Is it safe to travel to Pakistan?
The short answer is “yes”.
The long answer is “it depends on who you are and where you want to go”.
“Pakistan? Is it safe?” This is a question that comes up time and time again in my discussions about my adopted home. And why shouldn’t it? After all, we’ve been inundated all our lives with media images of angry radical Muslims, hell bent on kidnapping any infidel that they can get their hands on. Pakistan, right? That scary, unpredictable, nuclear-armed nation that no-one, including its own leaders, seems able to keep under control. A seething cesspit of hatred…
First, a note on perspective
Most people outside of Pakistan rely on what they hear to form their opinion. It’s not that the media is totally wrong, it’s that the media only report interesting news as it happens. Imagine a person whose entire impression of the United States of America came through news outlets; escalating random gun violence, a government in disarray, a nuclear-armed nation which invades other countries at will. Let’s try Australia; shocking domestic violence figures, racially-motivated mob violence, kidnapped and mutilated backpackers.
It’s not that these things don’t happen, but they are only part (arguably a small part) of the story. For every abhorrent gun-related crime in the USA, most of us are also exposed of the thrill of Hollywood productions, the human focus of projects like Humans of New York, and the guilty pleasures of American fast food. For all the horrific stories of abused Australian women, we also know of the famously liberal and progressive thinkers in places like Sydney and Melbourne, the nation’s stunning natural beauty, and the high standard of living.
All of these things shape our image of a place, and offset the horror stories – we accept that bad things happen, but we know that the USA and Australia are still worth our time. On the other hand Pakistan, without a globally-famous film industry, without a huge tourism profile, and without a world-renowned cuisine, has only the media to shout its stories from the rooftops and raise awareness. Certainly, horrible things have happened in Pakistan, and they continue to happen, but they are not the only things that happen in Pakistan – they are just one story of Pakistan.
The celebrated writer Chimamanda Adichie states that “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.” Pakistan is so much more than just the media headlines, and the world is missing out on so many incredible stories – many of which could be experienced by travelling there.
So… is it safe?
If you are a traveller who is culturally sensitive and aware of what Pakistan is like, then yes. That means having an awareness that the whole country is not equally stable; while I feel safer walking through parts of Lahore than I do in parts of Melbourne, I have never ventured to the restive Balochistan province for good reason. That’s not to say you can’t go to Balochistan – Alex and Sebastiaan at Lost With Purpose travelled through there with an armed guard a few years ago. But that’s exactly the point – planning a trip in Pakistan is more complex and multi-faceted than, say, a family getaway to the Gold Coast.
If you want to walk around the street in a miniskirt and not attract attention, then Pakistan is not for you – try Ibiza. If you want to check out the hottest nightlife on the subcontinent while sipping scotch, then Pakistan is not for you – try Mumbai. If you want a relaxing getaway without having to manage crowded transport or restaurant menus in a foreign language, then Pakistan is not for you – try the Great Barrier Reef. If you want to roam every corner of the land freely without a second thought for personal security, then Pakistan is not for you – try Switzerland.
If you want to go on the adventure of a lifetime, to discover places that your friends family and colleagues wouldn’t have even dreamed of, and are prepared to follow the local customs and travel intrepidly with your eyes open, then Pakistan awaits!
Pakistan is a fairly safe country – you’re much more likely to get hit by traffic crossing the road in your own country than you are to be caught up in some sort of terrorist violence in Pakistan. Remember – 200 million Pakistanis go about their lives in Pakistan daily, and the vast majority of them continue to live another day, and another, and another. Pakistanis are extremely interested in foreigners and insanely hospitable – you’re much more likely to be a hostage to hospitality (“don’t go, stay another hour – we just ordered chai!”) than you are to a militant. The real dangers in Pakistan are the traffic in big cities (cross the road with groups of locals), falling sick from undercooked street food (I speak from experience) and not wanting to leave (again, I speak from experience).
It goes without saying that you should always travel with travel insurance – no matter where you are going, and make sure that it covers the places you are travelling to.
But wait, there’s more…
There are other considerations, of course; prime among them being gender. For a better explanation than I could ever hope to give about being a female traveller in Pakistan, I turn again to my buddies over at Lost With Purpose for their excellent post.
I’ve written a whole post about Is Pakistan Safe? at my Pakistan Traveller site, and there are lists of questions you can ask yourself if you’re really concerned about safety. My book Pakistan Traveller contains detailed safety advice for each city and town.
And of course you can always drop me a line – contact me through my Facebook page, or comment below – I’m always happy to help!