Stereotyped in their own country

Published: June 24, 2010
A shopkeeper showcases shawls at a bazaar in Peshawar. PHOTO: SABA IMTIAZ

A shopkeeper showcases shawls at a bazaar in Peshawar. PHOTO: SABA IMTIAZ

There’s an acceptance in conversations, conducted in lounges and living rooms, that life in Peshawar has changed, but it hasn’t died.

Young adults critique music and discuss politics, dabble in recreational drugs and eat out at popular eateries such as Masoom’s and Chief Burger. While the latter is a legendary fast food joint, Masoom’s features outdoor seating, with fairy lights strung on trees, where diners can smoke sheesha.

Driving to Rawalpindi to catch a film at Cinepax and gorge on McDonalds is a regular exercise.

The Faisal Shahzad case has resonated here, and several residents shared stories of how Shahzad was a regular guy they knew of at school, who returned to Pakistan from the US a completely changed person.

But while Peshawar residents, regardless of age and social background, realise that the bomb blasts have taken a toll on the city, they are far more taken aback at how the city has been stereotyped in Pakistan as unsafe, a bombed-out shell and the residents as cave-dwellers.

MBA student Shoaib Anwar summed it up best, “It is like the comments you hear about Pakistan in the US … Peshawar has been stereotyped in the same way in Pakistan.”

Musician Aamer Shafiq reenacts double-takes people do when he tells them he’s from Peshawar, and recalls a Karachiite girl asking him if he had access to electricity. “I told her, ‘my father works at the Water and Power Development Authority in the same room where they turn the electricity on … so yes, we have electricity’”.

The shopping markets are crowded with women (and pickpockets, one shopkeeper warns) buying fabric and jewellery. Old bazaars, like the famous Qissakhwani, sell every household item under the sun, while sprawling shopping malls house stores like the retail brand Outfitters, Chen One and dozens of fabric and accessory shops.

“We go shopping, even though we’re scared of something happening,” said BBA student Malghalara Hussain. “It was not like this before. But the reason people have developed a negative image of Peshawar is because of the security situation.”

Sana Khan, a graduate of the Kohat University of Science and Technology, believes that trends have changed over the past few years. “More women,” she says, “are enrolled at university. Parents are now encouraging their daughters to study courses which will help them get jobs.”

Imran Khan, who gave up his career as a lawyer and is now opening a restaurant that will cater to young adults and families, finds it unbelievable that even in Islamabad, which is a short drive away, people are clueless about Peshawar. A student from the Institute of Management Sciences’ laughingly shared some questions asked to him on visits to Lahore.

“When we go to Lahore, they are amazed that we can speak English, we can use Facebook. We have everything in Peshawar. We may be a bit more conservative and Lahore may be more multi-cultural, but we have everything here.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (34)

  • Hamood
    Jun 25, 2010 - 2:01AM

    I remember in 2008 and 2009, we would hear of a bomb blast in Peshawar almost every day, hence the perception in Pakistan and abroad. Things seem to have improved a lot this year. Peshawar is in a tough neighborhood geographically being close to the tribal areas hence it has suffered the most of any major city in Pakistan. Hats off to the people in Peshawar though for being the most resilient of any major city and fighting the terrorists both directly and indirectly by not bowing down to them. With terrorists being pushed back from the outskirts of the city to close to the border and hopefully beyond, things should be improving in Peshawar gradually.Recommend

  • Jun 25, 2010 - 3:00AM

    “When we go to Lahore, they are amazed that we can speak English, we can use Facebook. We have everything in Peshawar. We may be a bit more conservative and Lahore may be more multi-cultural, but we have everything here.”

    The exact words i said, and by far the worst TRUTH i had to say!

    Thanks for a great interview SabaRecommend

  • Rehman
    Jun 25, 2010 - 4:14AM

    The City has been run over countless times historically and has re-emerged with vigor. Saba didn’t mention the International Airport in the heart of the City that connects this City to all over and takes all the hard working people of the region across the world. With Hospitals, University campuses,beautiful people in true sense,museums ,parks, unlimited access to Bara markets and being at cross roads of cultures; this is a remarkable city. The natives are known as hillbillies by Karachiites and likes out of jealousy. Recommend

  • Masuud Qazi
    Jun 25, 2010 - 10:06AM

    I can so relate to this. Its surely like the way Pakistan’s image and the stereotyping is done out here abroad. Kills a lot inside of you. Sad but true!Recommend

