Pakistan: Locally underrated, globally misunderstood
“So, are there roads in Pakistan?”, “Are you safe there?” - this is sadly, our reputation abroad.
“Out of all the places in the world, why on earth would you want to go to Pakistan?”
A question I have heard in various forms by countless people. After six months of living in Pakistan, I imagined the questions and shock would have settled by now. However, I am still continuously asked why I am here. On many occasions, Pakistanis have been just as shocked as anyone else as to why a non-Pakistani would ever want to stay in such a country.
I am not only troubled with the misconceptions and ignorance of non-Pakistanis, yet find it just as upsetting that locals think so poorly of their own nation and people. I am well aware of the socio-economic and political factors that are hindering the progress, prosperity and full potential of Pakistan, yet do Pakistanis really have nothing to be proud of?
Nonetheless, I can’t ignore the countless problems facing Pakistan. Poverty is widespread and visible on the streets. It is rare to go out of the house without being approached by beggars. The gap between rich and poor is massive. Poverty levels match up with the extremely low overall literacy rate of approximately 50% and the millions of school-aged children that are not even enrolled in school. It is also linked to a number of other socio-economic factors facing millions of Pakistanis, however most of these issues are ones faced by many developing nations around the world and not specific to Pakistan per se.
Unfortunately, Pakistan has a reputation of being an uncivilized and inherently violent country. I was recently asked:
“So, are there roads in Pakistan?”
Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Also, I cannot even keep count of the amount of times I am asked:
“Are you safe there?”
Contrary to popular belief, I have never felt in danger or unsafe while living in Pakistan and it is more developed than the average outsider might think. I have come to learn that a number of years back, quite a few foreigners used to study, work and vacation in Pakistan. Safety was not an issue for locals and foreigners alike and the image and progress of the country was significantly better than it is now. Pakistanis genuinely desire peace and security just as much as anyone else and many even reminisce about the good old days.
Yes, the current security and development situation has deteriorated more recently. For example, I have been in Karachi during the horrendous bloodshed and indiscriminate killings going on throughout parts of the city. It seemed that almost every day I was hearing about how dozens of people were killed in the most gruesome ways. The general trend is such that the less privileged communities are most affected by these occurrences. Sadly, locals seem to be almost immune to such violence and political conflict. Some might take a few moments to discuss, watch or read about such happenings but at the end of the day, life goes on. Can we really blame them?
In my eyes, one of the main causes of this violence and other problems in the country that are hindering Pakistan’s development is politics. Pakistani politics is as dirty as it gets and the average Pakistani is left suffering as a result. Corruption is rampant and the leadership has not shown a genuine interest in the well-being of Pakistanis and the overall progress of the country.
Yet, we can’t deny that similar or comparable problems are happening in different parts of the world; even places you would not expect. The ethnic/sectarian/political conflicts of Karachi are almost mirror images of those in Beirut (past and present). Various forms of violence have occurred recently in the UK and Norway on a relatively large scale. Security is not guaranteed anywhere. Every country has its set of problems. The point is, Pakistan should not constantly be singled out or misrepresented.
With all that said, I genuinely believe that Pakistan has great potential. People severely underrate it and discount all the wonderful things this country has to offer. Living here has made me appreciate the natural and historical beauty found in different parts of Pakistan. I still remember how captivated I was during my bus ride from Lahore to Islamabad. The serenity and greenery of the fields was truly breathtaking, not to mention the mountainous terrain once reaching closer to Islamabad. Also, Karachi’s beaches add character to the city and are enjoyed by all people, regardless of their background. Pakistan definitely has it all; from mountains to beaches, hills to plains and forests to deserts.
In addition to the scenic views, Pakistan is filled with countless historical and archaeological sites from various civilizations and empires dating back approximately 2 million years. Many sites are still intact or being restored and preserved. I visited a number of sites in Lahore such as the Badshahi Mosque from the Mughal empire and was fascinated and engulfed by the picturesque structure. Overall, Pakistan has a rich landscape, history and culture that should be appreciated by locals and foreigners alike.
An interesting observation I have made is that in some neighborhoods of Pakistan the homes are so unique and beautiful that it is difficult to find two that are exactly the same! Each has a particular style and touch to the exterior as well as the interior. Sometimes, I love driving around the streets of Lahore and Karachi just to observe the diversity of homes with their colors, shapes and landscapes. The houses are just lovely!
Since I arrived in Pakistan, I had been anxiously waiting for mango season to arrive as it is one of my favorite fruits. It was definitely worth the wait. Without a doubt, I have never tasted more delicious, juicy and sweet mangoes in my life. I was also unaware of the countless varieties of mangoes available till coming here. Mangoes aside, Pakistan has such an abundant selection of locally-grown fresh fruits and vegetables that it could probably get by without needing to import such goods. In general, the natural and agricultural resources are plentiful.
On top of it all, I personally have met some of the most amazing, genuine and down to earth people in Pakistan. For the most part, I have felt welcomed and respected by locals ranging from the modest gatekeepers to the more affluent and educated populations. Even though my Urdu skills are basic, people really appreciate my efforts and are happy when a foreigner tries to use the local language.
For example, the first time I interacted with my friend’s gatekeeper I said:
“As-salam alaykum, aap kaise ho?”
(Peace be with you. How are you?)
He had the biggest smile on his face and replied by saying:
“ Theek thaak! Wah wah, aap Urdu bol saktee hain? Bohot acha!”
(I am well thank you. Wow! You can speak in Urdu - fantastic!)
Additionally, I find many people from younger generations to have a strong desire to make Pakistan a better place and engaging in various forms of activism. At the same time, I am pleasantly surprised by the spirit of those who are less fortunate. Recently, Pakistanis celebrated Eidul Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. I loved seeing the masses out in the streets enjoying the holiday by dancing, playing music and gathering at the beach with friends and family. Even with all the problems and large poverty levels in Pakistan, people still manage to live their lives and make the most of it.
I have faith that Pakistan can overcome the obstacles hindering its prosperity through proper and genuine leadership. I find that many Pakistanis disregard the positive aspects of this country and my hope is that Pakistanis do not give up on their country but rather actively take on a role in making positive changes.
As for everyone else, I hope there will be a realization that Pakistan is in fact civilized, peaceful and beautiful in so many ways.