The late US president John F Kennedy once said: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” For the past year, the Dutch ambassador to Pakistan, Ardi Stoios-Braken, has been doing precisely that. She is making a difference in Pakistan-Netherlands relations.
Stoios-Braken has been keeping busy in Pakistani youth empowerment programs. She recently spoke to young lecturers and professors all across the country and encouraged them to achieve excellence in their field.
Earlier she visited SOS Children’s Village in Lahore, where children without adequate parental care are taken care of. Dutch company AkzoNobel Paint organized the unusual event. The ambassador saw different sections of the village and gave away gifts and prizes to the children. She said, “Pakistan is a beautiful country and the people’s hospitality is legendary.”
Stoios-Braken’s efforts stand in contrast to those of Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who in 2016 called on that country’s government to close down all mosques and Islamic schools and put a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants.
This year, he even suggested holding a blasphemous cartoon competition to ridicule Islam and its followers. As a consequence, many Pakistanis demanded closure of the Dutch Embassy. However, very few know that because of the diplomatic efforts of the Pakistani Foreign Office and Ambassador Stoios-Braken, the event in the Netherlands was called off.
A long time back, I worked with a few Dutch military officers in a United Nations mission in Africa and found them to be remarkable people. Quite often, we discussed the military and civil cultures of our two nations and narrated stories. We appreciated each other’s perspectives and acknowledged the many noble values of both cultures.
The Dutch officers acknowledged the hospitality and family system of Pakistani society. In a lighter mood, we agreed over one thing: in one’s youth, one should reside in the Netherlands and in old age, Pakistan is heaven.
But now, some 25 years later, I am shaken by the behavior of a senior Dutch politician and his Party for Freedom promoting hatred and Islamophobia, and how far political extremism has crept into the Netherlands.
The people of Pakistan associate Holland – the name by which most of us call the Netherlands – with rivers, gardens, milk and beautiful women: a kind of paradise. But Geert Wilders and his Party of Freedom are turning it into hell by preaching Islamophobia. However, there is no point in despairing as long as people like Ambassador Stoios-Braken are projecting truth and promoting peace.
With almost 17 million inhabitants, the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. It is said that everyday life there is structured down to the smallest detail.
Private life and work are carefully planned, and nothing is left to the unexpected. Ad hoc changes are not appreciated, and extremes are rare in Dutch society – extreme emotions, extreme wealth or extravagant lifestyles. However, surprisingly, political extreme is taking root.
Unlike in Pakistani society, elderly people in the Netherlands are not looked upon for their wisdom and experience. However, they are well taken care of in comfortable old-age homes, once they are unable to carry on the journey of their lives on their own.
The prominent religions in Dutch society are Roman Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam. Catholics make up about 23% of the Dutch population, and Protestants nearly 14%. Muslims account for 8%, Buddhists 1%, and Hindus 0.9%. The birthrate is low at 0.38% – a rate of at least 1.1% is essential for the survival of any culture or nation. The median age is 40 years.
The Netherlands has an egalitarian society. Status and respect are obtained through skills and knowledge and not through family ties or old age. Nevertheless, the Dutch royal family is very well respected.
Dutch Ambassador Ardi Stoios-Braken deserves special tribute from the people of Pakistan for portraying the real image of Pakistan and seeing in it a lot of potential for investment. She is a brave and genuine friend of Pakistan. Despite the recent distaste created by the statements of Geert Wilders, the people of Pakistan still retain a soft image of the Netherlands and its society.