10 things I hate about Washington DC's Af-Pak ‘experts’

Published: November 20, 2011
If they speak Urdu and know half a dozen Punjabi curse words, they are automatically dubbed an authority on Pakistan.

If they speak Urdu and know half a dozen Punjabi curse words, they are automatically dubbed an authority on Pakistan.

1.    Only in DC can you be a Pakistan expert without ever visiting the region. Yet your average Pakistan expert, fresh out of college or mid-career, claims to possess a deep understanding of how Pakistan’s politics, military and society work.

2.   Ten years into the war in Afghanistan, the difference between Afghan and Afghani is still lost on many. Afghan is for the people, Afghani is for the currency or a type of naan.

3.   Minutes after a new snafu in US-Pakistan relations, they will have an op-ed/essay/20-page report about it. It doesn’t matter if it is a variation of the op-ed they wrote last year. From the Haqqani Network to Pakistan’s power woes, they know all.

4.   They employ so many clichés one wonders if there’s a special Oxford’s Guide to Clichés About Pakistan on their desks. From “Pakistan’s nukes are safe” to “A Rogue Ally”, the words are so tired, they’re begging for a pillow.

5.    Most Af-Pak experts have never been to Ravi Kebab, the place to eat the best Pakistani food in this state. How can one understand Pakistan without ever having sampled nihari?

6.    When they do go to Pakistan, cab drivers are their best source of “what the common man thinks” or research polls that only sample 1000 people in urban areas.

7.    The assumption that everyone in Pakistan is a radical and hates India.

8.    If they speak Urdu and know half a dozen Punjabi curse words, they are automatically dubbed an authority on Pakistan.

9.    Their love for drones. Didja hear they don’t kill civilians?

10.    How often I find myself in their offices, asking them for their analyses.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 20th,  2011.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Arindom
    Nov 20, 2011 - 1:17PM

    Why only them? I am an expert on Pakistan too !! LOL!!


  • zalim singh
    Nov 20, 2011 - 1:24PM

    good write. funny.


  • Nov 20, 2011 - 1:40PM

    Don’t forget Afghani Tikka!


  • Mukhtar Shah
    Nov 20, 2011 - 1:54PM

    Nice piece of work, Huma.


  • Waseem
    Nov 20, 2011 - 3:12PM

    great, excellent work.


  • Iftikhar khan
    Nov 20, 2011 - 4:05PM

    Also many even Pakistani experts based in Washington who belongs to Karachi or other non-Pashtun built sells themselves to the ‘ignorant’ Americans here in DC and they frequently referes to ” a friend of mine told me from the tribal areas or Peshawar, or Malaknd”.


  • Nadir
    Nov 20, 2011 - 4:59PM

    Ravi Kebab in London is amazing as well! Ravi Kebad’s of the world unite!


  • Adeel759
    Nov 20, 2011 - 6:34PM

    Well, # 10 says it all. Their few, tired, repetitive and expertly words are worth something that’s what lands you into their offices. Eventhough you know that they haven’t had Nuhari, Naan or ever met nawaz.


  • Vijay K
    Nov 20, 2011 - 7:14PM

    #7 : You mean they are not, and they don’t?? Incredulous !


  • Nov 20, 2011 - 8:28PM

    All good except point 9. How’re you so sure any other measure than drones won’t kill civilians? When bombs explode, don’t civilians die? Why drones, which are known to kill over 95% militants, are a point of your kind attention Ms. Huma? IK influence? Oh you’re not alone then. Media is caught red handed for having hard-to-miss IK sympathy. Good luck.


  • meera ghani
    Nov 20, 2011 - 8:56PM

    I hate how the red flag go up in some Pakistani liberal circles as soon as drones are mentioned. This piece was about US-based Pakistani experts, it just stated how they liked them. No judgement call was being made. I don’t understand why even IK was mentioned. Its not just Imran who opposes them. Must out hate for Imran over shadow everything to the extent that the word drones can’t even be mentioned without a backlash? Forget about the merits or demerits of drones.

    I am no supporter of Imran. But I for one think terrorism should be condemed in all its forms. We can’t be selective in our condemnation. State-led terrorism is as bad if not worse than vigilante terrorism. I hold nation states to a higher standard. I expect that they will respect international law, human rights and sovereignty of other states.


  • sadhana
    Nov 20, 2011 - 8:58PM

    Its a good change from DC’s Kashmir experts.


