Frontline World


Pakistan, ON A RAZOR'S EDGE, March 2004



Read through archived FRONTLINE/World conversations around this story, including responses from the reporter.

Zainab Fazalbhoy - Houston, Texas
What can I Say, Ms.Obaid, you & Frontline did an amazing job of showing the world the "real" Pakistan. I loved the sights, the one-on-one interviews, the unbiased and utterly refreshing outlook that put a human face on the people of a country that has been portrayed negatively and stereotypically by the media for so long. I look forward to viewing more of your work, good luck & God bless!

Fahd Chinoy - Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Sharmeen Obaid was brilliant. She has the potential to continue providing insight on issues the American public is completely unaware of. I salute her for her efforts.

Bapsi Sidhwa - Houston, Texas
As an American citizen of Pakistani origins, I congratulate Sharmeen Obaid for presenting an engaging, astute and informative documentary. The multiplicity of views reflected by a wide range of people permitted an impressive honesty and I appreciated it that she did not impose her interpretations on what was said. The concise and accurate English subtitles also helped in this regard. It is remarkable that Ms. Obaid managed to interview so many of the key figures in today's Pakistan. PBS and Frontline are to be congratulated for making the documentary possible and for funding it. It will go some ways to clear the prevalent misconceptions about Pakistan. I hope it will be aired again.

Richard Weinstock - Ventura, California
Sharmeen Obaid's report on Pakistan was television journalism at its finest. It's hard to believe that so much information on the complexities of Pakistan politics and culture were fit into such a short time span. The presentation was also riveting. My only complaint is that the report should have at least filled the hour as I'm sure much had to be left out. On the other hand, next two reports on bride kidnapping and the Kenyan runners were also fascinating. So, my hope is that FRONTLINE/World will expand to 2 hours and that it will be aired a 2nd time during the month so the public has more opportunity to see these fine presentations.

Rajni Shankar - Washington, D.C.
What a brave young woman Ms Obaid is ! If only Pakistan (and India) were populated with more like her and less like the cowardly males who use their military uniforms as macho props and skulk in the shadows spouting hate, paranoia and violence, we could enjoy peace.

R. Jeremy - Austin, Texas
There is a sense of progress in the Indian-Pakistan dialogue, because both sides are starting to accept! Acceptance/understanding of each side's position is what starts a peace process. This can take several decades. If the Indians and Pakistanis can focus on their cultural similarities (and they are too numerous to mention here), and ignore that one item that keeps them apart (religion) then I'm confident they will find a solution for Kashmir, and their border dispute. Just don't let one facet of life destroy everything else. That is called fanaticism, and we don't need that.

Udaya Bhaskar - New York, New York
Like in any other part of the world where people are fighting with each other in the matters of their borders and religions, it's the politicians and religious heads who have divided India and Pakistan and lead the nations into wars and hating each other. The hate on both sides is built to such heights [that] they don't bother about the reason[s], et al. People who have lived like brothers just before 400 years are ready to smash each other with nuclear bombs today. Looking at the past, it is hard to believe both the heads of nations. It's time to wait and see how far they go wholeheartedly to bring peace. Musharraf seems determined to fight against fundamentalists. It may cost [him] his life, but there will be a page dedicated to him in the history of peace if he can achieve victory against terrorists. On the side of India, even the Indian prime minister should ease his folks' (they are fundamentalists too) and see that brotherhood feeling will develop among Indians. The recent incidents against Muslims in India are so heinous, that [they] will definitely hurt Pakistanis and make them suspect Indian peace process. The current generations on both sides know nothing about the cultures of other. Indians knows nothing of a Sufi whirling or Pakistanis know nothing of a Tantra practice. They are all completely engaged in their dubious patriotisms and destructive war heroisms. A serious effort should be made to build up these gaps.

And Ms.Obaid. What to say about a woman journalist doing such a great job? I wish her all [the] good luck and great achievements in future...

Karim Khan - Lahore, Pakistan
The documentary was good but one thing you left out is the reason for hostility against India and that is Kashmir. You made Kashmir look like a problem that Pakistan created. India cheated Pakistan out of Kashmir and to this day brutally repressed them. Kashmiris are fighting Indians, not Pakistanis. Why did you show Pakistan as the villain on Kashmir? As a Pakistani do you not believe that Kashmir belongs rightfully to Pakistan?

Vikram D. Mello - New York, New York
Hearty congratulations to Ms. Obaid for an exceedingly well put-together, brave, incisive and revealing look into our two nations (I'm from India) as they forge their way towards true peace with trepidation. These kinds of discussions and honest expositions of reality (or the semblance of reality at least), are not just useful, but imperative in positively influencing the opinions and views of not just Pakistanis and Indians, but of the West as well.

