PERRY: People are all the same even a world apart in Pakistan

Despite the bullets, beatings, relentless frustrations, disappointments and the raw worry, neither Azam nor Salman can imagine doing anything else. Nothing else is more important for their friends, their families and their country.

As an American journalist, the chances are best that I will leave this world because of heart disease, cancer or stroke, probably in about 30 years.

My journalist colleagues Salman Yousafzai and Azam Khan face a much more violent end to their careers and their very lives in Pakistan just about every day. Not long before coming to Aurora a couple of weeks ago as part of an international journalist exchange program, Azam was badly beaten by police while covering a human rights protest in Islamabad. Salman’s job as a crime reporter in Peshawar has been relatively quiet recently. But not long ago he was nearly shot in the face after suicide bombers set off explosives near his newspaper office. He carries a gun to protect himself from the kidnappers he writes about, and he’s had to use it.

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Salman Yousafzai at the Newseum national newspaper museum in Washington, DC

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Salman Yousafzai outside of Peshawar.

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Salman Yousafzai in Peshawar

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Salman Yousafzai at the annual balloon festival in Albuqurque, N.M.

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Salman Yousafzai in Peshawar

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Salman Yousafzai in Peshawar

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Azam Khan talking with workers who live in storage containers

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Azam Khan at an interview in Islamabad

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Azam Khan on Pike's Peak

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Azam Khan in Deli

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Azam Khan in his Islamabad office

Here in Aurora, we cover about a dozen or so murders every year. In almost every case, the victims knew their slayers, and often drugs or other crimes were part of the story. In Peshawar, Salman sometimes logs that many murders in a day. Often the victims have no idea who buried the road-side bomb, or who threw the grenade into the market stall, or who shot them because their family didn’t pay ransom to inhuman militants.

Here in Aurora, we cover stories about how exasperating it’s been for local officials to get the state to pay for badly needed improvements to Interstate 225, or whether we should ban pit bulls.

In Peshawar, local leaders are discouraged because they wrote to the federal government, begging for help in keeping lawless militants in nearby mountains from terrorizing the city with endless murders and bombings. They pleaded with the government to help them keep local police from taking bribes from the terrorists and to find a way to keep the murderous thugs from infiltrating checkpoints into the city. After more than a month, local leaders have heard nothing back.

Islamabad is a place where Hardee’s drive-thrus meets a society that still precludes any realistic way for men and women to date. Azam checks into his office and then heads out for a day of talking to leaders of protests, government officials and police, bringing back stories about who’s on the take, who ignores what a relatively liberal Supreme Court edicts, and how parts of Pakistan are so close to becoming more like Turkey and Jordan and much less like Afghanistan and Iran.

Despite the bullets, beatings, relentless frustrations, disappointments and the raw worry, neither Azam nor Salman can imagine doing anything else. Nothing else is more important for their friends, their families and their country. Amidst discouraging setbacks and sometimes impossible odds, much of Pakistan moves forward in fits and starts. Court rulings back slowly increasing rights and accountability. At the same time, one of the country’s most revered philanthropists is robbed by militants in Karachi. A young girl is honored with the Nobel prize for trying to empower women through education, but much of the country ridicules her as a puppet of the West.

Salman shakes his head over it often. Where Americans seem to scream at each other until polarized politicians cede ground, his answer for almost every woe in a place where women can’t even leave their homes is education. In much of Peshawar, public school is held in a dirt lot or the street. A teacher has one book for about 50 kids. That’s it. Nearby, private schools, far too expensive for the majority of residents, offer a building, but too few teachers to be effective. If kids could just learn to read, to find out about a world outside of a city run by extortionists and criminals, it would change everything, Salman says. So he does his part as a reporter to fill in a gaping hole for a public that just doesn’t know.

Azam’s convinced that transparency and accountability must come first. Without honest leaders and police, any gains anywhere in Pakistan are too tenuous and at risk.

In so many ways, it’s the same thing here. Education and accountability are our strength and weakness.

So Azam and Salman left this week, both enthralled with the beauty, openess and friendliness we take for granted in Colorado. Rather than being discouraged, they saw that how Pakistanis want to live, and in many ways do in private. There were encouraged by places like Aurora where liberties and liberal values are enjoyed. And so they are headed back to detail in newspapers the journey of how their own communities will get there, too.

Salman Yousafzai and Azam Khan were part of a program of the International Center For Journalists. Yousafzai is a reporter for The Frontier Post Press in Peshawar, and Khan is a correspondent for The Express Tribune in Islamabad, a publishing partner of the International Herald Tribune.

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