Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Foreign Visitors to Pakistan Pleasantly Surprised

As Pakistan increasingly finds itself the object of the world media attention, its coverage is frequently based on widespread negative perceptions by the correspondents who parachute in to cover specific events there for brief periods of time. Often, there is little or no context to the "breaking news" of the hour and little understanding of the country, its history and its people. The reporters often go there to find and confirm what they already believe rather than to uncover and learn the big picture of what is really happening there. Their cameras often focus only on a tiny slice of Pakistan that suits the report they want to file. For example, pictures of bearded men carrying weapons or chanting anti-West slogans or women in burkas demanding Shariah laws are often used to symbolize Pakistan. Pakistan does have its share of protesters and extremists, but it has a lot more than that, as some visitors discover. Here are a few such visitors and their impressions that I have found recently:

Islamabad: Well Organized, Welcoming:

"Islamabad is surely the most well-organized,picturesque and endearing city in all of South Asia. Few Indians would, however, know this, or, if they did, would admit it. After all, the Indian media never highlights anything positive about Pakistan, because for it only 'bad' news about the country appears to be considered 'newsworthy'. That realization hit me as a rude shock the moment I stepped out of the plane and entered Islamabad's plush International Airport, easily far more efficient, modern and better maintained than any of its counterparts in India. And right through my week-long stay in the city, I could not help comparing Islamabad favorably with every other South Asian city that I have visited. That week in Islamabad consisted essentially of a long string of pleasant surprises, for I had expected Islamabad to be everything that the Indian media so uncharitably and erroneously depicts Pakistan as. The immigration counter was staffed by a smart young woman, whose endearing cheerfulness was a refreshing contrast to the grave, somber and unwelcoming looks that one is generally met with at immigration counters across the world that make visitors to a new country feel instantly unwelcome."

Yoginder Sikand
10 June, 2008

Resurgent, Prosperous Middle Class:

"On the ground, of course, the reality is different and first-time visitors to Pakistan are almost always surprised by the country's visible prosperity. There is far less poverty on show in Pakistan than in India, fewer beggars, and much less desperation. In many ways the infrastructure of Pakistan is much more advanced: there are better roads and airports, and more reliable electricity. Middle-class Pakistani houses are often bigger and better appointed than their equivalents in India.
Moreover, the Pakistani economy is undergoing a construction and consumer boom similar to India's, with growth rates of 7%, and what is currently the fastest-rising stock market in Asia. You can see the effects everywhere: in new shopping centers and restaurant complexes, in the hoardings for the latest laptops and iPods, in the cranes and building sites, in the endless stores selling mobile phones: in 2003 the country had fewer than three million cellphone users; today there are almost 50 million."

William Dalrymple
14 August, 2007
The Guardian

Absurd Notions About Pakistan:

"Suicide bombs, battles in tribal areas, and states of emergency tend to put off casual tourists. But the impression such events convey can often be misleading and unrepresentative of a country as a whole. A few days ago I was sitting in a cafe sipping best Italian espresso and reading a news magazine. The front page was full of furious faces and clenched fists under the headline, The Most Dangerous Nation in the World isn't Iraq, it's Pakistan. The cafe was in a smart bookshop in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. I sighed and turned to the article inside.
It was a revealing analysis of some penetration of a few places in Pakistan by the Taleban and al-Qaeda. I pondered the magnifying-glass effect of dramatic news coverage. The suicide bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto's homecoming parade in Karachi in October, which killed an estimated 140 people, and the assault on a Taleban pocket in the Swat valley, a tourist destination, took place while I was in Pakistan.
But neither event had a noticeable effect on the general sense of security and stability where I was in Islamabad or on the road. The notion that Pakistan is more dangerous than Iraq is absurd."

Bill Sykes
BBC News
12 November, 2007

Pakistan as Attractive Investment Opportunity:

"A little more than six years ago, immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. cities, few sane investment advisers would have recommended Pakistani stocks.
They should have. Their clients could have made a fortune.
Since 2001, the nuclear-armed South Asian country, blamed for spawning generations of Islamic militants and threatening global security, has been making millionaires like newly minted coins.
As Western governments have fretted about Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of militants, the Karachi Stock Exchange's main share index has risen more than 10-fold."

Mark Bendeich
Jan 10, 2008

Pakistanis Should be Proud:

"Perhaps it has more to do with Pakistan's preoccupation with conflicts at their northern borders over recent times, but little is written on the fact that with more than 100 universities and 150 research institutes, Pakistan produces 100,000 engineering graduates annually, and another 100,000 technically trained graduates. More than 50 foreign companies have set up R&D facilities in Pakistan recently. Some of these include multinationals such as GE, DuPont, Bell Labs, IBM and Microsoft. In the business of automobiles, Pakistan manufactures and sells engine components to five of the world's largest manufacturers. Suzuki and Hyundai are recent entrants to the manufacturing buzz in Pakistan setting up full-fledged plants, with Pakistan taking its rank as the ninth largest automobile manufacturer in the world.

New emerging industries in areas of interest include mecha-tronics, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and clinical research. And foreign investment has shown a remarkable increase in recent years. Ironically, Gulf countries awash with high returns on the sale of oil have yet to take advantage of an educated labor pool and invest heavily in this growing economy."

Pakistan Revisited — VI: A Time for Reflection
By Tariq A. Al-Maeena,
Saturday 17 May 2008 (11 Jumada al-Ula 1429)

These eyewitness accounts of Pakistan by serious individuals are a reminder of the fact that fly-by-night journalism and sensational media reports are not reliable sources of information to guide policy on relations with Pakistan, investment decisions in Pakistan, the ongoing war on terror, and Pakistan's role in it. Let's hope that the international policy makers consider sources beyond the traditional commercial media when making important strategic decisions on crucial issues.

Here's a video titled "I Am Pakistan":

Related Links:

Escape From India

Reflections on India


sameer khan said...

chalo shukr hai, pakistan has some izzat finally after sixty plus yrs.

Riaz Haq said...

I think Pakistani-Americans and Pakistani expats elsewhere in the world should see themselves as ambassadors and correct mis-perceptions about Pakistan. It may seem like an impossible task but, if it's done properly by large numbers of Pakistani expats, it can be quite effective. As part of this effort, we need to be sensitive to the social norms of the societies we live in. As we defend ourselves against negative stereotypes, we must refrain from negatively stereotyping others as well.

Anonymous said...