Rahul Mehta - Detroit, Michigan
Hi! First of all my hearty thanks to Sharmeen Obaid and [the] team of PBS who made this story possible. It's so nice to see some[one] actually taking so much pain and challenges to let the world know the real story. Many people including myself have often been mislead by faulty media but I think what Sharmeen has [done] is worth noting. Being from India I think I can appreciate the kind of values Pakistani people have for us. I only want to further add to what Sharmeen's documentary has shown[;] the people in India feel the same as the people in Pakistan and they have [a]lot of love and affection for our neighbor across the border. The only problem is that because of [a] handful of people the whole country [has been portrayed] as against each other. So thanks once again for such an incredible job. I request to forward the message to Sharmeen too as she deserves a lot of accolade[s] for her work. Keep up the good work, Rahul

Subramanyam Sridharan - Chennai, India
Musharraf's best course of action would be to take the most righteous course at this juncture.

From its inception, Pakistan has engaged in deception and subterfuge to carry out its only state agenda which was and remains an obsession with India. In its quest to attain an impractical political and military parity with India, it engaged in activities that eventually brought doom for itself. Its membership in SEATO/CENTO, siding with the Western powers in the Suez canal episode and later the Israeli conflict, its Afghanistan policy, the virulent anti-India propaganda in OIC and various international fora, its willingness to let itself be used by the US, China and other countries, its support for terrorism and jihadism, its quest for nuclear weapons and missiles, the [I]slamization of a professional army inherited from the British, the efforts to disown the inseparable Indic heritage and identify with an alien Arab culture, the paramountcy of the military in State affairs have all been driven by the singular desire to keep the hostility to India simmering for ever.

That is why if Musharraf is sincere about leading Pakistan out of this morass, he has to make a complete about-turn. This is not easy since the Pakistani masses have been brought up on a staple diet of hatred for India and the Hindus, starting from school textbooks to the media. But, an effort needs to be made and that should receive the support from all quarters. What does not, however, inspire confidence is that he wants to ride two horses at once and somehow hopes that he would be able to do that.

Co-Producer/Reporter Sharmeen Obaid responds:
I agree with you that President Musharraf needs to decide who to support, he cannot support the West while supporting radical Islamic parties. But it is easier said than done, and I know from being in Pakistan that he cannot do an about turn immediately. There have been 2 serious attempts on his life and countless other ones and he knows that he has to handle jihadi organizations and radical Islamic parties delicately. In all honesty, he is trying. He has banned jihadi organizations and his government is trying to change the madrassa (Islamic religious schools) system of education. But he needs time to do so and the support of the west as well as India is very crucial to him right now.

Aamir Ali - Peshawar, Pakistan
Mr Sridharan, you yourself sound like a brainwashed person, constantly spewing the hatred that has been taught in your textbooks. Pakistan's only beef with India is Kashmir, otherwise they don’t care about anything else about India. You will notice when the Indian cricket team and visitors came on the recent tour, they were treated warmly and respectfully. How can Pakistan,a nation that you claim as haters of Hindus, suddenly change like that? The answer is that remove Kashmir, and Pakistanis don’t have any problems with Indians. However I have noticed that Indians have HUGE problems with Pakistanis in particular and Islam in general.

Peter Anderson - LaGrange, Georgia
For the near term, the potential for a radical leadership to emerge in Pakistan, Islamic or otherwise, is low. The present Pakistani establishment is firmly in charge and, with enhanced technical and military assistance from the United States, is able to ensure its dominance is not effectively challenged. Pakistan probably has a "grace" period of five to ten years to solve its internal political legitimacy crisis before an explosion occurs. It is undeniable, however, that radical forces are growing, especially the Islamists, that social chaos and demographic, economic and natural resource pressures are mounting and that many of Pakistan's mainstream liberals are increasingly frustrated. Unless this is checked, this last group could turn to Islam. Moreover, if anything happens to disrupt the Army's cohesion--an unlikely but not impossible occurrence--a radical Pakistan could emerge because no alternative exists; nor has one been allowed to develop. Unfortunately, the current American policies are only likely to speed up Pakistan's march ineluctable march towards a modern version of the stone age.

Alan Toy - Guelph, Ontario
Dear Frontline: First off, let me commend you on your excellent piece on Pakistan, with kudos to Ms. Obaid, for courageous & edifying work. President Musharraf is indeed walking a political tightrope here, but he must continue to 'stay the course', neither fearing the Muslim extremists, nor kowtowing totally to U.S. foreign policy. As Canadians, we currently have a strong troop commitment in Afghanistan, with a view to reconstruction & one hopes this area can be stabilized.

