Pakistani Facebook users enraged by cheesy State Department video


A still from the U.S. Embassy's "Sunday in Islamabad with Ambassador Olson" shows the ambassador eating qulfi falooda in a shop. (U.S. Embassy)

A cheesy promotional video released by the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan has enraged some Pakistani Facebook users — and illustrated the stubborn anger and frustration that many Pakistanis feel toward the U.S.

The video, aptly titled “Sunday in Islamabad with Ambassador Olson,” shows the U.S. ambassador embarking on a range of traditional, largely culinary, adventures: drinking chai tea in Islamabad’s Saidpur village, eating a chunk of watermelon from a roadside stand, watching a man bake chapati in an oven. Jangly Pakistani music plays in the background; word bubbles occasionally appear above Olson’s head, expressing such glowing affirmations as “good” and “delicious.”

The whole thing comes across as a little awkward and at times forced — not unlike the strained relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. It's a bit hokey to American eyes. But for some Pakistani Web users furious at U.S. foreign policy, it's just another offense.

Many of the almost 200 comments on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook page invite the ambassador to visit areas hit by drone strikes. “He should go home,” read several others.

“Mr. Ambassador — u cant win the hearts of Pakis with these gimmicks we all know you & we do not want to even try it unless u stop killing muslims around the globe,” reads a comment from Najib Khan.

To be fair to the video and its makers, most of the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook posts get this sort of reception. A post about child labor on the Karachi Consulate General’s page earned screeds on drone strikes and demands that the U.S. fund more Pakistani schools. Under a picture of coral reefs posted for World Oceans Day, one man wrote “god save fishes from drone [sic].”

The relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. has been particularly frayed in recent years, as the uneasy allies have bickered over their roles in the war on terror. Some regions in the county remain havens for al-Qaeda and other militant groups, despite U.S. demands that Pakistani forces root them out. Last June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said the U.S. was “reaching the limits of [its] patience” with the situation.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign office has repeatedly called for a stop to U.S. drone strikes in the country, a “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and the international laws.” According to the New America Foundation, there have been more than 350 drone strikes in Pakistan and more than 250 civilian casualties in the country since 2004.

That puts the U.S. Embassy in the difficult position of finding, and promoting, very limited common ground. According to the Telegraph, the embassy said it released the video because “there are lots of people who come onto our Facebook site and ask what the Ambassador does in his free time.”

The answer, apparently, is eat — though, in the current political climate, even that is controversial.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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