sao Paulo University was amazing in its development.
It produces 2200 PhDs every year and these are quality
PhDs not simply churned out, as we in Pakistan,
seem to be moving towards presently, for the sake
of number crunching.
Incidentally, their government has reduced funding
their students for overseas higher education now
that the Brazilian universities are competent of
offering quality education. That also stops the
brain drain and encourages locals to move into what
is a highly valued field -- that of education. Perhaps
there are lessons to be learned here for us since
we seem to continue to ignore our domestic product
for foreign faculty hiring (regardless of the quality
or relevance) and overseas scholarships so that
the local system continues to degenerate unchecked.
Meeting two leading female artists of Brazil was
also exciting because they are showing all over
the world from the Middle East to Singapore to Taiwan.
Their art is innovative but it was sad to see a
total lack of information about our equally exciting
artists because we have limited our world to the
US and Europe. The art galleries showing Brazilian
art were striking not only for the variety of art
forms but also for the presence of large groups
of students of all ages who had been brought there
for field trips. Apparently, the local government
provides the transport facilities to bring children
to the galleries so that they can grow up with this
critical cultural exposure.
And that is another remarkable feature of Brazil:
The richness of their living culture is such that
the all-pervading McDonald culture is not overtly
felt -- even though American fast food is very much
there. But a Brazilian-ness absorbs you and insulates
you from the intrusiveness of Americanisation. It
is one of the few places that do not reflect this
intrusiveness even though it may be there covertly!
With such richness and a welcoming approach, it
is unfortunate that Pakistan has only now begun
to wake up to the opportunities Brazil has to offer.
As usual, we followed India, which had developed
interaction with Brazil decades earlier and which
finally was reflected formally in the Brazil-India-South
Africa relationship. That has created hurdles for
Pakistan especially in terms of accessing the highly
developed arms industry of Brazil but inroads have
been made and there is a tremendous potential because
the Brazilian arms industry, especially in terms
of airpower, is highly developed. Brazil also makes
civil airplanes and PIA is apparently looking to
Brazil for the replacement of its rather old Fokker
fleet. Let us hope that lures from the West do not
undermine the Brazilian option.
Even in terms of other trade opportunities, there
are so many areas, which we can tap, once we can
see beyond the EU and Washington. For instance,
the Brazilians eat rice as a staple and the way
they cook it does not require the short grained
or sticky variety. In fact, our Basmati rice would
find a big market in Brazil once we can get our
producers to move in that direction. The Brazilian
market, with a fast paced developing economy, is
enormous and still offers Pakistan a good entry
point. If Shanghai is a pulsating city in Asia,
Sao Paulo is no less pulsating in Latin America.
Basically, Latin America is a major part of the
world, which we will continue to neglect at our
cost. Moreover, it is a hospitable and friendly
world with no colonial attitude or big power excess
baggage. On many issues, our worldviews coincide,
but where they don't, there is an acceptance of
diversity. We can learn a lot also from the Brazilian
experience, especially in terms of tolerance, education
and development. Brazilian nationalism is also all-pervasive
and the green, yellow and blue of the flag are everywhere.
But the combination is mellow and soothing and the
Brazilians do not vary their green. Unfortunately,
Pakistan's original green has long been abused so
that one is not exactly sure which is our green
anymore -- especially since our national carrier
has made the Pakistani green almost black (could
it be a funeral green?) on its planes.
We actually have a lot in common with the Brazilians
but what they have converted into assets, we have
failed to do so. Their passion for sports is as
ingrained as ours and presently the focus is on
the soccer world cup. But the Brazilian footballers
have an international following. A sense of nationalism
can be felt everywhere in Brazil but their nationalism
is not aggressive -- it adds to their warmth and
beauty. And beauty is what Brazil is all about --
both of the human variety and of nature.
In fact, Brazil made me wish we could enjoy and
project the beauty that is Pakistan. From the mountains
to the sea and all that is in-between is so exquisite
in Pakistan but, after 58 years, still awaits development.
Nationalism has been reduced to a most damaging
chauvinism and a positive national pride is diminishing
at breakneck speed.
The humane-ness of the ordinary Pakistani has been
lost in the bureaucratic machinations and political
dialectics of the state. As for the richness of
our culture, it has been butchered by cultural mafias
and bigots. What we could be and are still not is
frustrating and infuriating. To see and experience
Brazil was to be chastened and saddened by our self-created
inadequacies and our blinkered view of the world.
When will our awakening come?
(The writer is director general of the Institute
of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The