Common ground: The way forward

The problems and biases faced by both countries are similar and they share a common future.


Dressed in a well-fitted white jacket and a black pencil skirt, Parveen Rahmati is the proud recipient of the Award for Outstanding Achievement as a Refugee by the United Nations Refugee Agency and Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Rights, Islamabad. 

Parveen is the host of a popular Dari and Pushto radio show on Power 99, broadcasting to Islamabad, Vehari and Abbottabad. Airing every Monday and Wednesday at 11pm, Parveen’s show is a mix of music and conversation.

Parveen is the embodiment of what could be termed as “the Pakistani dream” for many Afghans now settled in Pakistan.

She was a newscaster and the producer of a TV show “Women In Society” in Kabul. Having lost her husband in 2002 in a terrorist attack, Parveen moved to Islamabad with her six children in 2008 after she continually refused her family’s demands to marry her brother-in-law.

She lived in extreme poverty in Islamabad for a year before being discovered by Khyber TV.

After spending seven months there, she refused to move back to host a show from Kabul. It was then that she moved to the radio medium - on Power 99.

She explained how difficult it was to host an entertainment show. “I was almost in tears,” she said about hosting the show with live calls. “You know it is a habit of men to fall in love, even if it is just a voice.”

It is easy to understand why Parveen is so popular. She is an independent, successful woman with stories to tell. From a refugee to a star, she is everything we don’t see in Afghan women and culture.

Parveen is just one of the many Afghan success stories in Pakistan that break the stereotype.

The BBQ Tonight restaurant in Karachi is another example. Starting out as a small establishment in Clifton, it is now a worldwide franchise with outlets across Pakistan and in Dubai, Nairobi, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.

“We were just really lucky. In 1988, everyone came to see Bilawal House after the elections. We were right there,” says Sardar Qayyum, who started the restaurant.

There seems to be confusion on both sides of the border about public perceptions. The Afghan ambassador, Omar Dawoudzai, says, “If there is problem it is only at the level of military; Afghans and Pakistanis are friends.”

Adam Khan, a student in Islamabad, says, “Afghanistan is a nice country with nice people, I should go there, there are lots of people speaking the same language as ours, we have some problems but that doesn’t matter.”

What it seems to be is a case of growing positivity about Afghan people. They have been traditionally seen as troublemaker immigrants who are a burden on Pakistan’s limited resources.

There doesn’t seem to be any deep-rooted hatred between the people of both countries. So what is it that creates these negative images?

The answer, according to Samina Parvez, the director general of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s External Policy Wing, is media propaganda.

“It is the editorial rights of the newspapers and we can only have comments and recommendation on media, we can’t ban their editorial rights.”

The problems and biases faced by Pakistan and Afghanistan are similar --- both countries are victims of bad press. The news coming from both countries is focused on terrorism incidents and human right abuses.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a common future, one that must be built on a common ground. It is up to the people and media to lay these foundations, so that our coming generations understands that the sum of our commonalities is more than the sum of our differences.

This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Aa-Pak Fellowship 2012 in collaboration with The Express Tribune.

This report was written during the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung AF-PAK fellowship 2012 in collaboration with The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2012.