Human faith religion starts from the premise of humanity which is more than a physical face and biological organism. It is a wisdom that can only be obtained from the nature of God. It is a stage of awareness where purity of living in the physical senses without bias. Today the global women health and education crisis is result of Christian ethics of distributing education unequally. Education for the women’s of the world. We know that the "God Save the Queen and Queen Save the World “ The only way we can treat the world phenomena of poverty, population, Health, war, global warming, earth, children and racial issues and many more by educating the Queen. It is time to break the prison camp of Christianity in order to change system of the world leadership and to stop educational discrimination from developed nations. The problem is when someone uneducated and dust colored like me tries to prove something it is called delusion and the same product gets new name and introduced by some privileged member of Christianity called illusion. The issue we see in many undeveloped nations is that the majority of there best minds and educated people go to the America and European countries for batter life. The undeveloped country gets by one way or other because it must while they live good life comfortably as a modern slave of Christianity. As soon as their successors grow up they will follow them to find best education and work in United State and The United Kingdom. The result of this is that after every twenty or twenty five years undeveloped country goes back to the starting point again this whitish circle of helplessness continues because of Christian ethics of distributing education and keeping educated worker for them self. The easy way to stop vicious circle developed nations must educate citizen of poor and undeveloped countries in order to advance life. It is time to stop educational discrimination for humanity. Thus a free beggar is better then the President of country who is in the prison camp of Christianity. The human faith message of life and spreading the understanding of true human nature can bring peace and goodness in our life and in the life of those who are seeking truth. It is time to introduce human faith religious based on new life shining with light and full of happiness. Human faith is the real message of love and peace in the world. The goal that we set up for human being in their lives is the satisfaction and the moral value by means of which all actions must be measures to save human life. Our vision is to introduce true human nature by mobilizing communities and faiths around the world to improve people’s lives .Our mission is to strength the bond of humanity by introducing human faith religion. The "martial law” such as those operating in dictatorships and monarchies should change their unjust way of monopolizing humanity. It is scares to think that the relationships among people and organizations based on Christian ideology .I would like to request from all these Dictators, Kings, Monarchies, Army Chiefs, Organizations, Government officials, Presidents, Vice Presidents, and Religious leaders to adopt new philosophy of humanity and come out from the prison camp of Christianity .
Human faith method of teaching moral values and humanity can give realistic purpose of achieving complete fulfillment of internal life. The spiritual change from loneness to loveliness is based on love by giving unlimited trust in God (Rab). Human mind is miracle of Supreme Being when we struggle to boil it at luck warm temperature of wisdom to understand fundamental of life by reading (Rabi). The ever lasting stage of satisfaction for mind is to reach Supreme Being before death. The journey of memories can be pleasant with nine affirmations of human faith. We believe that it is time to joggle every conscious to show them that human mind is superior matter not material. The festival of life can be celebrated with wisdom of human faith knowledge once we realize that we all are part of the superior race. It advocates spiritual and moral principles on very high scales for the longest term in human history. Human faith is Adam's monotheistic faith and knows that God is the creator and overseer of the universe at all the time and all matters. It is time to modernize our faith by adopting true faith and educate mankind in accordance with basic principle of life. Our vision is to introduce true human religion by mobilizing communities and faiths around the world to improve people's lives .Our mission is to strength the bond of humanity (Rabi) by introducing human faith religion.


Riaz Haq said...

Here is a report in the Indian media with an Indian official Syeda Hameed admitting that India is doing worse than Pakistan and Bangladesh on nutrition:

New Delhi, July 2 (IANS) India is worse than Bangladesh and Pakistan when it comes to nourishment and is showing little improvement in the area despite big money being spent on it, says Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed.

'There has been an enormous infusion of funds. But the National Family Health Survey gives a different story on malnourishment in the country. We don't know, something is just not clicking,' Hameed said.

Speaking at a conference on 'Malnutrition an emergency: what it costs the nation', she said even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during interactions with the Planning Commission has described malnourishment as the 'blackest mark'.

'I should not compare. But countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are better,' she said. The conference was organised Monday by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region.

According to India's National Family Health Survey, almost 46 percent of children under the age of three are undernourished - an improvement of just one percent in the last seven years. This is only a shade better than Sub-Saharan Africa where about 35 percent of children are malnourished.

Hameed said the government's Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, which is a flagship programme to improve the health of women and children, had not shown results despite a lot of money being spent on it in the past few years.

'We have not been successful in improving the status of health of our women and children,' she added.

The annual budget for women and child development (WCD) ministry in 2008-9 is Rs.72 billion. Of this, Rs.63 billion is for ICDS.

According to Unicef, every year 2.1 million children in India die before celebrating their fifth birthday. While malnutrition is the primary reason behind it, other factors like lack of health facilities, hygiene and good nutrition compound the problem.

Narrating her experiences while travelling the length and breadth of the country, Hameed said in many areas women were still starving and finding it difficult to feed their children.

She said emphasis should be given on inclusive breast-feeding for six months after a child's birth, maternity benefits for pregnant women and food fortification of ready to eat mid-day meals.

'We are concerned and worried that we are losing human beings in such a manner. It is a disappointment and a blot. We have just improved a fraction and we are determined that we do not let it get worse,' she said.

'It is frustrating to see this dark and dismal picture of undernourishment in the country. We have to learn the experiences from other South Asian countries,' she added.

The NFHS survey found that levels of anaemia in children and women had worsened compared to seven years ago -- around 56 percent of women and 79 percent of children below three years are anaemic.

Vinita Bali, managing director of Britannia Industries, said the problem was very critical and action was needed from both the government and the industry.

She said their 'Tiger' biscuits had been fortified with iron and had shown amazing results. These biscuits have been provided to children in Hyderabad with a midday meal.

'We conducted a study and found that in six months of taking these biscuits, the haemoglobin increased. The biscuits are not only healthy but also fortified,' she said.

'There should be a balance between prevention and treatment. Our focus should be to target the most vulnerable and then only we will have a much healthier future for India,' he added.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting report by Reuters in Pakistan:

By Alistair Scrutton

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - If you want a slice of peace and stability in a country with a reputation for violence and chaos, try Pakistan's M2 motorway.

At times foreign reporters need to a give a nation a rest from their instinctive cynicism. I feel like that with Pakistan each time I whizz along the M2 between Islamabad and Lahore, the only motorway I know that inspires me to write.

Now, if the M2 conjures images of bland, spotless tarmac interspersed with gas stations and fast food outlets, you would be right. But this is South Asia, land of potholes, reckless driving and the occasional invasion of livestock.

And this is Pakistan, for many a "failed state." Here, blandness can inspire almost heady optimism.

Built in the 1990s at a cost of around $1 billion, the 228-mile (367-km) motorway -- which continues to Peshawar as the M1 -- is like a six-lane highway to paradise in a country that usually makes headlines for suicide bombers, army offensives and political mayhem.

Indeed, for sheer spotlessness, efficiency and emptiness there is nothing like the M2 in the rest of South Asia.

It puts paid to what's on offer in Pakistan's traditional foe and emerging economic giant India, where village culture stubbornly refuses to cede to even the most modern motorways, making them battlegrounds of rickshaws, lorries and cows.

There are many things in Pakistan that don't get into the news. Daily life, for one. Pakistani hospitality to strangers, foreigners like myself included, is another. The M2 is another sign that all is not what it appears in Pakistan, that much lies hidden behind the bad news.

On a recent M2 trip, my driver whizzed along but kept his speedometer firmly placed on the speed limit. Here in this South Asian Alice's Wonderland, the special highway police are considered incorruptible. The motorway is so empty one wonders if it really cuts through one of the region's most populated regions.

"130, OK, but 131 is a fine," said the driver, Noshad Khan. "The police have cameras," he added, almost proudly. His hand waved around in the car, clenched in the form of a gun.

On one of my first trips to Pakistan. I arrived at the border having just negotiated a one-lane country road in India with cows, rickshaws and donkey-driven carts.

I toted my luggage over to the Pakistan side, and within a short time my Pakistani taxi purred along the tarmac. The driver proudly showed off his English and played U.S. rock on FM radio. The announcer even had an American accent. Pakistan, for a moment, receded, and my M2 trip began.

Built in the 1990s by then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, it was part of his dream of a motorway that would unite Pakistan with Afghanistan and central Asia.

For supporters it shows the potential of Pakistan. Its detractors say it was a waste of money, a white elephant that was a grandiose plaything for Sharif.

