Below, Paul Charlton, Geisel ’14, shares a firsthand account of his travels to Pakistan. Read the full story, originally published in the Winter 2013 issue of “Dartmouth Medicine.”
At first I went for the climbing. I started climbing when I was 17. By sheer luck, the people who introduced me to the sport had been members of the first wave of Americans to climb in the Himalayas, in the 1960s and 1970s. Their accounts of their adventures made a deep impression on me. One story that stuck with me was the disastrous 1975 American expedition to K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, which lies in Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains. The climbers hired hundreds of local Balti porters to carry their equipment along the Baltoro Glacier to the K2 basecamp. Noting the opportunity, all the porters went on strike halfway to basecamp and refused to carry the loads any farther unless their pay was increased. It was a debacle that nearly came to violence. This incident began decades of opportunistic striking, earning Balti porters a reputation for being hard to work with.
“Pakistan would be a great place,” one of my climbing mentors remarked, “if it weren’t for the people.”
That mistrust at first colored my own views of the people of Pakistan. And in the years since my first trip there, the attitude toward Pakistan in the United States seems to have grown even darker. A 2007 Newsweek cover captures what seems to have become the prevailing sentiment: “The most dangerous nation in the world isn’t Iraq. It’s Pakistan.”
Over the decade that I have been traveling to Pakistan, I have developed a very different perspective on this fascinating country, one shaped by firsthand experiences working with Pakistanis on disaster relief and other health-related efforts. I have been disabused of some of my assumptions about Pakistan and, I hope, able to give the people I’ve met in Pakistan a different perspective on the United States.