With a new administration in Washington, D.C. and a continuing global war against terrorism, Pakistan stands at a crossroads as a nascent democracy troubled by its fledgling state.
Tonight at 7 p.m. in the Anderson Room of the Union, Juan Cole, social historian and professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University, will discuss the social history of Pakistani society and its effects on international politics.
Cole is a Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History and is considered by many to be an expert on South Asia and more specifically on Pakistan’s transition to democracy.
In an interview, Cole said he plans to speak about the “winners and losers” of this change, focusing on the differences between city dwellers and their agricultural counterparts.
Over the last few years, Cole said Pakistan has undergone dramatic and drastic change. Growth in the middle class, increased literacy and access to technology has rapidly moved Pakistani society away from its rural and agrarian past, he said.
“About one third of Pakistanis live on a dollar a day,” Cole said. “Some of the conflict in Pakistan is rural-urban conflict.”
Cole said he is also going to discuss how social developments are affecting Pakistani foreign relations.
Pakistan has been a strong ally in the war against terror under the Bush administration, and Cole said he expects that to continue. But that relationship has been complicated over the past few years, as Pakistan has been rocked by assassination, scandal and deceit.
“The Obama administration will see Pakistan as allies, but I think it will hold the Pakistani political class to a higher standard than Bush did,” he said. “Everybody recognizes that Pakistan might be one of the single biggest challenges of the Obama administration so this is something likely to be on the front burner for years and will have an impact on students lives.”
Ahmed Zaidi, the president of the Pakistani Students’ Association, which is hosting the event, said the goal of the lecture is to create awareness about Pakistan for the benefit of the campus community and the larger Ann Arbor area.
“We hope that by having lectures and discussions like these we can achieve our goal of dispelling misconceptions and raising awareness about the political system and Pakistani society’s problems,” Zaidi said in an e-mail interview.
Zaidi added that it is important for students to see an unbiased and personal view of Pakistan, noting that while the group primarily serves Pakistanis, all can benefit from knowledge.
“For members of the audience not directly associated with the country, I hope this serves as a learning experience, one that will instill in them a more personal and understanding view of Pakistan’s and Pakistanis’ problems and replace a reliance on stereotypes and preconceived notions,” he said.