But while his dreams for the motorway foundered along with many of Pakistan, somehow the Islamabad-Lahore stretch has survived assassinations, coups and bombs.

A relatively expensive toll means it is a motorway for the privileged. Poorer Pakistanis use the older trunk road nearby tracing an ancient route that once ran thousands of miles to eastern India. The road is shorter, busier and takes nearly an hour longer.

On my latest trip, I passed the lonely occasional worker in an orange suit sweeping the edge of the motorway in a seemingly Sisyphean task.

Riaz Haq said...

Dr. Ishrat Husain, a former World Bank senior official and an ex governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, wrote an article captioned "India, Pakistan: a comparison" at the end of the first five decades of two nations' existence as independent states. To my knowledge, Dr. Hussain has not done an update of his article since it was first published. Although about three years too late, I have just published a new post titled "India and Pakistan Contrasted in 2010" to attempt to present a comparison of the two South Asian nations after sixty years of independence.

Riaz Haq said...

Tour De Pakistan cycle race started today in Peshawar, according to ARY News:

PESHAWAR: Carrying US $ 10,000 prize money the 15th International Tour de Pakistan Cycle Race commenced from local hotel on Monday at 9.00 a.m with 63 cyclists including players from Afghanistan vie for the top honor.

Afghanistan is only foreign team that is taking part while Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Nepal teams did not turn up despite their confirmation.

The sprint would finish at Mazar-e-Quiad with Governor Sindh Dr. Ishrat-ul-Ibad would be the chief guest at the presentation ceremony.

The cyclists would cover a distance of 1685km in 11 stages. The opening stage of the race, starting from Peshawar, would finish at Rawalpindi after crossing a distance of 158 km, followed by Rawalpindi-Gujrat (153km), Gujrat-Lahore (115km) after a rest at Lahore, the cyclists will continue from Lahore-Sahiwal(160km),Sahiwal-Multan (154km), Multan-Bahawalpur (90km), Bahawalpur-Rahim Yar Khan (200km).

After rest in Rahim Yar Khan the cyclists would again paddle off from Rahim Yar Khan-Sukkur (178km), followed by Sukkur-Moro (150km),Moro-Hyderabad (163km)andHyderabad-Karachi (153) will be the last stage.

It is the third occasion that the race is starting from Peshawar and finishing at Mazar-e-Quiad.

Last year the race finished at Peshawar whereas Niamat Ali of Sui Southern Gas won the race.

The sprint will finish on March, 13 at Mazar-e-Quiad, Karachi after passing through some major cities of NWFP, Punjab and Sindh.

Besides Afghanistan teams from FATA, Pakistan Army, WAPDA, Railways, Sui Southern Gas and cyclists of the four provinces contesting for the top honor.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is part of an article in today's Dawn by Irfan Husain, a columnist known for his harsh criticism of Pakistan:

Every now and then, I get an email from one irate Indian reader or another, demanding to know why Jawed Naqvi, Dawn’s erudite and irreverent New Delhi correspondent, is so critical of India. Invariably, I reply that they should ask Jawed about his views. I also point out that just as I am often critical about Pakistan, he has every right to point out his country’s shortcomings.

I suspect what upsets these readers is that an Indian should be voicing critical comments about his country in a foreign newspaper. I was subjected to similar censure from expatriate Pakistanis when I wrote for a Gulf daily. Finally, the editor told me politely that my criticism of Musharraf was incompatible with his paper’s policy, and that was the end of the (small) trickle of Dubai dirhams.

The reality is that we are all touchy about seeing our dirty linen washed in public, but somehow, Indians seem super-sensitive to any hint of criticism. While there are many dissenting voices that question Indian claims to having reached Nirvana, they do not find much space in the mainstream media. Although Indian journalists do excellent work in digging up scams and scandals, they do not often question the broad consensus underpinning the ‘India shining’ image the media, politicians and big business work so hard at projecting.

I spent the other evening at the Karachi Boat Club in the company of a European who has spent a long time in the region, and knows South Asia well, having lived in Pakistan and India for several years. When I asked him how it felt to be back in Pakistan after being away for a few years in New Delhi, his answer came as a surprise. As we have known each other for fifteen years, he had no need to be polite: “It feels great to be back,” he replied. “You have no idea how difficult day-to-day life is in New Delhi. Apart from the awful traffic, the pollution, and the expense, you have to put up with the prickliness of most Indians you meet. They are touchy to the point of paranoia. There is a lot of very aggressive poverty in the air. And when the New Delhi airport opens, we’ll have to brace ourselves for yet another self-congratulatory blast. What is truly shocking is how little the well-off Indians care about the poor.”

“Here in Pakistan, people are so much more laid back. Karachi’s traffic flows much faster, and I don’t sense the same kind of anger. While I’m sure there must be slums, I do not see the same level of abject poverty that is ever-present in India. And of course, the food is much better here.”

Riaz Haq said...

Irfan Hussain article contd...

“Here in Pakistan, people are so much more laid back. Karachi’s traffic flows much faster, and I don’t sense the same kind of anger. While I’m sure there must be slums, I do not see the same level of abject poverty that is ever-present in India. And of course, the food is much better here.”

I suspect this last observation will provoke more ire among my Indian readers than anything else my friend said. The truth is that meat dishes cooked in Pakistan are better than in India, although vegetables there are far tastier than ours. However, this article is not about scoring points, but about the different ways in which we react to criticism. It is also about the myth and the reality underlying the Indian success story.

And before my inbox is flooded with angry emails from across the border and the Indian diaspora, let me say that I am delighted at the huge strides our neighbour has made over the last decade or so. From cricket to technology, the progress has been little short of spectacular. I was thrilled to learn of the discovery of water on the moon by an Indian space mission.

So clearly, Indians have much to be proud of. Nevertheless, there is a dark side to this progress, and one that is ignored by those who react angrily to any criticism. In a recent article reflecting on his recently concluded six-year stint as the Guardian correspondent in India, Randeep Ramesh writes: “Whether I was visiting a rural police station where half-naked men were hung from the ceiling during an interrogation, or talking to the parents of a baby bulldozed to death during a slum clearance, the romance of India’s idealism was undone by its awful daily reality. The venality, mediocrity and indiscipline of its ruling class would be comical but for the fact that politicians appeared incapable of doing anything for the 836 million people who live on 25 pence [33 Pakistani rupees] a day.

“… India is perhaps the most unequal country on the planet, with a tiny elite engorged on the best education, biggest landholdings, and largest incomes. Those born on the bottom rungs of the social hierarchy suffer a legacy of caste bigotry, rural servitude and class discrimination…”

Many of these painful observations apply to Pakistan as well, but by and large, we accept these flaws, and do not react angrily when a foreigner points them out.

The current issue of The Economist carries a searing cover story about the shameful phenomenon of millions of aborted female foetuses, mainly in China and India. This has caused the male-female ratio to be skewed to an alarming extent. The number of male babies in India is now around 108 for 100 girls, raising the possibility of serious social consequences.

Indian civil society is acutely aware of these grave social issues, and many of its members have long been demanding change. However, their voices are often drowned out by the chorus of those shouting ‘India shining’. Many activists have distinguished themselves by their heroic advocacy of the downtrodden, but it is the success stories of dotcom entrepreneurs that are in the spotlight.