  • SYED
    Nov 20, 2011 - 9:02PM

    Very interesting and funny. By the way have you ever encountered White or Black Americans ( the real ones, not the immigrants ) who do speak Urdu or Punjabi ? I met one, Bob, at Delhi Airport who spoke very neat and correct urdu without any American accent. He was getting his Ph.D in Urdu from the Lukhnow University. Most probably would be working for a US intelligence agency.When I told him that to really understand Iqbal, one needs to know some Farsi, he started talking in Farsi ! Now that is committment, which sadly is missing from a lot of sub-continental people If we have to learn one thing in this country, it is the ethics of hard work and focus..


  • meera ghani
    Nov 20, 2011 - 9:03PM

    In my previous comment I meant no disrespect to Marvi. It was rather a comment on a general pattern I see amongst our liberals. I respect the work Marvi does but hey we all can’t agree on everything can we. That’s the beauty of democracy and believing in liberal values.


  • Mir Agha
    Nov 20, 2011 - 9:29PM

    Marvi is the reason ‘liberals’ will never be taken seriously. Where did the unilateral and unfounded decleration of drones killing 95% ‘militants’ come from? Conspiracy much?


  • Kataria
    Nov 20, 2011 - 9:31PM

    The point is they don’t need to be taken seriously.


  • Nov 21, 2011 - 12:30AM

    @Marvi Sirmed

    Go girl!



  • Falcon
    Nov 21, 2011 - 2:50AM

    Really funny. Absolutely loved it! On a side note, it also tells you that there is a growing craving in US to understand the mystery that our country is. I think in the short-run this will be the case. However, in the long run, most likely they will be better informed than us about our own country.

    Lastly for Marvi…if we don’t want our families to be part of ‘collateral damage’, we shouldn’t expect anyone to go through the pain of it as well. Drones make for an over-simplified and myopic solution to a very complex and proliferating problem.


  • MarkH
    Nov 21, 2011 - 3:38AM

    @Mir Agha:
    From people who would know. Anyone in range of the blast to witness exactly who gets hit would become one of the dead themselves and the corpses themselves are rarely recognizable. The drone cameras are more credible than the majority considering who is actually in the area that gets bombed. You would also see zero praise from the ones who actually benefit from the kills if many innocents were getting killed as they can’t all be monsters. They’d condemn an actual innocent’s death, too. It’s also very easy for people in the area to give them the tag of innocent civilians without even looking at who was hit. The people closest to them don’t consider them militants or terrorists. There aren’t civilians littered everywhere, it comes down to this as an example: What some call terrorists, others call freedom fighters. What some believe to be blasphemy is often debatable personal opinion. Who is a “kafir” depends on who you ask.
    Clean them up yourselves or deal with the semantic nonsense. Those people have had their human race membership card revoked long time ago. As far as I’m concerned, every time they say it’s an innocent it makes me happy because I know it means they’re cornered and using desperation tactics. Feel free to remain a fool, though. It helps a lot of people boost their self image who need it by comparison.

    “Conspiracy much?”<- It’s a little funny you would use that accusation. I’d imagine that’s at least one word a Pakistani would have a good handle on. You used it inappropriately in relation to its actual meaning.
    Or were you just tired of waiting to use that gem and forced it prematurely, ruining it?


  • Nov 21, 2011 - 10:26AM

    Is there a limit to Pakistani superiority complex and thanklessness? I thought anti-US sentiments were limited to rural, deprived, uneducated youth but even educated Pakistanis who visit and work in the US with the funding of the US government have a similar taste of disrespect.


  • Ozymandias
    Nov 21, 2011 - 1:24PM

    @Marvi Sirmed:
    You do get that this is satire right?


  • Charles Ebinger
    Dec 1, 2011 - 2:48AM

    Bravo for the author.As one who has worked fro every government in Pakistan since 1977 an written numerous books and articlea and travelled all over the country I could not agree more that what passes for expertise on this very complex country is appalling. I know a different Pakistan whetre the poorest villagers (Naltar) share their their meager rations with a complete stranger, where mosques provide weary travelrs a place for food and to sleep and where the tradition of hospitality can not be beaten anywhere in the world.Washington is full of noted authoriteis and some such as my colleague Steve Cohen are among the best but most especially those in the WB never really see the country or have any idea how many people struggle just to feed their familiies or are ravaged by floods while their own elite bask in luxury and few people do anything to alleviate their suffering.


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