Pakistan — not so ‘dangerous’ after all | The Express Tribune (2023)

Pakistan is much more complex and contradictory than the images people have in mind.

Pakistan — not so ‘dangerous’ after all | The Express Tribune (1)

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“Pakistan?! Isn’t that too dangerous?” Most of my friends and family reacted in the same way when I told them that I would be going there in the second week of October. And to be honest, I also hesitated when I got the offer to participate in a Pakistan-German media dialogue in Lahore organised by the Heinrich Boll Foundation. But I’ve already been working long enough in the media to know that the images we have in mind of most of the so-called ‘dangerous’ countries are mainly created by a ‘good-news-is-no-news’ principle.

In the end I didn’t hesitate for very long, as I was curious to learn how this image of natural catastrophes, Taliban, suppressed women, military regime and an enmity towards India matched up with the reality. An image which yet was also influenced by a female prime minister long before the Germans were ready to accept a woman as prime minister, by a modern well-educated elite and a great passion for cricket.

So, I arrived at Lahore and the first thing I realised was that yes it may have been dangerous because the city was in the grip of a dengue epidemic. I hadn’t anticipated that I should be afraid of mosquitos.

In the days following, I talked to Pakistani colleagues, politicians and many others who taught me that this country is so much more complex and contradictory than the images I had in mind.

I visited beautiful mosques, Mughal palaces and restored old houses in the Walled City and met a famous designer who revives the great cultural history of the country in her fashion. But I also learnt from a cultural historian, that at public schools this history is hardly taught. “Why?”, I asked. “Because it’s a history we share with India”, was the answer.

I met a Pakistani businessman. He told me in a lowered voice that he is a Hindu and that this is the reason why in his office he is given always the same mug while all his colleagues don’t have ‘private mugs’. “Maybe they believe my religion is infectious,” he laughed. It was no happy laughter.

I saw only few women compared to men in the streets and hardly any of them on their own. As I am used to travelling on my own, I asked myself for the first time if this could be a problem here. Nevertheless I walked through the beautiful Bagh-e-Jinnah Park. But then I discovered the Gymkhana Cricket Ground. Bystanders (only men) were watching from outside a cricket match of young women among whom were players of the national women’s team. They told me that since one year the players have paid contracts (like their male counterparts), that they’re dreaming of winning the World Cup next year and that even women from the tribal areas are playing in their team.

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I talked to a young middle-class woman, who told me how she once wore a burqa for a couple of months in order to find out what religion really meant to her. Later on she became a member of the Communist party and an atheist. I know many young people in the West who undergo a similar search for their own identity. But for this woman it could be perilous, especially if the wrong people get hold of passport (she told me she has “no religion” written on it).

I also met a law student who told me how open-minded her parents had brought her up. That she had always been able do what her brothers had done and to choose for her own what she wanted. Her father, a military man, was dead and her two brothers had joined the army. She longed for change, for less influence of the military and more democracy.

Pakistan, as I could read every morning in the newspapers, has a free media with brilliant journalists, who are not only very critical but also courageous. I talked to Pakistani colleagues who investigate, criticise, and their work has an impact but too many have paid with their life for this.

I had many astonishing encounters, enlightening insights and yet only got a glimpse of the larger picture. I came back home and told my friends and family: No, it’s not too dangerous to go to Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2011.


Zohaib | 11 years ago| Reply

Lovely read.

Werda | 11 years ago| Reply

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I didn't read many of the comments here because I mostly get annoyed by what Pakistanis say about their own country. I live in Lahore and feel quite safe. Except for Dengue of course which I already contracted and got over with because I got too confident and didnt take precautions as I didnt contract it last year. I am glad you went back and told people that its not too dangerous yet I feel that I read more negativity in what you wrote. I am a female from a middle class family. I drive by myself. I shop alone. I walk my dog in the evenings. I will probably work where ever I want to after my undergrad is over. Education changes everything. I studied at private schools. So I was taught a lot of history including the one we share with India. I don't discriminate between people of different religions. Islam teaches us tolerance and I really don't understand how its taught any differently anywhere else or why. If some one wears a burqa it doesn't make her anymore religious than the person who wears jeans. And if some one becomes an atheist its between him/her and God. Misunderstanding Islam is a problem that plagues people the world over. Its not exclusive to Pakistan. Education can change the outlook of people. If our education system changes especially the rote learning and the relics that are called books in our public schools the mindset would change. The minds of some people here are like attics that need cleaning and fresh air. The only thing that will help is education. My parents are not that open minded but more still than most people. I am more open minded than my parents. My children will have a much better education than mine inshAllah and so they will be more even tolerant, easy about change and open minded. Pakistan is a beautiful country with people that just need their right at a good education. As for why women are not seen walking here alone it depends on which part of the city you had been to. It can be linked to education yet again but on a positive note it can be linked to the family system that we have. You cant tell me that in some countries when the shops close and men come out from pubs/bars in the evening a woman can walk safely alone? As far as I know we dont have serial killers here. Our rape and mugging stats are lower. There are less instances of shop lifting and gang shoot outs. I could compare divorce rates, suicide stats, the number of slums with a lot of other countries. I think we are better off than most and less than some. The only thing that is really dangerous is terrorism. We didnt have it ten years ago and we are dealing with it quite successfully if left on our own. Somebody should have told that girl that if the army had less influence the country might have gones to the dogs long ago.


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