India’s soft power is a potent instrument of projecting the country’s image abroad. Its brilliant software engineers, its talented scientists, its outstanding cricketers, and its artists are all wonderful ambassadors for India. Bollywood and India’s appeal to millions of tourists have put the country firmly on the map as a highly desirable destination.

All in all, as I said earlier, Indians have much to be proud of. But by focusing only on their country’s achievements, the danger is that they will lose sight of the huge problems that still exist. Friends who point out these failings do not do so out of a sense of malice, but out of concern. However, as I brace myself for a volley of abuse, I fear that it’s often easier to shoot the messenger than to undertake the hard work needed to address the problems.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan's water quality is not good, but it is significantly better than in India.

On page 288 of his book "Water management in India" the author P. C. Bansil quotes a UN study that says India ranks a poor 120 on a list of 122 countries in water quality.

India's neighbors Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan rank much better at 40, 64, 78 and 80 respectively.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting except from analysis of Pakistan, calling it the Next BRIC, by

...much like Russia, Pakistan also has been one of the top-performing stock markets over the past decade. Had you been able to invest in the Karachi Stock Exchange at the turn of the millennium, you'd be sitting on a much bigger pile of profits than, say, if you had invested in the “China miracle.” Pakistan offers yet another lesson in how gleaming skyscrapers offer little guidance in predicting future stock market performance.

Investing in Pakistan: Surprisingly Big

Teeming with 169 million souls, Pakistan is the world's sixth-largest country by population. That makes it smaller than Brazil , but larger that Russia, as well as the “Next BRIC” candidates, Turkey, Mexico, South Korea and Egypt. Bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the West, India in the East and China in the far Northeast, Pakistan is just about the size of France and the United Kingdom combined.

Pakistan's real per capita GDP of about $1,250 makes your average Pakistani slightly poorer than his counterpart in India -- and far behind the average in booming China. One third of Pakistan's population lives in poverty, and only half of the population is literate. Yet, Standard Chartered bank estimates that Pakistan has a middle class of 30 million that now earns an average of about $10,000 per year. And adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP), Pakistan's per capita GDP approaches $3,000 per head. But take away that bit of economic affirmative action, and Pakistan's economy drops from the size of New Jersey's down to that of Alabama.

Investing in Pakistan: Edgy Relations with Uncle Sam

In the bad old days of the Soviet Union, Pakistan was a major U.S. ally. That relationship soured after the United States imposed sanctions on Pakistan after it refused to abandon its nuclear program. The “War on Terror” changed all that. After Pakistan ended its support of the Taliban regime in Kabul, American economic and military aid to Pakistan soared to more than $4 billion within three years of the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, American aid has played no small part in helping Pakistan's economy flourish over the past decade or so.

But as with most forms of handouts, gratitude is the least heartfelt of emotions. Anti-Americanism in Pakistan’s free media is just about as virulent as neighboring Iran. The Wall Street Journal’s Pakistan correspondent was ejected from the country after being charged with spying for the United States and Israel. The U.S. State Department advises U.S. citizens not to visit the country and has forbidden the families of its diplomats in Pakistan to visit since 2002.

Investing in Pakistan: A Solid Start to the Millennium

Economically, the first decade of the 21st century has been good to Pakistan. Thanks to economic reforms introduced in 2000 by the former Musharraf government, Pakistan has privatized $5-billion worth of assets, simplified its tax system and attracted large amounts of foreign direct investment (FDI) compared to its GDP. By mid-2005, the Pakistani economy was growing by 8.6%, and the World Bank named Pakistan as the top reformer in its region and among the top 10 reformers globally.

That changed abruptly with the onset of the “Great Recession.” Pakistan's ensuing balance-of-payments crisis and runaway inflation forced the IMF to step in, and offer a $7.6-billion emergency financing package in late 2008. To its credit, the Pakistani government kept its side of the bargain, maintaining its foreign exchange reserves above target and its fiscal deficit below. The Pakistani economic crisis has eased substantially, and in 2010, the economy is expected to grow at least 4%.

... The stock market index in Karachi has risen by more than 1,000% since 1999. And in 2002, Pakistan was the top-performing stock market in the world.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a recent excerpt from a piece by Dawn columnist Irfan Husain about Pakistan's middle class influencing nation's politics:

While external debt increased from $39bn in 1999 to $50bn in 2009, poverty levels have fallen by over 10 per cent since 2001. Indeed, there are now around 30 million Pakistanis who are considered to be in the middle class with an average income of $10,000 annually, while some 17 million are now bracketed with the upper and upper-middle classes.

Even though this does not approach China’s and India’s spectacular progress in this period, it does represent a solid advance. If one factors in the political turmoil the country has gone through, together with its ongoing insurgencies in the tribal areas and Balochistan, Pakistan’s progress has been impressive by any standard.

How do these numbers translate into day-to-day life in Pakistan? To examine the social transformation the country is undergoing, Jason Burke uses the Suzuki Mehran as a yardstick to measure change. In his ‘Letter from Karachi’ published in the current issue of Prospect, the Guardian reporter writes:

“In Pakistan, the hierarchy on the roads reflects that of society. If you are poor, you use the overcrowded buses or a bicycle. Small shopkeepers, rural teachers and better-off farmers are likely to have a $1,500 Chinese or Japanese motorbike…. Then come the Mehran drivers. A rank above them, in air-conditioned Toyota Corolla saloons, are the small businessmen, smaller landlords, more senior army officers and bureaucrats. Finally, there are the luxury four-wheel drives of ‘feudal’ landlords, big businessmen, expats, drug dealers, generals, ministers and elite bureaucrats. The latter may be superior in status, power and wealth, but it is the Mehrans which, by dint of numbers, dominate the roads.”

This growing affluence has already caused a major power shift, with the urban population now having a bigger say after years of being ruled by feudal landowners. As urbanisation gathers pace, Pakistan’s traditional power elite will increasingly come from the cities, and not from the rural hinterland. This will have a profound impact not just on politics, but on society as a whole. As Burke observes in his Prospect article:

“Politically, the Bhutto dynasty’s Pakistan People’s Party, mostly based in rural constituencies and led by feudal landowners, will lose out to the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif with its industrial, commercial, urban constituency. Culturally, the traditional, folksy, tolerant practices in rural areas will decline in favour of more modernised, politicised Islamic strands and identities. And as power and influence shifts away from rural elites once co-opted by colonialism, the few elements of British influence to have survived will fade faster.”

Often, perceptive foreigners spot social trends that escape us because we are too close to them to see the changes going on around us. For instance, Burke identifies the shift away from English, and sees ‘Mehran man’ as urban, middle class and educated outside the elite English-medium system. He sees Muslims being under attack from the West, and genuinely believes that the 9/11 attacks were a part of a CIA/Zionist plot. Actually, my experience is that many highly educated and sophisticated people share this theory.

Burke continues his dissection of the rising Pakistani middle class: “Mehran man is deeply proud of his country. A new identification with the ummah, or the global community of Muslims, paradoxically reinforces rather than degrades his nationalism. For him, Pakistan was founded as an Islamic state, not a state for South Asian Muslims. Mehran man is an ‘Islamo-nationalist’. His country possesses a nuclear bomb….”

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts from a piece by Bloomberg's Hindol Sengupta:

Add this bookstore to the list of India-Pakistan rivalry. A bookstore so big that it is actually called a bank. The book store to beat all bookstores in the subcontinent, I have found books I have never seen anywhere in India at the three-storeyed Saeed Book Bank in leafy Islamabad. The collection is diverse, unique and with a special focus on foreign policy and subcontinental politics (I wonder why?), this bookstore is far more satisfying than any of the magazine-laden monstrosities I seem to keep trotting into in India. ...

