In yet another sign of a growing climate of intolerance and fear in Pakistan, the most popular Westerner in the country has decided to call it quits.
His was easily the most familiar Western face in the country. “George ka Pakistan”, George’s Pakistan, was the name of the reality TV show which first made the British journalist famous. And after George Fulton had travelled all over the country for it, ploughing fields with Punjabi farmers and building Kalashnikovs with the Pashtuns, he was voted a real Pakistani by the audience and obtained a Pakistani passport.
He married Kiran, a Pakistani journalist, and stayed on in the country for nine years. Kiran and George hosted a morning show on television, and he began writing newspaper columns. But the more he identified with his new country, the more he started criticizing its shortcomings.
Time for a divorce
In January, it all became too much. When Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was murdered for opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy law, and his assassin was widely celebrated, Fulton decided it was time to leave. He decided to “divorce” his old love Pakistan.
“The job that I do and work that I can do is becoming increasingly difficult in terms of safety,” he explained in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “If you question a law, you can get shot in Pakistan. If you want to criticize somebody, you never know what is going to happen to you.
“I would love to resume my relationship with Pakistan but it needs to change before I can do that. Because it is a society that is increasingly intolerable to live in.”
For Fulton, Pakistan is very close to becoming a failed state. He doesn’t think democracy will last much longer.
He argues that the roots of Pakistan’s crisis lie deep: Pakistanis are divided by caste, ethnicity and religion and have little to unite them.
“The only thing that has traditionally united them, and that the army has used to great effect, is the hatred of India, which has been propagated quite effectively in the press – and cricket. And that’s not enough to sustain a country.”
Pakistan’s liberals, and he includes himself among them, have today become intimidated by the extremists, he says. However, he thinks the problems started decades ago, when liberals did nothing to oppose the wave of Islamization that started to engulf the country when Pakistan lost its eastern half, today’s Bangladesh.
“After 1971 when the idea of Pakistan as a country for the Muslims of the subcontinent failed, there was no alternative vision for the country created by the intelligentsia. It has been allowed to flounder, and there has been no concept of what Pakistan stands for, where it’s going in the near future,” he said.
He is even more pessimistic about the future: “In the next 20 years, it is estimated that the population of Pakistan will grow by 80 million. Already, three fourths of the population are under the age of 30, half of the population is under the age of 21.
So you are going to have a growing uneducated, unemployed, dissatisfied, angry youth. And that is the perfect climate and they are the perfect prey for extremists, so they can brainwash more and more people within the country.”
Author: Thomas Bärthlein
Editor: Anne Thomas