Thursday, February 21, 2008

La Dolce Vita

The elections have been held, the current government has been voted out of power and has accepted the results of the polls, there was virtually no violence before, during or after the voting and the Devil is wearing long johns and earmuffs.

By 'virtually no violence' I, of course, mean by Pakistani standards. Naturally there were bombings in all the usual places, Quetta, Swat and the FATA, but these appear to have been unrelated to the elections specifically and were, rather, just life in balmy (please forgive the terrible pun) Pakistan. The local newspaper also carried a report of a wedding and the "three young women who were killed, on this happy occasion, while getting in the way of many celebratory firing of weapons". Rahman, you silly man, point your rifle towards the sky like the rest of us, you rascal!

In other news, an aunt and her brother kidnapped her nephew and "after torturing him for several days, slaughtered him in a terrible way due to her grudge against his father. They were only discovered as being the culprits after her brother let the cat out of the bag during dinner". Please pass the roti and daal and, by the way, we slaughtered young Amir this morning in a most terrible way, oops, I mean the curry is very good don't you agree?

Finally, in another part of the country a boy was eaten by wolves. "The young fellow and his mates were in the woods when they were set upon by a herd of wolves. While most of the boys made a good escape, Mohammad Saqib a slow boy, failed to get away and was eventually nibbled to bits by the beasts. When the villagers ran to the woods to rescue him, they were able to find only his clothing and some small parts of the boy". Somehow, being "nibbled to bits" makes it sound almost like fun...but I digress.

The elections were a huge success for Pakistan and represent the first time in the country's history that a government has been changed through a peaceful democratic election and not by military intervention. There are few claims of foul or vote rigging and, more importantly, no rioting or loss of life. For those of us who live here it's a bit strange, wonderful, but strange.

Several international organizations, citing security concerns, opted out of observing the elections. Our Embassy, however, fielded over twenty teams throughout Pakistan and observed polling stations from Karachi to Peshawar. The Embassy teams from Islamabad travelled as far south as Bahawalpur and PakPattan. Our responsibility was simply to observe the proceedings and make note of any obvious irregularities. Again, things went quite smoothly and we were allowed access to everything we wanted to see and reported very few concerns with the "Free and Fair" elections. Most importantly, to us, all of our teams went out, did their jobs and returned safely.

Leading up to the elections the country was overrun by representatives of the international media. You couldn't kick over a buffalo chip without two or three of them scurrying into the sunlight. Every night they stared solemnly into their cameras and predicted, with grave sincerity, massive bloodshed and loss of life in the days to come. With glycerin tears in their eyes they prayed that Pakistan might somehow avoid the inevitable upcoming tragedy and ratings boost. They oozed sincerity.

Surprisingly, the positive news of Pakistan's peaceful elections has received comparatively little coverage and the media have evaporated like a distasteful odor in a strong breeze.

I worked in the 'Command Center' and so didn't get to volunteer to take part on an observer team because I was tasked with keeping track of our people in the field. By 'people' I mean, of course, vehicles. As I explained to our drivers in all our pre-election briefings, "We can always get more diplomats, we can't replace the vehicles. Take care of those cars!". Here are a couple of photos of the Command Center which, admittedly, aren't half as interesting as photos of polling stations would have been.

We were in constant communication with all of our teams all day long for the entire three day exercise.

The cities represented by the clocks on the wall behind me are the direct result of some fairly intensive coin flipping.

This was the cake we had at the Motor Pool 'wheels up' Party.

My guys. The Islamabad U.S. Embassy Motor Pool team.

On a personal note, I submitted my bid list for my next post last Friday. In descending order, I asked for Rome, Athens, Madrid, Paris, Budapest, fifteen other cities and Suva, Fiji as a twenty-first choice. The way it works is that 'High Equity' bidders get assigned first and then everyone else gets what's left. My year in Islamabad qualifies me as a 'High Equity' bidder and I was fairly confident that I would get a post in my top ten, maybe even my top five if I got lucky. With no disrespect intended towards Suva, Fiji, I didn't really expect to have to accept my twenty-first choice and I only put it on the list as a lark.

The postings were announced this morning for the 'High Equity' group and, in recognition of a lifetime of sin and as penance, the Foreign Service has assigned me to Rome for my next job. The Church is already dusting off their "How To Do One Of Those Exorcism Things" books and many clergy are praying for my immediate reassignment to anyplace else. I'll go back to FSI this coming November to begin learning Italian (how tough can it be, I can already say "espresso") and then head off to Rome in August 2009. This will be a two year assignment, with one year as a Consular Officer and the second as an Economic Officer. The only problem with being told about my onward assignment this far in advance is that whenever anyone asks me about things I'm responsible for now, I just look at them and think, "Ok, but what does this have to do with Rome?"

You know, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were raised by a wolf. Ironic isn't it? I wonder if she ever nibbled on them? So, until next time, Ciao Bella.