Targeting Cuba in Pakistan

Dr. Shireen M. Mazari

Sometimes events and issues that arise, may seem purely coincidental, but on closer scrutiny actually have a definitive pattern and purpose. And so it has been with the issue of Pakistani students being sent to Cuba for medical degrees – all paid for by the Cuban government. This arrangement, a major boon for the average Pakistani seeking quality medical education, came about after Cuba extended extensive assistance in the aftermath of the 2005 earthquake. That exposed the Pakistani nation to the dedication and commitment of the Cuban people to other developing nations. Not only did Cuba send assistance, but a team of doctors stayed with the earthquake-hit people along with a minister for seven months. It was not simply of sending over excess supplies through huge excess delivery capacity but a people-to-people commitment that compelled the Cubans, with their limited resources to extend assistance to Pakistan.

The fact of the matter is that since Castro’s revolution in Cuba, when the country finally rid itself of the US imperialist hold that had been established through the notorious Platt Amendment appended on to the Cuban Constitution, Cuba has used its resources to help other oppressed and poor nations worldwide, with no conditions of race or religion. So we saw Cuba help the Angolans in their nationalist struggle against colonialism and we saw Cubans coming to Pakistan in its moment of need in 2005, and presently the Cubans are in Haiti helping the calamity-stricken people. Unlike superpower America, they have no agenda such as exploiting the poverty of the locals and kidnapping Haitian children out for adoption by Americans – just to put things in the proper perspective.

After the earthquake, the Cubans offered 1000 scholarships in the medical field for low-income Pakistanis and this gesture opened a potential gateway to success for these families – after all, none of them could afford medical education abroad in the normal course and few could afford it even in Pakistan. But since that time, periodically, a hue and cry is created about these students, despite the fact that issues raised have been settled. So is this a mere coincidence or is there a pattern to this periodic targeting of a nation that has truly reached out to the Pakistani masses?

After all, who would target Cuba and seek to destroy its relations with Pakistan? The answer requires little contemplation. The US has been trying to undermine the Castro regime since the success of the Revolution. It has continued to hold on to a piece of Cuban territory, Guantanamo Bay, effectively illegally, and has sought to unsuccessful military interventions in that country. Since 1959, it has continued to impose a financial and trade blockade of the Island nation, despite successive UN General Assembly resolutions demanded an end to this economic warfare against a member of the United Nations. These resolutions have been almost unanimous with the majority of the international comity of nations on one side, and the US, Israel and Marshall Islands on the other.

Nothing is too petty for the US when it comes to Cuba, especially when it concerns a state like Pakistan that the US feels should be solely within its sphere of influence and loyal to its agendas. Pakistan is having to pay a hefty price for this alliance with the US, and the Cuban issue is simply one small part of the larger game plan. But if 1000 doctors a year come from Cuba, undoubtedly they will offer the Pakistani nation a window on Cuba and how it not only manages to survive despite US efforts to economically strangulate it – thereby pointing a path to treat for Pakistan also – but also continues to interact with nations across the globe. Furthermore, doctors have an extensive reach within the community so the US knows the implications. Of course, there is also the contrast with the US directly in terms of the pitfalls Pakistani students have to face in seeking education in the US – not only in terms of visas but also in terms of financial costs and, post-9/11, harassment while in the US. Nor, heavens forbid, does the US offer anything to low-income families in terms of technical education in their country! All their visitor programmes are for the elite and their offspring’s!

Nor is it just Cuba. Any country disliked by the US, that offers anything truly meaningful to the people of Pakistan, sees direct and indirect, covert and overt impediments – all of which have a US imprint if one has studied the way the US thinks and works! Presently, Iranian efforts of assistance to Pakistan in the crucial sector of energy are also being undermined. Pakistan has effectively been pressured into shelving the – at least that is what it seems, given how the pipeline has been completed from the Iranian side and action is still awaited from the Pakistanis. Then there is the issue of electricity. Iran is already supplying certain border areas in Pakistan with this valuable facility. But it has also offered Pakistan 1000 MW, and according to Iranian sources this could be doubled to 2000 MW, on to the national grid. Why Pakistan is not responding positively to this offer when it has a severe power shortage, is anybody’s guess but given how we are not insane or irrational, one can assume there is some source of external pressure.

In the Cuban case, it is not merely random criticism of the scholarships that has arisen yet again, for the third year. Initially, the propaganda – for that is what it is effectively – centred on how there was no provision for the religious needs of the Pakistani students. This was absurd because the Cuban government did an extensive study of these needs including dietary habits and actually made the effort to cater to these needs, despite their own very diverse religio-cultural roots.

The other issue that continues to be raised periodically relates to campus conditions. Of course, Cuba is not the US or Europe in terms of resources and cannot offer campuses that cater to the rich. Yet, Cuba has so far hosted more than 43,545 medical students from more than 100 countries and has graduated over 100,000 doctors. Students from no other country have made an issue of these facilities.

Perhaps, the most consistent point on which the Cuban medical scholarships were and are targeted is on the fallacy that the Cuban degree was not recognised anywhere else. But this issue too is not grounded in reality because the Cuban medical programme is recognised internationally, including by WHO. As for the assertion that the Pakistanis will only get a paramedic degree, this is also factually incorrect. Clearly, the idea of the detractors of the Pakistan-Cuban cooperation is to spread as a big a lie as possible so that it takes time to refute it. This is a basic premise of propaganda as taught by the US – the use of the ‘big lie’!

The fact is that the PMDC, in June 2008, had informed the Pakistani media that it had recognised the Cuban medical curriculum and that all the doctors returning from Cuba would be treated, without discrimination, as any normal foreign degree holders and would have to sit in the NEB examination to be recognised for registration. The informed in Pakistan have examined and are satisfied on the issue, but the ignorant are easy prey for the propagandists. This is similar to what the Pakistani professionals returning from the Soviet Union were subjected to in the days of bipolarity.

That Cuba is a victim of similar propaganda, and from the same source, is evident. But it is unfortunate that ill-informed Pakistanis are falling prey to this. After all, Cuba does not have to do this for us. If we continue to cry foul, they can simply end the scholarships and who will be the losers then?

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