At 10 a.m. on Saturday, the Daniel Family Commons was brimming with guests and students waiting for a panel discussion to begin. They all had one thing in common: the desire to learn more about Pakistan.
The event was just one of many at the first annual Wesleyan International Relations Association Conference. Highlights of the program included a concert by Junoon, a sufi rock band that the New York Times called the “U2 of Pakistan,” a screening of the Pakistani film Ramchand Pakistani, and a tea party.
The conference was organized by the Wesleyan International Relations Association and other campus groups. Those in attendance included students and professors from surrounding schools, as well as community members and foreign service officers.
The panel discussed Pakistan’s internal dynamics and conflicts. Asim Khwaja, Professor of International Finance and Development at the Harvard Kennedy school; Dr. Humeira Iqtidar, a lecturer at King’s College London, and expert on Social and Political Theory as it relates to secularism; and Najam Sethi, award-winning journalist and editor-in-chief of Geo News and The Friday Times, led the discussion.
Sethi introduced Pakistan as one of the few countries in the world where foreign policy governs internal affairs. He also emphasized the fact that the country’s future is in the hands of youth under 26, who make up the majority of the population. However, even with the hope and energy of a young population, Sethi does not have high expectations for the immediate future of Pakistani politics.
“It looks as though the cranes have stopped flying,” Sethi said. “Urban Pakistan is full of nationalism, tuned into international affairs; rural Pakistan is not.”
According to Sethi, the “real” people of Pakistan are in the rural areas, and for them, “democracy is the four pillars of life.”
Khwaja began his portion of the discussion with a more optimistic view for the future of Pakistan. He said that there are as many schools in Pakistan as there are in the U.S..
Khwaja seemed less optimistic about international relations for his country, however.
“A danger in the approach to Pakistani-US relations is that Americans tend to treat the Pakistani citizen as somehow different,” he said.
Iqtidar spoke about Islam’s role in Pakistani politics, saying that many aspects of U.S.-Pakistan relations revolve around Islamism.
“Islamists are those who focus on taking over the state.” Iqtidar said. “Islamists may be facilitating a kind of secularization.”
Iqtidar added that an increase in religiosity can lead to a more rational society, counterintuitive as it may seem.
“A lot of cynicism about Islam has been generated,” she continued. “The militancy we see in Pakistan today is a completely new phenomenon, and the war in Afghanistan is a catalyst of the violence in Pakistan today.”
Iqtidar asserted that militant Islamism is decreasing, at least in Pakistan.
“It is hard, in the urban context, to make an argument for honor killing on the basis of Islam,” she said.
Khwaja’s points on Islamism were well received by attendees.
“I liked the last panelist [Humeira Iqtidar] a lot,” said Han Hsien ’12. “I thought her argument was that this whole violent Islamism is a really new phenomenon not based on what the traditional Islamic heritage stands on.”
For a Saturday morning, the turnout for the 3-hour long panel was impressive. Mary Diaz ’14, a student who spent months helping to organize the event, provided a potential explanation.
“It’s important to be aware of relations outside the US in order to be an effective and influential citizen of the world,” she said.