Gulping a refreshing fruit juice close to qainchi-Flyover on Ferozepur Road some years ago, a member of the Punjab Elite Force (a unit which is employed for Special Ops as well as VIP transfer, and rose to some fame abroad last year as well, when one of them killed Salman Taseer) enjoying the same refreshment asked me where I was from. My experience told me that telling him I was from Austria was not going to get us far. While in Central Asian countries, people, thanks to their Soviet past, would tell me how they know Rapid Wien (a formerly internationally succesful Austrian soccer club) and an Engineer immediately retorted Alpenglühenwhen I mentioned Austria and Switzerland, in Pakistan my homecountry mostly evokes images of Kangurus and Cricket. While I then try to explain the difference, interest has most often waned (I can not blame them). This Police man however, with a proud smile pointed at his chest, where the logo of the Elite Force, comprising of bullets and two Glock pistols, is prominently placed. He was well aware, that the Glock pistol is an Austrian product.
A somewhat similar encounter happened in Rawalpindi, this time with an older man from the Upper Class, who I talked to at the SOS Children’s Village. He was perfectly aware where Austria was, I would have expected a different relation though. He would not go on about Classical Music or Salzburg and Schoenbrunn (what I normally get from people who know Austria as tourists) or the fact, that SOS was founded in Austria. Again with a proud smile, in his position as an Pakistan Army member, he told me how he had just finalized a deal on Steyr Army Trucks, which are especially suitable for offroad terrain (Steyr guns are apart from that in use in the Pakistan Army as well).
Austria, thus, is known for it’s weapons in Pakistan.
(I had the idea to put that down today, when I stumbled over a project of two Austrian journalists, who attempt to track Austrian Weapon Deals/Stories around the world. We are officially a neutral country, but big in business …)
There are similar exports from Switzerland (the country I live in when I am not in Austria or Pakistan), Oerlikon being the most prominent, but I have no such encounters to recount and apart from that Switzerland is more known. Kashmiri friends always ask me whether their country really deserves that ‘Kashmir is the Switzerland of Asia’ label (which I found for Northern Xinjiang as well and probably in a couple of other mountainous places in Asia). But while being at it, looking for links between the three countries the authors of this blog write from, it is interesting to make note of the topic that currently shakes the country and is top headline since nearly a week (it would be worth an analysis in itself, the essentials of the issue are not really grasped in the foreign media yet). Today, the president of the Swiss National Bank had to step down. Not because he covered Asif Zardari’s murky deals (which are also set in Zuerich), but because his wife made a small fortune with a foreign exchange dealing, while he was just stabilizing the Swiss Franc against the Euro last year. His wife, born Kashya Mehmood, is from Rawalpindi.
If you know German (Swiss German on top), watch today’s discussion on ‘Moral, Power and the Media’, it just finished. Both the media in Austria and Pakistan could learn from the quality of such TV debates (this strayed off the path somehwhere half, but is still worth watching, when you have read on the whole debacle of the last days).
I could, and should at some point, voice my expat concerns on my homecountry (how to lead a political debate is a great starter). But that is a complex topic. And I think this article by Franz Stefan Gady for the Huffington Post makes it a bit too easy too. As expats we could be a lot more interested (and that sincerely) in what goes on at home, and not just look down on it – easier said than done. But since he states, fittingly for our blog, I’ll have to include it:
Where are Austria’s grand strategists and statesmen? For example, it is a sheer impossibility to devise a daring new foreign policy for the Balkans or Eastern Europe (which was hijacked by the Austrian private sector more than 20 years ago) or dispatch the best and brightest of Austria to Brussels, the true ‘great uncle’ of small European powers, to push Austrian ‘interests’. (When did anyone ever hear any Austrian politician mention the word ‘Austrian interests’?) I am not even mentioning the rise of China, nuclear Iran, the war in Afghanistan, terrorism in Pakistan, the power transition in North Korea, or the current upheaval in Russia. “Such outward things dwell not in Austrian desires,” to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Henry V, and never seems to be a concern for any party.