Yes, that's right. The meat. There always, always seems to be meat in every meal, everywhere in Pakistan. Every where you go, everyone you know is eating meat. From India, with its profusion of vegetarian food, it seems like a glimpse of the other world. The bazaars of Lahore are full of meat of every type and form and shape and size and in Karachi, I have eaten some of the tastiest rolls ever. For a Bengali committed to his non-vegetarianism, this is paradise regained. Also, the quality of meat always seems better, fresher, fatter, more succulent, more seductive, and somehow more tantalizingly carnal in Pakistan. ....

Let me tell you that there is no better leather footwear than in Pakistan. I bought a pair of blue calf leather belt-ons from Karachi two years ago and I wear them almost everyday and not a dent or scratch! Not even the slightest tear. They are by far the best footwear I have ever bought and certainly the most comfortable. Indian leather is absolutely no match for the sheer quality and handcraftsmanship of Pakistani leather wear.

Yes. Yes, you read right. The roads. I used to live in Mumbai and now I live in Delhi and, yes, I think good roads are a great, mammoth, gargantuan luxury! Face it, when did you last see a good road in India? Like a really smooth road. Drivable, wide, nicely built and long, yawning, stretching so far that you want zip on till eternity and loosen the gears and let the car fly. A road without squeeze or bump or gaping holes that pop up like blood-dripping kitchen knives in Ramsay Brothers films. When did you last see such roads? Pakistan is full of such roads. Driving on the motorway between Islamabad and Lahore, I thought of the Indian politician who ruled a notorious —, one could almost say viciously — potholed state and spoke of turning the roads so smooth that they would resemble the cheeks of Hema Malini. They remained as dented as the face of Frankenstein's monster. And here, in Pakistan, I was travelling on roads that — well, how can one now avoid this? — were as smooth as Hema Malini's cheeks! Pakistani roads are broad and smooth and almost entirely, magically, pot hole free. How do they do it; this country that is ostensibly so far behind in economic growth compared to India? But they do and one of my most delightful experiences in Pakistan has been travelling on its fabulous roads. No wonder the country is littered with SUVs — Pakistan has the roads for such cars! Even in tiny Bajaur in the North West frontier province, hard hit by the Taliban, and a little more than a frontier post, the roads were smoother than many I know in India. Even Bajaur has a higher road density than India! If there is one thing we should learn from the Pakistanis, it is how to build roads. And oh, another thing, no one throws beer bottles or trash on the highways and motorways.

Riaz Haq said...

A couple years ago, a Dutch diplomat in New Delhi couldn't take it any more. He came under fire from the Indian foreign ministry after he reportedly labeled the capital as "miserable" and a "garbage dump", according to a newspaper report.

Arnold Parzer, agriculture counsellor at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, reportedly told the Dutch daily Het Financieele Dagblad that New Delhi residents were a "darn nuisance”, the Hindustan Times reported.

“Anything that can go wrong, does go wrong; everyone interferes with everyone else; the people are a darn nuisance; the climate is hell; the city is a garbage dump,” Parzer reportedly told the daily.

“New Delhi is the most miserable place I have ever lived in,” the diplomat was quoted as saying.

The Hindustan Times said India’s foreign ministry had summoned Dutch ambassador Eric Neihe, who in turn had “taken the officer to task”.

More recently, a Mercer survey ranked New Delhi, along with Mumbai and Dhaka in South Asia, among the dirtiest cities in the world. No Pakistani cities are on this list.

And here's an American blogger Sean Paul Kelly in his post "Reflections on India":

"One would expect a certain amount of, yes, I am going to use this word, backwardness, in a country that hasn’t produced so many Nobel Laureates, nuclear physicists, imminent economists and entrepreneurs. But India has all these things and what have they brought back to India with them? Nothing. The rich still have their servants, the lower castes are still there to do the dirty work and so the country remains in stasis. It’s a shame. Indians and India have many wonderful things to offer the world, but I’m far from sanguine that India will amount to much in my lifetime.

Now, have at it, call me a cultural imperialist, a spoiled child of the West and all that. But remember, I’ve been there. I’ve done it. And I’ve seen 50 other countries on this planet and none, not even Ethiopia, have as long and gargantuan a laundry list of problems as India does. And the bottom line is, I don’t think India really cares. Too complacent and too conservative."

Here are excerpts from a piece by Bloomberg's Hindol Sengupta, an honest Indian:

....Add this bookstore to the list of India-Pakistan rivalry. A bookstore so big that it is actually called a bank. The book store to beat all bookstores in the subcontinent, I have found books I have never seen anywhere in India at the three-storeyed Saeed Book Bank in leafy Islamabad. The collection is diverse, unique and with a special focus on foreign policy and subcontinental politics (I wonder why?), this bookstore is far more satisfying than any of the magazine-laden monstrosities I seem to keep trotting into in India. ...

But they do and one of my most delightful experiences in Pakistan has been travelling on its fabulous roads. No wonder the country is littered with SUVs — Pakistan has the roads for such cars! Even in tiny Bajaur in the North West frontier province, hard hit by the Taliban, and a little more than a frontier post, the roads were smoother than many I know in India. Even Bajaur has a higher road density than India! If there is one thing we should learn from the Pakistanis, it is how to build roads. And oh, another thing, no one throws beer bottles or trash on the highways and motorways. ...

Riaz Haq said...

On NPR's Talk of the Nation radio talk show on June 3, 2010 Madhlika Sikka described the main concerns of young Pakistanis follows:

"I think, that young people are concerned with the same things you'd think young people are concerned with. In fact, when I came home, the immigration officer asked me about Pakistan, and she said, well, what are they thinking about?

And I said, well, I met a lot of young people, and they're thinking about jobs, and they're thinking about the fact that the power goes out regularly, gas costs a fortune. They're really thinking about what their prospects are and the conflict with India, the war on terrorism, isn't at the top of their list."

Finally, she summed up her assessment of the current situation in Pakistan in the following words:

"Well, I think that I think that there's no doubt that if you live in a city like Islamabad or Peshawar, certainly where Julie McCarthy was, you know, they live and breathe this tension every day.

But let's take a city like Lahore, where we were just a couple of weeks ago. And last week, there was a huge attack on a mosque in Lahore, 70, 80 people were killed. You can't help but feel that tension, even though you are trying your best to go live your daily life as best you can. And I think that that push and pull is really a struggle.

But one thing I do want to talk about in the, you know, what is our vision of Pakistan, which often is one dimensional because of the way the news coverage drives it.

But, you know, we went to visit a park in the capital, Islamabad, which is just on the outskirts, up in the hills, and we blogged about it, and there are photos on our website. You could have been in suburban Virginia.

There were families, picnics, picnic tables, you know, kids playing, stores selling stuff, music playing. It was actually very revealing, I think for us and for people who saw that posting, because there's a lot that's similar that wouldn't surprise you, let's put it that way."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Express Tribune report on philanthropy doubling in Pakistan in the last decade:

KARACHI: Inflation is not the only thing that is on the rise. The amount contributed towards philanthropy in Pakistan has almost doubled over the past decade, said Anjum R Haque, Executive Director, Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP), an Islamabad-based organisation focussed on streamlining social development.

