Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where Everybody Knows Your Name (In Peshawar)

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.

If you are an American in Peshawar, you have more reason than most of us to want to get away. And that place where everybody knows your name is called the Khyber Club.

The WaPo has a most interesting piece today profiling the Club's long-time bartender, Khan Afsar, who sounds like he might be the only Pakistani to have a favorable impression of the USA today. (That's not him in the photo, incidentally.)

Khyber Club’s bartender had front-row seat to history in Pakistan:

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — As U.S.-funded Afghan jihadists battled the Soviets in the late 1980s, the unassuming American-run bar in this ancient frontier city bulged with gossiping foreigners. Today, with another Afghan conflict winding down, the watering hole practically echoes with emptiness.

Through it all, Khan Afsar, the Khyber Club’s unlikely bartender, had a front-row seat.

But Afsar did not actually have a seat in his spot behind the bar, and all the standing recently became too much to bear. So Afsar has stepped down after nearly 25 years of six-day workweeks that he says left him with admiration for Americans, a rare sentiment in Peshawar and in Pakistan at large.

“They are good people” — not to mention good tippers, Afsar said. “They are helping us.”

As a recent Saturday evening shift began, a lone Canadian patron sipped beer at the bar and predicted that the crowd was unlikely to improve. The scene seemed a metaphor for U.S.-Pakistan relations, which boomed with cooperation during the Afghan resistance but now gape with mistrust.

Yet Afsar himself is a symbol of the ground-level relations between Americans and Pakistanis, which, despite the diplomatic tensions, are typically far more amiable than sour. Over the decades, Afsar — a devout Muslim who never tried alcohol — served as a steadfast and good-natured ambassador for Pakistan, building a trail of admirers now scattered around the globe.

-- snip --

“If I see a face, I remember it,” said Afsar, explaining that he no longer recalls all the notables he served. “Here, every customer is famous.” 

Though U.S.-Pakistan relations ebbed after 1990, the club kept up, and so did Afsar, always adhering to his daily prayer schedule. The bar expanded. The tennis court was replaced by a swimming pool.

Things began changing about five years ago, as Islamist militants expanded their reach and launched attacks in northwest Pakistan. Hostility toward Americans rose, and many international organizations withdrew foreign workers to Islamabad, the capital. The club’s security walls multiplied, and more American customers sported beards and tattoos, said Yusuf Ghaznavi, a Pakistani American who has been a fixture at the club for two decades.

-- snip --

Against that backdrop, the club has become more of a lifeline, recent patrons said. Three U.S. troops who were killed in a roadside bombing in northwest Pakistan in 2010 were mourned at the Khyber Club, said one U.S. diplomat stationed there then. Afsar also served as a lifeline, the diplomat said — a historian and a middleman who could always fulfill orders for the perfect Pakistani carpet or shawl.

-- snip --

Afsar dismisses the plaudits, saying he just did his job. He insists the work never brought him threats from militants or hounding from Pakistani intelligence.

-- snip --

Afsar, a witness to decades of globe-shaking history, would hazard no guess about the future of the club or Afghanistan. U.S.-Pakistan relations, he thinks, will soldier on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TSB: I think Diplopundit and Moqt Sadr have an answer to all the Iraqi's who live in fear for having worked for US Forces. Iraq should expand embassy facilities in DC to send them here as "embassy staff" in huge numbers. That could be a sort of asylum for maybe 6,000 former "allies" ??? gwb