  • farooq chandio
    Jun 25, 2010 - 10:40AM

    if they think lahore is multicultural, i wonder what they will think of karachi. lahore is also the most conservative of the big cities. Recommend

  • Jun 25, 2010 - 2:38PM

    @Farooq Chandio: I was the one who said Lahore is Multi-Cultural, mainly cos of the fact Lahore is the only big cities we’ve been to and not Karachi!Recommend

  • Shiraz Hassan
    Jun 25, 2010 - 3:02PM

    I had been in Peshawar in 2007 for three weeks, for a media workshop. before going to there I was just confused about the peshawar, about the people n culture…

    but what I found out was amazing..,.. peshawar is one of the most “peaceful” and “easy going” city!! lovely people, wide road, wonderful architecture.. everything just perfect!!!!Recommend

  • Wasif
    Jun 25, 2010 - 5:10PM

    @Farooq Chandio, Karachi may be the biggest urban centre of Pakistan but that in no way robs Lahore of its cultural value, historical significance and all the zillion other things it stands for. I am afraid Karachi does not even qualify to compete. Secondly, could you elaborate Lahore being the most conservative of the big cities(in the world or Pakistan, either way I am confused), and its relationship with Lahore not being multi-cultural.Recommend

  • Ali Usman
    Jun 25, 2010 - 5:18PM

    A perfect piece! Very human:-) Great job!Recommend

  • Atiya
    Jun 25, 2010 - 6:43PM

    Wow! Really nice piece :DRecommend

  • Rabia Brown
    Jun 25, 2010 - 7:07PM

    Lahore is probably the better place to live in terms of security nowadays.. but lets not forget abt the bomb blasts there too. But again, people can’t constantly live in fear, can they? Especially not if they live in a country like Pakistan… I have personally visited Karachi and I can tell you from personal experience that it definitely did NOT feel safer than Lahore… Great article!!!Recommend

  • rehman
    Jun 25, 2010 - 9:00PM

    “When we go to Lahore, they are amazed that we can speak English, we can use Facebook. We have everything in Peshawar. We may be a bit more conservative and Lahore may be more multi-cultural, but we have everything here.”
    how true!!i am amazed when i come across a person who is from peshawar and on facebook!!!Recommend

  • rehman
    Jun 25, 2010 - 9:11PM

    well lets nt forget, that they are not stereotyped..everrything bad has been done in peshawar including drugs kidnappings….we as a country should have never joined nwfp to pakistan…if that would nt have happened we as a country would have been much more peaceful…this is what i thinkRecommend

  • Khushal
    Jun 26, 2010 - 1:45AM

    @Rehman: Drugs dont happen in Lhr.Khi.Isb? No Kidnappings? No Bombs?…. and i truly don’t appreciate what you think here! We are, were and will be a part of Pakistan, no matter what!Recommend

  • Ammar
    Jun 26, 2010 - 2:08PM

    how rude of u rehan!
    sorry khushal because of such few conservative Pakistanis, we r actually facing current situation.
    but m happy at least there r still people who r trying to promote positive side of Pakistan…..
    Good Job Sana!Recommend

  • rehman
    Jun 26, 2010 - 5:09PM

    @khushal. if your city is suffering it has been brought upon by ur very own people not by punjabis or muhajirs..Recommend

  • Shoaib
    Jun 26, 2010 - 5:13PM

    @Rehman! I need to remind you that we were the ones who played a role, somehow, in getting this country out of the clutches of british so what made you feel like separating us and by no means you have the right to include or exclude any person, area or a province. Stay united and think united if you have a thing in true sense for living in Peace.
    Thanks Ammar for the support.Recommend

  • Happy
    Jun 27, 2010 - 1:07AM

    Rahman’s rants are completely uncalled for and completely nonsensical friends. He/she is trying to be funny I guess. :)

    Good article though.Recommend

  • rehman
    Jun 27, 2010 - 3:14AM

    probably u r tryin to be funny here which is completely uncalled for my friend. what i am saying is the truth and the pakhtuns have to change their mindset for the betterment of pakistan as a whole and nwfp in general.Recommend

  • Adnan Afridi
    Jun 28, 2010 - 12:53AM

    WEll that was a good piece….. if we talk about security issue none of the city is safe if there are blasts is Peshawar so there are in lahore and islamabad (marriot is an example) and if we talk about karachi target killing will be welcoming you.. So on security issue there is no point of discusion.