While a total of Rs70 billion had been donated in 2000, she said that the figure was likely to reach Rs140 billion this year. With donations carrying such a massive potential, she said, there is a growing need to make direct cash flows strategically.

She also spoke about the PCP certification programme under which 162 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been certified.

The PCP’s aim, she said, is to create awareness and sensitise society about current issues affecting growth in the social sector and create an enabling environment for the certified NGOs.

“Regularisation of NGOs is a very sensitive issue and the PCP tries to promote this culture through a voluntary approach,” she said.

Certification Manager Malik Babur Javed said that the certification programme was recognised by the government and was the country’s only system that reinforced and promoted internal governance, financial transparency and programme delivery in the non-profit sector.

He said that civil society organisations (CSO) certification not only created sector-wide standards but also promoted the government’s agenda of strengthening the civil society in terms of administration, documentation, disclosure, transparency, accountability and effective service delivery.

With additional information from APP

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Daily Times report on the inauguration of Port Grand Food Street in Karachi:

KARACHI: Governor Sindh Dr Ishrat Ul Ebad has said that mega economic hub like Karachi that houses millions of people, needs lots of recreational and entertainment places where entertainment-starved citizens could find some peace, comfort and entertainment which provides much-needed breather to continue with our hectic schedules.
Governor Sindh expressed these views while inaugurating the much-awaited Port Grand Food and Entertainment Complex on Saturday. Federal Minister for Ports and Shipping Babur Khan Ghauri and Shahid Firoz, Managing Director Grand leisure Corporation was also present.
Dr Ishrat ul Ebad said that Port Grand Complex is an effort to revive the culture and traditions of old Karachi as well as to celebrate it as the City of Lights. “It would surely revive the harbor culture in a port city like Karachi,” Ebad said.
He appreciated Grand Leisure Corporation for resurrection of history and heritage as it has not only preserved the 19th century’s Napier Mole Bridge but has also converted it into a world-class tourist spot that would ultimately attract millions of people from all over the world.
Babar Ghauri said that Port Grand is a bold initiative by a private sector company despite the economic, law and order and political uncertainties in the country. He applauded the relentless efforts of Shahid Firoz, Managing Director Grand Leisure Corporation for making it a reality.
Babar Ghauri said that Port Grand project is country’s only-sea-side food and entertainment enclave, which would offer matchless attractions for the whole family to enjoy together. “Port Grand is expected to attract around 4 to 5 thousand people daily from across the country,” he hoped.
The Port Grand Complex, which has been built at 19th century’s Napier Mole Bridge (old native jetty bridge) was conceived and built by Grand Leisure Corporation with an investment of over Rs 1 billion. GLC’s scope of work includes financing, construction, maintenance and operation of all aspects pertaining to the Port Grand.
About 40 outlets have been made operational at this stage while more outlets would be opened soon. The entry fee for the Port Grand would be Rs 300 per person out of which Rs 200 would be redeemable at different food outlets and shops inside the project. The project would be open for public from Sunday evening.
Shahid Firoz, Managing Director Grand leisure Corporation informed that Port Grand project, that stretches along the 1000 feet. Karachi’s ancient 19th century native jetty bridge, spreads over an area of 200,000 square feet. The one kilometer bridge has been transformed into an entertainment and food enclave housing numerous eateries totaling 40,000 sq ft of climate-controlled area and space for kiosks of exotic Pakistani and foreign food and a variety of beverages.
He informed that the work on the project commenced in 2005 and it was expected to be completed by 2009 but the old native jetty bridge was in very bad shape after being abandoned for any transportation usage and it was also set to be demolished when Port Grand project was conceived and ancient 19th centaury monument was preserved for generations to come. GLC had to almost rebuild the whole 1 mile Old Napier Mole Bridge that includes removal of old deck slab, cleaning of rust and scaling of existing structure, strengthening of sub-structure and laying of new deck slab. This all work took around 2 year to completely revamped the bridge thus delayed the project for around 2 years.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of a report by Daily Mail on Indian trade delegation's Pakistan visit:

....When Indian journalists and members of a business delegation flying from Lahore to Karachi on board a PIA flight asked the flight attendant for a vegetarian meal, they were told that there was only non-vegetarian fare in the packet.
However, a smart attendant pointed out that while one of the sandwiches in the food packet was 'chicken', the other was 'cheese'. 'So you can have the cheese sandwich,' was his solution.

Of course, he overlooked the fact that two were part of the same dish and their proximity far too disturbing for the vegetarian mindset. Similarly, on the early morning PIA flight from Karachi to Islamabad the air hostesses were quite apologetic about not having any vegetarian breakfast on board.

While the world over, commercial airlines factor in dietary preferences, it appears PIA still has to move up the learning curve.
Pakistan deserves credit for building an excellent 8-lane expressway from Islamabad to its cultural capital Lahore.

With a permissible speed limit of 120 km an hour, cars cruise through the 370 km distance in four hours.

There is a 15 km stretch through the salt range where vehicles have to slow down as there is danger of disturbing the rocks due to vibrations.

Speed cameras placed along the expressway ensure that motorists do no exceed the maximum speed limit.

Interestingly, there are prominently displayed signs on the highway which warn drivers that there is a 'speed camera ahead' which tends to maintain discipline.

This is in sharp contrast to the approach of Delhi police, who believe in hiding behind bushes with their speed cameras to catch motorists unaware as though the main objective of the exercise is to make money instead of ensuring the safety of motorists.

The signage on the highway is up to the best global standards and boards at overbridges carry intelligent advice for motorists ranging from 'check your gauges frequently'; 'Retire the worn out tyres'; 'Drive slow in fog and rain.' A Lahore-based industrialist told Mail Today that he prefers to go to Islamabad by the motor way instead of catching the flight.

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a DNA piece on Western misconceptions about Pakistan:

When Peter Oborne first arrived in Pakistan, he expected a 'savage' backwater scarred by terrorism.
Years later, he describes the Pakistan that is barely documented - and that he came to fall in love with

It was my first evening in Pakistan. My hosts, a Lahore banker and his charming wife, wanted to show me the sights, so they took me to a restaurant on the roof of a town house in the Old City.

My food was delicious, the conversation sparky - and from our vantage point we enjoyed a perfect view of the Badshahi Mosque, which was commissioned by the emperor Aurangzeb in 1671.

It was my first inkling of a problem. I had been dispatched to write a report reflecting the common perception that Pakistan is one of the most backward and savage countries in the world. This attitude has been hard-wired into Western reporting for years and is best summed up by the writing of the iconic journalist Christopher Hitchens. Shortly before he died last December, Hitchens wrote a piece in Vanity Fair that bordered on racism.

Pakistan, he said, was "humourless, paranoid, insecure, eager to take offence and suffering from self-righteousness, self-pity and self-hatred". In summary, asserted Hitchens, Pakistan was one of the "vilest and most dangerous regions on Earth".

Since my first night in that Lahore restaurant I have travelled through most of Pakistan, got to know its cities, its remote rural regions and even parts of the lawless north. Of course there is some truth in Hitchens's brash assertions. Since 2006 alone, more than 14,000 Pakistani civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks. The Pakistan political elite is corrupt, self-serving, hypocritical and cowardly - as Pakistanis themselves are well aware. And a cruel intolerance is entering public discourse, as the appalling murder last year of minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti after he spoke out for Christians so graphically proves. Parts of the country have become impassable except at risk of kidnap or attack.
Many write of how dangerous Pakistan has become. More remarkable, by far, is how safe it remains, thanks to the strength and good humour of its people. The image of the average Pakistani citizen as a religious fanatic or a terrorist is simply a libel, the result of ignorance and prejudice.

