Pakistan: Dare to have your preconceptions challenged
Standing outside, looking in, Pakistan seems to be a rough, lawless country of desert wastelands, barren mountains and squalor-filled cities, where terrorists roam the streets, poverty reigns and any foreigner is a sitting duck for would-be kidnappers. Such is the power of stereotypes.
However tired stereotypes can never match the truth of actually experiencing for oneself. A visit to Pakistan reveals a very different story; the elements of Pakistani society which appear rough and lawless are far outweighed by the subtle traditions of the Sufis, the beautiful legacy of Sindhi poets, and the apparent normalcy of life in suburbs of Lahore and Karachi.
The deserts, indeed, also exist in southern Punjab; but they are dotted with mosques and forts, encircled by trains of camels and tribes of nomads (chol) who give the arid region its name, Cholistan.
Many of the mountains are far from barren; while the images of inhospitable dusty mountains are mostly from Balochistan or western Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa, so rarely do the jagged, snow-capped peaks and the fertile glade-filled valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The cities are home to their fair share of dirt, but they are also home to some of the most exquisite Mughal architecture you’ve ever seen. Soaring minarets, gilded domes and peaceful courtyards adorn some of the world’s the most sublime mosques and palaces.
Terrorism is a reputation that precedes Pakistan, but every Pakistani I’ve ever met is at pains to point out that they are victims, not perpetrators, of terror. Moreover the security situation in Pakistan has improved dramatically in recent years, and Pakistan is poised for a phoenix-like rise of the ashes; if it is given the chance.
Many Pakistanis are poor, but most are also incredibly rich; their hearts filled with the energy of a young nation with a vibrant culture, vivid rituals and a history of customs and faith drawn from the subcontinent, Persia and Arabia.
And yes, foreigners in Pakistan will be kidnapped; taken hostage to hospitality, fed copious amounts of biryani and interrogated about their families, lifestyles and jobs “back home”. They are usually coerced by friendly locals into spending longer in each place over endless bottles of Coke, cups of chai or dizzying motorbike rides with new-found friends. Their inevitable release usually comes after the swapping of Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat IDs, and a promise to remain in touch and return soon.
Celebrated writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggests in her excellent TED Talk that stereotypes emerge when only a single story of one place, or one people is told. “To insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Complete the story of Pakistan, with my new book Pakistan Traveller; the world’s most comprehensive travel guidebook to Pakistan.