    @ rehman…….. you are saying pakhtuns have to change their mindset for betterment of this country well let me tell u it the government who must look forward to make things happen in positive way, in present government we will not find any example of good governance.

    secondly, i have spent time in rawalpindi and came across people from karachi lahore islamabad jehlum etc and they all were talking about peshawar as a backward city or i would say they think of it as a rural area and surprisingly most of them have not even visited peshawar so this gets quite surprising that can you make an image without looking at it.

    thirdly, u think paksitan as a country should have never joined NWFP..

    i would say u better go and read history.Recommend

  • Shoaib
    Jun 28, 2010 - 2:37AM

    @Rehman: May I assume that you are a retard because you are making your case look weaker by directly pointing out particular area and its residents. Saying again, you have to understand that we all, including you, are part of the system, called Pakistan. None of us is more better or worse. You probably should not doubt the credibility, talent and standard of Pashtuns because to my knowledge you barely know them and as Adnan said, you better go and read history first.Recommend

  • Jun 28, 2010 - 11:34AM

    Lets face the reality here Peshawar has been on the war front since the early breakage of the Afghan war roughly in 2001 and it was bound to be hit by some sort of activity which would in return effect its living habitat and the cultural aura of the region but let me remind those who think we lag behind the fact is that we DO NOT.
    But the fact is that WE (Peshawar people) have always been portrayed negatively and tarnished by the media well why don’t they show the sprawling youth going beyond the limitations why do they always have to go for the poor, needy, gun slingers’ and drug addicts to portray PESHAWAR.
    What i believe is that for the past 3 decades we have had to share the burden (afghan refugees)and worst hit political pseudos (militant insurgency)of the political games that have been unwillingly thrust upon us and as far as MR. Rehman is concerned let him live in his own cloud of a silver lining because we as a nation will never get out of the cultural boundaries set so hypocritically upon ourselves that blind us from being on heartbeat to a Nation that can be the best in the world IF THEY WAKE UPRecommend

  • SAmn
    Jun 28, 2010 - 2:17PM

    Dont whine over that only peshawrians are the most backward people in this whole globe.I have been living in karachi since so long.And generally speaking all the people here are not that much aware of what exactly going on in their surrounding.People need guidance and awareness in every way,and we even need resources here also ,to foster an environment where the people of this massive metroplitan city,can also move forward.Most of the educational institutes instead of charging hefty amount of charges dont guide you to the best,to tell you where you should go once you leave that whining and weeping is all of where in this underdeveloped country,where you can find unawareness and negligence in all nook and crannies.

    But what writer has just said,people really think that we are from some allien planet who dont know how to speak and how to make their distinct mark in this crowded city.I have been to institutes where people were so anxious to know about me,that instead of being pukthun how well we speak in well we have thoughts to make a move in this self-proclaimed society.But in the end,i never had answers to their question that instead of being pukthum from where did i get those traits.These are the actually the problems of those multi-cultural people,that when they move to other cities like karachi,they think that they are the only one who are most sophisticated from others.They should look over on their past,and look at their ancestral backgrounds from where they actually came from.I sorta enjoy such attitude sometime,when people end up in being amazed but thats how you can enjoy those hype making comment also,which sometimes make you smile on their naive approach.Recommend

  • Hamid
    Jun 29, 2010 - 2:15AM

    I think most parts of the country have certain streotypes. I don’t think people think of Peshawar as backward, just a little conservative. At the same time people of Peshawar are considered very good looking since fair skin is considered a desirable virtue in Pakistan. Other cities have streotypes as well such as people of a few cities are considered a little “paindu”, some are perhaps a little “ugly” and what not. Usually though it is in light hearted jest and no offence is intended since streotypes at best are crude caricatures. The ethnocentrisism displayed by the person claiming to be rahman is stunning and reprehensible however; we should not dignify his hatred through our responses. I think despite our backgounds there is a lot that unites us and we as a nation can surmount our problems and achieve success only if we stand together as one. Recommend

  • rehman
    Jun 29, 2010 - 2:28AM

    well i know very well that nwfp didnot want to join us, but some people got involved in linking us to them. look what people from across the border say. they feel relieved that nwfp didnt join them. what i am presenting is a solution. the solution lies in one thing and tht is the mindset. the pakhtuns were constituted of warring tribes and still are and this mindset can be erased only and only by education.Recommend