The prejudice against Pakistan dates back to before 9/11. It is summed up best by the England cricketer Ian Botham's notorious comment that "Pakistan is the sort of place every man should send his mother-in-law to, for a month, all expenses paid". Some years after Botham's outburst, the Daily Mirror had the inspired idea of sending Botham's mother-in-law Jan Waller to Pakistan - all expenses paid - to see what she made of the country.

Unlike her son-in-law, Mrs Waller had the evidence of her eyes before her: "The country and its people have absolutely blown me away," said the 68-year-old grandmother.

After a trip round Lahore's old town she said: "I could not have imagined seeing some of the sights I have seen today. They were indefinable and left me feeling totally humbled and totally privileged." She concluded: "All I would say is: 'Mothers-in-law of the world, unite and go to Pakistan. Because you'll love it'. Honestly!"

Mrs Waller is telling the truth. And if you don't believe me, please visit and find out for yourself.

Riaz Haq said...

Here are excerpts of a Bloomberg piece by Indian journalist Pankaj Mishra on Pakistan's "unplanned revolution":

...I also saw much in this recent visit that did not conform to the main Western narrative for South Asia -- one in which India is steadily rising and Pakistan rapidly collapsing.

Born of certain geopolitical needs and exigencies, this vision was always most useful to those who have built up India as an investment destination and a strategic counterweight to China, and who have sought to bribe and cajole Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment into the war on terrorism.

Seen through the narrow lens of the West’s security and economic interests, the great internal contradictions and tumult within these two large nation-states disappear. In the Western view, the credit-fueled consumerism among the Indian middle class appears a much bigger phenomenon than the extraordinary Maoist uprising in Central India.
Traveling through Pakistan, I realized how much my own knowledge of the country -- its problems as well as prospects -- was partial, defective or simply useless. Certainly, truisms about the general state of crisis were not hard to corroborate. Criminal gangs shot rocket-propelled grenades at each other and the police in Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood. Shiite Hazaras were being assassinated in Balochistan every day. Street riots broke out in several places over severe power shortages -- indeed, the one sound that seemed to unite the country was the groan of diesel generators, helping the more affluent Pakistanis cope with early summer heat.
Gangsters with Kalashnikovs

In this eternally air-conditioned Pakistan, meanwhile, there exist fashion shows, rock bands, literary festivals, internationally prominent writers, Oscar-winning filmmakers and the bold anchors of a lively new electronic media. This is the glamorously liberal country upheld by English-speaking Pakistanis fretting about their national image in the West (some of them might have been gratified by the runaway success of Hello magazine’s first Pakistani edition last week).

But much less conspicuous and more significant, other signs of a society in rapid socioeconomic and political transition abounded. The elected parliament is about to complete its five- year term -- a rare event in Pakistan -- and its amendments to the constitution have taken away some if not all of the near- despotic prerogatives of the president’s office.

Political parties are scrambling to take advantage of the strengthening ethno-linguistic movements for provincial autonomy in Punjab and Sindh provinces. Young men and women, poor as well as upper middle class, have suddenly buoyed the anti-corruption campaign led by Imran Khan, an ex-cricketer turned politician.

After radically increasing the size of the consumerist middle class to 30 million, Pakistan’s formal economy, which grew only 2.4 percent in 2011, currently presents a dismal picture. But the informal sector of the economy, which spreads across rural and urban areas, is creating what the architect and social scientist Arif Hasan calls Pakistan’s “unplanned revolution.” Karachi, where a mall of Dubai-grossness recently erupted near the city’s main beach, now boasts “a first world economy and sociology, but with a third world wage and political structure.”

Even in Lyari, Karachi’s diseased old heart, where young gangsters with Kalashnikovs lurked in the alleys, billboards vended quick proficiency in information technology and the English language. Everywhere, in the Salt Range in northwestern Punjab as well as the long corridor between Lahore and Islamabad, were gated housing colonies, private colleges, fast- food restaurants and other markers of Pakistan’s breakneck suburbanization....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an ET story about a German journalists' impressions of Pakistan:

After being in the country for more than two weeks, German journalist Joachim Holtz is of the view that reality is far better than perception.

“This is my second week in Karachi and before coming, I thought I would not survive even a day,” said the senior journalist and foreign correspondent of the German channel, ZDF. He was speaking to the journalist community on ‘Pakistan’s image abroad- a German view’ at the Karachi Press Club on Thursday.

Back home, the journalist feels that Pakistan has no image at all. “Pakistan is simply the name of an Islamic country in South Asia. There is mostly fear and some respect amongst Germans for the country and mostly, they have a blurry image of strange people living in a far away land.”

While some Germans were aware that Pakistan has delicious mangoes and the people love cricket, Holtz said that there are many who believe that Pakistan is an extremist, nuclear-armed country. “But they know very little or nothing about the country itself.”

Changing perceptions

Citing Pakistani and German newspapers, Holtz said that he only found news about bombings, Raymond Davis, the assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, floods and their destruction. He said a few German papers have covered events such as the Karachi Literature Festival, while one newspaper wrote a feature on sufism in the country.

Contrary to what he had read, Holtz seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his trip. Apart from visiting the Empress Market in Karachi and the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad, he also took a dip in the ocean last week. He went to Murree, Lahore and several cities in Sindh, including Sukkur, Hyderabad and Thatta. “I have never met any unfriendly person while travelling. There is so much hospitality, even the poorest have welcomed me with a cup of tea. I love it here!” exclaimed a delighted Holtz.

The Sindh information minister, Shazia Marri, took the opportunity to declare the day as “a difficult and sad day”, referring to the Supreme Court’s verdict in the prime minister’s contempt case. She went on to talk about how the media needs to highlight the positive image of the country to curb all the negative sentiments abroad. The German Consul General, Dr Til

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Op Ed in the Independent on Bina Shah:

Lately, I've been seeing an Internet meme doing the rounds on Facebook. It's the image of a TIME magazine cover about Pakistan: the tagline reads “Pakistan’s Dark Heart” and shows a dead body sprawled on a street. Andrew Marshall’s accompanying article calls Karachi, my hometown “desperate, chaotic, and ungovernable – and essential to global security”.

This melodramatic image is accompanied by a letter to the Editor written by Tony Lazaro, tagged “An Australian’s Rebuttal to Time Magazine’s Story on Karachi”. Mr. Lazaro relates how on a recent charitable trip to Pakistan, he saw the beautiful side of a much-maligned nation, and feels that the Western media must promote “something positive” about the country. “If we really care about global partnerships… I suggest we try and give Pakistan a helping hand… given a little help from the Western world, Pakistan can become a dominant economy. She doesn’t want aid and she doesn’t need money… I believe we have a fundamental obligation to assist.”

I appreciate the good spirit in which this letter has been written. I'm trying very hard to control my inner cynic, which whispers to me that this is an attempt to improve Pakistan's image in the eyes of the world, not a blatant attempt at self-promotion. I'll ignore Tony Lazaro's full contact details and link to his Web site, although I'll also resist the urge to click on it and see what business he represents. Tony's come to Pakistan, he's clearly loved what he's seen, and he wants Western media to adjust the bias when it comes to reporting about Pakistan. There's so much good here, why spend all your time focusing on the bad?


