Why is Pakistan so screwed up? 

Over the years, I have developed several poorly reasoned theories to help me understand the world.

It's a habit I probably picked up from my dad, who 20 years ago suggested to me that the Nation of Islam movement, led by Louis Farrakhan, exists so people with bad credit could change their last names to "Muhammad" or "X" and more easily get car loans. At the time he expressed the idea, Dad was having a rough week at work. He managed loans for a car dealership.

I tend not to discuss my pet theories outside the house because, like my dad, I worry people might think I actually believe them.

Nevertheless, in attempting to answer the question above, I can't help but recall one of my first world-explaining theories: The nicer an immigrant, the shittier his or her country of origin.

This idea came to me in 1991, during dinner atZed's Ethiopian Cuisine in Washington, D.C. The restaurant was filled with Ethiopian immigrants, all of whom were kind, warm and genteel. I felt like I was dining in the living room of a happy, functional family. How was it possible, I wondered, that a country whose people are so nice could be synonymous with human suffering?

In the 18 years since that meal, my notion became a full-blown equation. Nice people = crappy country. Everyone I've met from screwed-up countries like Bosnia, Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Albania and Nigeria has been memorably nice.

Conversely, the most consistently prickish foreigners I know come from one of the most stable, prosperous democratic countries in the world: France. I only know two nice French people, and one of them left France for the United States when she was a toddler.

Pakistan is a gurgling fecal stew of violence, militarism, thuggery, corruption, poverty and religious extremism. Nevertheless, the only three Pakistanis I know are great people. One's a doctor. One's a nurse. The other is a college student.

After several hours of pondering this, I think I have an explanation for my equation. Crappy countries produce no more or fewer nice people than other countries. However, crappiness drives the nice people to places like the United States, where it's easier for people like me to meet them.

Craptasticness is, unfortunately, part of Pakistan's DNA. The nation's founding was an orgy of panic and violence.

When the Brits surrendered colonial rule of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, many of India's Muslims feared they'd be politically, economically and culturally dominated by India's majority-Hindu population.Muslim leaders demanded, and received, their own majority-Muslim country called Pakistan. Fleeing sectarian violence, 14 million Muslims and Hindus up and left their ancestral homes to make sure they lived in the country that corresponded to their religion. One million of them died in the process. It was one of the 20th century's greatest tragedies.

Unfortunately, instead of forging the nation together in struggle, the violence accompanying Pakistan's birth bred instability. Members of Pakistan's largest ethnic groups shared neither a common language nor culture when the country was founded. And many of Pakistan's leaders came from other parts of India. Few even had a constituency in their own country.

Not surprisingly, Pakistan has been falling apart since its founding. Bengalis, who comprised nearly half of Pakistan's population at independence, broke away from Pakistan in 1971 with India's help. Located 1,000 miles away from the rest of Pakistan, on the other side of India, Bengalis felt as much national kinship with the rest of Pakistan as Catholic Bavarians do with Catholic Sicilians. Just because they share a religion never made them BFF.

The war for Bangladesh's independence reinforced Pakistani paranoia (not entirely unjustified) that Hindu India was an existential threat to the subcontinent's Muslims. That paranoia, in turn, has inspired Pakistan to pour the lion's share of its economic resources into its now nuclear-armed military. The country is so consumed with defending itself against India that it has sacrificed tens of billions of dollars that would have been better spent on schools, infrastructure and health care. Pakistan is too busy staying independent to devote any time to not being a shithole.

That's probably why so many of the nice people leave.


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