Nosheen Abbas realises that Pakistan’s image has little to do with real experience. Have you ever tried searching Google for images of Pakistan? You’ll be hard-pressed to find any pictures that depict the progressive and modern aspects of our country. Try typing ‘Pakistan progress’, ‘Pakistan modern’ or ‘Pakistan cafes’ in the search bar, and chances are there will be no results. But if you just type in the word Pakistan, you’ll be flooded by a collection of frightening pictures (excluding some seductive shots of ‘Miss Pakistan’): kids holding guns, bomb blasts and violence will inundate your computer screen.
When will the world see Pakistan from all angles – the good, the bad and everything else in between?
Two recent encounters suggest that the only way we can get people to expand their vision of Pakistan is by experiencing it first hand…
I’m at Rumours, the underground club of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. The walls are quilted, the lights are dim and the music is getting louder as some foreign journalists try to unwind.
I’m talking to a British journalist I’ve never met before who explains that he’s permanently stationed in Afghanistan.
‘How do you like being in Islamabad, then?’ I ask him.
He has a thoughtful expression on his face and is suddenly overcome by the urge to reveal a thought: ‘You know… Pakistan really isn’t marketed properly. This place is really nice. It’s clean, you’ve got café’s and places to relax, you can walk on the streets with ease,’ he points out. ‘But people out there don’t know that,’ he adds, metaphorically pointing behind him.
‘Yes, that’s true. People think Pakistan is full of bearded men who run around brandishing swords,’ I respond a little emotionally.
‘Yeah,’ he muses. ‘I’d like to be back – the people are so damn nice here.’
Another time, another place:
I’m sitting in an empty restaurant interviewing Ethan Casey, author of ‘Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time’. It’s almost like a two-way interview since he’s recording our interview and is prone to digressing. Casey has traveled to both India and Pakistan several times and compares the two as follows:
Coming across the border was a kind of of relief: India’s a pretty intense place. [When I arrived here] it was in the back of my mind that people in India were saying be careful [in Pakistan]. And yes, I would say I do think twice before I walk on the streets. But people [here] have been helpful.If only others were as eager to revisit their perceptions of Pakistan.
When we crossed the Wagah border, I was waiting for one of my old students to come collect me, but I couldn’t see him there. These couple of guys inside a [nearby] shop said, ‘What do you need?’ Then, this old timer with a turban said, ‘Oh, you use my phone.’
This is a difference between India and Pakistan. My first reaction was to say, ‘how much does this cost?’ But he asked, ‘what number do you want to call?’ And I asked again, ‘how much does it cost?’ Then he [got] really annoyed and repeated, ‘what number do you want to call?’ He was so insulted when I asked about money! Afterwards, I asked if I could give him anything. ‘No, no, no, you are our guest,’ he said. I’ve experienced so much of that in Pakistan for 15 years – and that’s a big reason why I keep coming back.’