What we need is to pull up our boots and transform ourselves. We know who we are, we know what we're capable of, and how short we are falling. That's our tragedy, and we have to own it. Millions of us realize this, and we're working on changing it. How successful we will be, and how we manage to raise ourselves in the eyes of the world is solely our responsibility.

What we need from Western media and Western philanthropists and Western organizations, is to be truthful and honest in their dealings with us. Don't use Pakistan to sell your newspapers, your elections, your drone wars, your military weapons. Don't use Pakistan to ease your conscience one way or the other. You don't have to pretend that we're a nation of Osama bin Ladens, or a nation of poor, helpless brown people who need saving from ourselves. How about just seeing us for what we are: a nation that's screwed up, with a little help from our friends, but mostly due to our own hubris, inadequacies, and short-sightedness? Editors, reporters, correspondents: how about not "promoting" one image or another, but just being objective, like you're supposed to be?

Oh, and one more thing: Stop calling Pakistan "she". Pakistan does not have a gender; neither do ships, abstract values (such as justice or liberty), or nature. Pakistan is not a damsel in distress that needs rescuing by strong, masculine arms. Now come back and see us again soon, you hear?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Washington Post piece on Warren "Buffet disses coverage of Pakistan":

Warren Buffett has gobbled up a bunch of newspapers in recent years. Among them are many community papers, not the big titles that vanity publishers pursue. And an explanation for that acquisition pattern comes from the 2012 report of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.:

Newspapers continue to reign supreme, however, in the delivery of local news. If you want to know what’s
going on in your town – whether the news is about the mayor or taxes or high school football – there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job. A reader’s eyes may glaze over after they take in a couple of paragraphs about Canadian tariffs or political developments in Pakistan; a story about the reader himself or his neighbors will be read to the end. Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the special informational needs of that community will remain indispensable to a significant portion of its residents.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan — the world’s best-kept secret, writes a foreign vistor. #Lahore #Islamabad …

I have been an extensive traveller, a true backpacker, having visited numerous countries on all continents. Pakistan had never figured in my calculus until I developed friendships with two Pakistanis; one gentleman from Lahore and the other from Karachi. These two shared a dormitory with me during my studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS). I found these individuals to be poles apart from the general depiction of Pakistanis that the media regularly portrays. What I had always gleaned from the media was that Pakistan was a country mired in terrorism and religious extremism, and was a highly unsafe place, especially for foreigners. Stories about how women were treated in the country were just as dismal. In stark contrast to these images, my Pakistani friends exuded warmth and wit; they were generous, well-meaning and easy to relate to. My curiosity about their country often led me to lengthy discussions with them. Their advice to me was that the only way to truly understand Pakistan was by paying it a visit. As my Lahore-based friend returned to Pakistan upon his graduation from NUS, I thought of grabbing a chance to visit the country. His response was very encouraging. My biggest problem, however, was my mother, who when learning of my plan, screamed and proclaimed me to be crazy. I cannot blame her, as her only knowledge about the country was through the media, which is solely interested in displays of violence and misogyny, thus missing 99.9 per cent of the Pakistan story.

However, as I had made up my mind to visit Pakistan, nothing was going to stop me. Since I desired to visit the Northern Areas as well, my friend from Lahore not only lined up a visit for me, he also took a break from his office to give me company. My journey from Singapore to Lahore (via Bangkok) felt strange, or rather unique, as I was the only foreigner on the flight. The gentleman sitting next to me was a doctor from Lahore. His amazement as to why I had chosen Pakistan as my holiday destination unhinged me for a moment. Later I understood that this was genuine curiosity rather than a voicing of concern regarding my security.

I was received at the airport by my friend. While driving to his home, I saw alleys of trees and greenery, clean streets and orderly traffic — quite unlike how I imagined Lahore to be. The next day, I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and went around the city: to the historic fort and the Badshahi Mosque. I was wearing the traditional shalwar kurta that my friend’s father had kindly gifted to me. Contrary to my expectations, nobody on the street gave me strange ‘look-there’s-a-foreigner’ looks. The evening was spent sitting on the rooftop of a restaurant on food street, listening to live instrumental music against the backdrop of the splendidly-lit Badshahi mosque, presenting an awe-inspiring spectacle. The desi cuisine was delicious and the spices were toned down at my request. The decor and architecture of the street were indescribably beautiful. I visited shopping areas, busy malls, high-end restaurants and roadside dhabas. There was not a moment, which gave me the feeling that I was at a dangerous or a conservative place. People were open, cheerful and absolutely normal while they went about their daily lives.

The bus ride from Lahore to Islamabad on the motorway was an experience in itself. Passengers were offered complimentary high-speed WiFi internet, sandwiches, juices and headphones, should they want to listen to music or watch a film. While in Islamabad, a visit to a local coffee shop was an eye-opener. I could see petite girls, walking in re-assuredly, hanging out with their friends late into the night, giggling and chatting. My stereotypes as to how women in Pakistan lived were now gradually fading away; more so when I saw so many of them all alone and independent, trekking the woods of the Astor Valley.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan's incredible beauty unveiled in travelogue. …

Fear. It’s both a vital gift housed by human nature and an insidious enemy of the human race. On one hand, it whispers warnings and protects us from danger. On the other hand, it has the tendency to dramatise risk, rationalise rumours, glorify assumptions and conjure terrifying truths in order to fill gaps in knowledge and experience. In this regard, fear often places two hands over our eyes and blinds us from hidden opportunities. It closes the gate on enlightening international relationships, thrilling life experiences and character-building adventures.
I recently stared fear in the face and told it take a back seat. It knew of my plans to explore Pakistan and it was starting to freak out. It kept replaying the frightful imagery and headlines I’d consumed through international media. My inner devil’s advocate didn’t have any good news stories to fight back with – so it seemed, positive tales about Pakistan weren’t getting much airtime.
As I started to share my travel plans with others, fear got it’s “I told you so” face on. Every time I mentioned that Pakistan was my gateway to “The Stans” and Europe, I was met with one of two responses: “Why are you going there? It’s not safe,” or “Good luck!” (backed by incredulous laughter).
As I spent my last night in India, soaking up the intense atmosphere at the infamous Wagah Border Closing Ceremony, my sense of trepidation reached fever pitch. I watched the Pakistani crowd from the Indian bleachers with nervous curiosity. Stretching my neck like a meerkat, I fought to decipher any cultural clues, which would put my mind at ease. From what I could tell, the men and women were sitting in different sections but both sexes were releasing a passion-fuelled fire from their bellies like revved up dragons. Their intense patriotism was hypnotising.
Funnily enough, at this point, my biggest fear wasn’t getting killed in Pakistan. It’s that I’d offend the locals with my cultural naivety and lack of sensitivity and, as a result, represent my home country poorly. I desperately wanted to put a good Aussie foot forward and assure the Pakistani people I was eager to understand their community better. I quickly learned their intentions were exactly the same as mine. The locals knew they were battling against a major international PR challenge, and they were hungry to champion Pakistan’s endearing qualities and little-known strengths.
Indeed, it wasn’t long before Pakistanis became one of the most hospitable communities I’d encountered. From the moment I entered the border at Wagah to the time I left the country through China, they slowly chipped away at my armour with kindness and found their way into my heart. The locals have taught me a lot about Pakistan, Islamic culture and the power of media. They’ve practically demolished my fears and rebuilt my perception of their home country. Let me explain why…