One final thought: Pres. Musharraf ought to invest heavily in secular primary state education, thus lessening the influence of the fundamentalist schools.

Shahbaz Ashraf - Montreal, Quebec
Excellent interview - to the point yet in-depth answers. [It]shows [that you] don't need to be old to have a depth in your vision. God bless Sharmeen and may He protect her and may people on both sides of the planet comprehend what she is really trying to convey as Moses had prayed to God when he was sent to speak to [the] Pharaoh.

Roy Watts - El Mirage, California
Excellent, Excellent, Excellent, this is the most informative, intelligent, unbiased, honest report I have seen in many years. I'm a producer and editor, this segment put real faces and comments on real people. Unbiased, it gave us the opinions of many different people's ideals. Honesty, the report was not controlled by any state, corporate, or personal censorship. The major news networks could learn a lot from this type of reporting, show us the story in an honest format and let us, the people decide the value of the content. I found it refreshing to see that Pakistani people by the most part want peace with not only India but with the rest of the world. For most of us in the West, Pakistan and India have very little value in the news media here in Los Angeles, one man kills his wife and unborn child here in California, and the media goes wild for months, many people die in a flood or train crash in Pakistan or India, and we don't even hear about it. We need many more segments like the program tonight, but on the national news media, both morning and night. Congratulations for an excellent program.

Saira Ahmad - San Jose, California
This was an excellent piece of journalism. I was so taken by this documentary on Pakistan. Kudos to you for putting this piece together. I will continue to look forward to seeing more of your work out there!

Faraz Wasti - Glastonbury, Connecticut
While it's true that Sharmeen has done an excellent job in portraying the views of the people of Pakistan and the rest of the world, she could not have achieved it without the help of the Frontline crew and media expertise. Nevertheless, she needs to be congratulated for her achievement in producing the piece and portraying the views of a moderate culture that really exists in Pakistan. In reaction to the world forces acting upon the (inseparable Indic) peoples of [the]Sub-continent, the current emergent of exchange in ideas is more important than a violent solution. Though it might be true that majority of the peoples of Pakistan and India suffer from similar heritage/background, the conscious selection or the freedom to select future is important.

In with "new" ideas and out with the old "status quo" should be tried, where peoples have thousands of years of ritualistic practice has lead them into chaos.

Isabelle Miller - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Nowadays, trying to shoot a report in Pakistan is an extremely dangerous endeavor. The book of French author Bernard-Henri Levy about the assassination of Daniel Pearl ("Who killed Daniel Pearl?") depicts a very hostile and dangerous country to journalists.

I am impressed that Ms. Obaid took the challenge. Even if she is Pakistani born - which might have helped her - she is still a woman. With the [rise] of fundamentalist Islam, a report done by a woman in a highly dominated male society is an act of courage.

I was very surprised though that Ms Obaid did not have her face covered during interviews with religious leaders.

I was disturbed hearing street interviewed Pakistanis suggesting the Israeli Mossad could have planned the 2 assassination attempts on President Musharaff. This is again a sign of pure dis-information that runs in Muslim countries and how ideological brainwashing operates successfully. If Musharaff is an ally of the US and the Western world in the war against terror, why would Israel want to kill him???? It makes no sense! Sadly, in those countries, Israel is always the root of all evils, which is an incredible distortion of truth!

At the end of the report, Ms Obaid interviewed a religious leader. I was petrified by his hatred for the West, the Americans, The Israelis and his misconception about us. He said: "America and the Zionists want to make the Muslims like sheep and kill them all. We won't let it happen and we will fight until our last drop of blood!"

Strangely, our perception is exactly the opposite. We, in the western world, sense that radical Islam wants to eliminate us because we are infidels and not Muslims like them.

How are we going to break this ideological wall between those two civilizations? It will take time and human lives unfortunately.

Co-Producer/Reporter Sharmeen Obaid responds:
While the Kashmir jihadi fighter blamed the assassination attempt on President Musharraf on the Israeli agency of Mossad, most Pakistanis I interviewed on the streets believed that it had to be the work of an extremist Islamic religious party.


Aamir Ali - Peshawar, Pakistan
That Levy fellow was a fraud. He only spent 2 weeks in Karachi and came up with his crazed theories about who killed Daniel Pearl. Two months after his book came out the US developed an alternate theory that Khalid Sheikh killed him. But for 2 months Levy was able to spew his hatred against Pakistan. His book is now discredited.

Paul Simons - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I'm interested in the psychology behind the hatred of Jews and Israel coming from the most militant and fundamentalist Pakistanis interviewed. I guess it shows the link between negativity and paranoia.

And many generations of Muslims will grow up [with] the hatred of the Western civilization.

After decades of communism and repression, the Berlin wall has [fallen]. So there is hope.