  • Aroob
    Jun 29, 2010 - 4:27AM

    A classic example of a kettle calling the pot black, rahman has an agenda to drive a wedge amongst Pakistanis Keep living in your bubble rahman; we couldn’t care less what nonsense you have to say.Recommend

  • Faizullah Jan
    Jun 29, 2010 - 5:26AM

    After a long time, I read a true (positive) story about my city, Peshawar, which has always been called a ‘city of flowers’. Well-done Saba!Recommend

  • Tribune lover
    Jun 29, 2010 - 12:14PM

    Wonderful story about a wonderful city. I have never been to the city myself since I don’t live in Pakistan and hardly ever visit but I have heard excellent things about it and I can imagine it is a very lovable and lively, historic city.

    And I digress but I have to add that people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa rock! Some of our closest family friends are from there and I must say that that the helpfulness, the honesty and the hospitality of Pakhtuns are exemplary.Recommend

  • Adnan Afridi
    Jun 29, 2010 - 1:16PM

    @rehamn you are trying to be over smart or what…. if you are calling people form peshawar backward, giving suggestion that pakhtun should change their mindset and above all you think it would have been better that NWFP had not been part of Pakistan but before saying anything i recommended you to go and read history but i think ven before going in to history you should go and gather some info about interior sindh and punjab we alwayz talk about karachi lahore islamabad these are all big cities what about those backward areas in sindh and punjab where we still have that “vadira” system so donot u feel they also have to change their mindsetRecommend

  • Adnan Afridi
    Jun 29, 2010 - 3:46PM

    while talking about changing the mindset how can one be so oblivion of the situation in interior sindh or punjab where we have this vadira system… karachi lahore islamabd are not whole of pakistan they are merely three cities. For prevailing situation in the country how can one blame only one locality. Yesterday, there was blast in hydrebad “Rehman”, now you will say put this out of Pakistan as well.Recommend

  • Arsalan Khalid
    Jun 30, 2010 - 12:33AM

    Great work by the writer Saba. It is refreshing to learn more about different cities of the country. Peshawar is no doubt one of our great cities( with excellent food like chapli kabob, fragrant Pulao , delicious naans etc to boot) and excellent people who call it home.
    @Mr. Afridi.
    Some people like to instigate others with their penchant for rubbish and we should perhaps not let them derive satisfaction by replying to their inflammatory speech. Clealry ignorance is bliss and some people can never learn no matter how much we try.
    I also agree that as far as I am aware there is no Wadera, Chaudhry, Peer Masheer, completely god like Sardars etc system in Peshawar and KP and the people are free form the clutches of self serving masters who often force others into bonded labor etc and perpetrate a cycle of misery and privation for the less privileged. Recommend

    Jul 3, 2010 - 3:13AM

    @ Rehman, we voted for Pakistan in the referendum. I think you read less and talk much. Read objectively written stories of partition. I would suggest you read Stanley Wolpert and Nehru.
    Yes we should not have been a part of Pakistan. True. Because we sacrificed two generations “to keep the other provinces safe”. You sleep without any tension in your bed and we the people of KP “are protecting your borders.” We were told that fighting against Russia was necessary for the security of Pakistan and we fought. A net of Madrassas was developed on our territory and one generation was killed or turned in to Jihadis. Again we were asked by the Pakistani government to stop Jihad and help USA in Afghanistan. “For the sake of Pakistan.” We did again we suffered. You are absolutely right we should not have been a part of Pakistan. We should have let “the Pakistanis” secure their homes themselves. Compare the standar of education in Peshawar Uni with Karachi Uni. Oh we sell drugs, of course, then we didnot deserve to be a part of Pakistan. What about women getting wrapped or burnt everyday in the interior Sindh? Pukhtoons and members of Shia sect getting butchered in Karachi? Pakistan doesnt deserve people like you and me, who cannot think like Pakistanis. People like you were ruling Pakistani in the 70s thats why Pakistan lost its right hand. Thanks God you people are in minority know otherwise God knows what would have happened to my motherland. Peshawar Paendabad. Pakistan ZindabadRecommend

  • acenith
    Jul 12, 2010 - 10:54PM

    kp is a beautiful province and peshawar a great city , the pathans a proud , friendly ,intelligent race . the ones running them down are ignorant fools!!Recommend

  • Visitor
    Jul 30, 2010 - 6:03PM

    @rehman. dont forget this my dear. Pakistan is named among the nuclear powers because of a Pathan.Recommend

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